In the eighteenth century America was obsessed with ethicality; people lived by the rules of religion. Although, who is to say what is ethical? It is another being who determines ethicality and it is only in accordance with their rules, you must conform to their standards of right and wrong, thus the question is “ Whose ethical views are most important to follow? From the making of America religion has played the biggest role in human ethicality, with the Bible being our handbook.
However, in a time of evolutionary discoveries such as Darwinism, Emily Dickinson questions the idea that conventional faith, such as Christianity, is the belief in ethicality or a truth. It is evident that Dickinson declines the customary religious ideas of truth, but this does not mean declined faith. By exploring Emily Dickinson’s lifestyle and experiences through both her biography and her poetic works I aim to argue that it is not religion Dickinson doesn’t conform to but society’s standards of ethics through religion and she instead follows her own faith, in truth.
Dickinson instructs the reader to, Tell all the Truth but tell it slant (1) because ?The Truth must dazzle gradually / Or every man be blind (7-8). She is stating that people have the ethical obligation to tell the truth, yet she warns her reader to tell it at an angle because the truth can be too much for people’s weak perceptions to cope with, and you must protect the people from the pure and blinding light of truth. Some may infer, the truth Dickinson speaks of, is the truth of reality or facts that reject the notion of faith, but perhaps she is really referring to personal truth that is idiosyncratic. She wants the reader to tell the truth but their own truth, as she does, she wants them not feel pressured to conform to the truth that is placed on them by society and religion.
Emily Dickinson’s audience and unique secluded lifestyle helped her find her truth and which played a major role in her writings. With never having the intentions of being published or the need for fame, as she suggests in, I’m Nobody! Who are you? her writings are exclusively her own truth. She says, how dreary “ to be “ Somebody! / How public “ like a Frog, here she is pointing out that anonymity is preferred over public recognition and privacy is a thing of luxury. Dickinson inherited Puritan traits of simplicity, practicality, and a discerning observation of the inner self, yet her communication with religion was much more distant than her God-fearing forefathers would have dreamt. Thanks to her family’s wealth and understanding Dickinson was permitted to escape the pressures of society and the role most women were required to play at the time. Through this Dickinson was able to do the things she wanted to do, she never married or barred any children, and she never had to tailor her writings in order to succumb to the needs and wants of American society, allowing herself to pursue her truth.
The Bedford Anthology of American Literature states, Dickinson resolutely refused to join or attend church, although perhaps she was more certain of God, her own God, than her forefathers where of theirs. Some keep the Sabbath going to Church – / I keep it, staying at Home. While Dickinson doesn’t attend church like the rest of her community she claims she still practices faith, her faith, at home. In the end of this work she announces, So instead of getting to Heaven, at last – / I’m going, all along. In many of her other works Dickinson bears doubt in religion, claims she does not understand the conventional God, or have faith in his ways, but with this line she conveys that she does not fear him. This belief grants Dickinson to be a rare individual, especially of her time, affording her inner freedom and self-truth. On the exterior Dickinson seems backwards, unsocial and almost awkward although she truly holds great power when she answers only to herself, and this confidence is precedent in her works.
Dickinson dwells in possibility, opening herself up to new interpretations, as each moment in time becomes a new subject of interest. Alongside this her writings can become contradictory, specifically when she writes using the theme of death. I Hear a Fly Buzz “ When I Died, presents an idea of death in which there is no eternal resting place or afterlife. With Blue “ uncertain stumbling Buzz She depicts herself lying with a fly buzzing around waiting to do his part in the cycle of life and enviably eat her rotting corps. Between the light “ and me – / And then the Windows failed “ and then / I could not see to see, here Dickinson wraps up her feelings of death with the belief that the process of death leads to nothingness and the soul that is believed to be found in the eyes fails and dies with her.
In comparison her poem, “Because I Could Not Stop for Death,” she represents death as a spiritual journey to eternity. The Carriage held but just ourselves – / And Immortality, In lines five through thirteen she describes this journey and lists things the speaker passes by, We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain – / We passed the Setting Sun. The speaker in the carriage transcends and goes to a space where time seems not to exist; it’s equitably continuous. In this poem death is not something to be feared but instead a relaxing ride. Unlike in I Hear a Fly Buzz “ When I Died, this work romanticizes death and makes the reader feel at peace with death.
While these two examples seem to contradict Dickinson’s views of death this does not mean she isn’t speaking her truth. Dickinson writes poems to capture a moment in her time of life. As people grow and experience new things their views alter to fit the new moment. This might make some feel uneasy, that Emily Dickinson doesn’t exhibit ethos in her writings, but when in context to her overall theme of truth, she does indeed stay true to her truth, whatever that may be. In addition she brings to light the truth of the human thought. Our beliefs change; Dickinson’s world, like many others, is confused and disrupted thus she is incapable to come to any certain conclusions and that is okay.
Rather than be exclusively for faith or fact, Dickinson incorporates both faith and fact or religion and science into her truth. She doesn’t dismiss religion entirely because she is aware of the importance of faith. Instead, she finds a balance of the two, like we observe in her short four lined poem which reads, Faith is a fine invention / For Gentlemen who see! / But Microscopes are prudent / In an Emergency! Dickinson, at first, seems to be mocking the Church because she claims God could not really help someone in a true emergency. Faith is a good idea but holds no true power when it comes to science, you cannot solely rely on faith. However, by her expressing, faith is a fine invention, she does recognize that it is comforting to have faith and even though it might not physically amount to science, it is soothing to possess. In a time period when many people chose faith over fact Dickinson, caring for the people she wrote to, wanted it to be known that in order for real help you can’t remain caught up in prayer, you need to also seek professional help.
We can see examples of her balancing these two elements in not only her words but within the format she writes in as well. Dickinson writes many of her poems in a hymn meter rhyme scheme, which is used in religious texts and songs such as Amazing Grace, and Christmas Carol. A model of this scheme is portrayed in her poem A Bird came down the Walk.’ By her following this traditional writing form but then altering the punctuation and capitalizations she does not completely conform to the straightforward rubric a hymn meter rhyme scheme is supposed to obtain. These modifications may seem insignificant but they speak loudly. In all of the works she applies this format to she is allowing herself to express her faith and truth.
As Emily Dickinson ages she experiences detrimental events such as, the civil war, the death of her close friends and family, and also with her personal health problems pertaining to her eyesight and kidneys. These events altered her perception of faith and in her later life she became angry at the absence of God. She shows this transition in her work. After the start of her seclusion in 1862 she writes, Of Course”I prayed” And did God Care? In this work she expresses her fury with God, which in turn allows the reader to see she undoubting confesses her belief in faith.
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