How might one best explain the theme of Emily Dickenson's poem, "I'm Nobody!  Who are you?"

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lhc's profile pic

lhc | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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One would probably never guess that a poem such as this one, written with a kind of spunky playfulness, could have been written by someone who suffered from depression for most of his or her life--but it is Emily Dickinson's.  Dickinson's life was permanently altered at age fourteen by the death of a cousin who also happened to be a close friend, and later, while still a relatively young woman, by the deaths of several people she loved dearly.  Although at age fifteen, Dickinson appeared to find some solace in religious faith, it did not last.  By the time she was approaching age thirty, she was working on the books of poetry that would posthumously make her famous, while simultaneously withdrawing more and more from any sort of contact with the outside world.  Although one would probably not characterize her life as a particularly happy one, in this poem at least, Dickinson appears to be poking fun at the world of "somebodies" around her while confirming that she is in fact perfectly happy with her status as a "nobody". 


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rupakc | College Teacher | (Level 1) Honors

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The speaker exclaims that she is “Nobody,” and asks, “Who are you? / Are you— Nobody—too?” If so, she says, then they are a pair of nobodies, and she admonishes her addressee not to tell, for “they’d banish us—you know!” She says that it would be “dreary” to be “Somebody”—it would be “public” and require that, “like a Frog,” one tell one’s name “the livelong June— / To an admiring Bog!”

The two stanzas of “I’m Nobody!” are highly typical for Dickinson, constituted of loose iambic trimeter occasionally including a fourth stress (“To tell your name—the livelong June—”). They follow an ABCB rhyme scheme (though in the first stanza, “you” and “too” rhyme, and “know” is only a half-rhyme, so the scheme could appear to be AABC), and she frequently uses rhythmic dashes to interrupt the flow.  

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