How would one characterize Dickinson's childhood?
Emily Dickinson's early childhood can be characterized as
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Emily Dickinson’s family was prosperous and influential. Her father was an important politician and many famous intellectual and political figures were friends of the family. They lived in Amherst and were closely associated with Amherst College. Although Emily’s mother was not very interested in Emily’s poetry, the family supported Emily, who lived at home her entire life, and seemed not to restrict her in her writing, and attempted to provide her with a good education. Emily’s brother Austin, and sister-in-law, Susan were quite close to her. Lavinia, Emily’s sister was close to her throughout her life. Although any conclusions about Emily’s inner emotional states in childhood can only be speculative, it appears that her childhood was peaceful, prosperous, and normal for a girl of her social class and period.
We don't know very much about Dickinson's early years, but given the fact that she lived in a cultured, upper-middle class home in Amherst, her material and intellectual circumstances would most likely be described as "happy."
Dickinson studied in a primary school for four years and attended Amherst Academy from 1840-1847, but she was often ill, so her attendance there would not have been regular. Apparently, even as a young girl, she was having some problems with eyesight, the nature of which is unclear, but we know her eyesight got much worse as she entered maturity and she worried about losing her sight.
While she was at Amherst Academy or at home recuperating, she wrote several letters to classmates and friends. One the regular themes she wrote about was her constant distrust of the church, which she did not want to join, a very unusual stance for a young lady of her background. In addition, she had reservations about whether married life was right for year--it is clear, of course, that somewhere along the way, despite an attachment to two older men, one of whom was married, she decided not to pursue marriage (assuming she had the chance).
In 1847, Dickinson enrolled in a two-year program at Mt. Holyoke Female Seminary where she seems to have been a good student, but, again, her poor health seems to have intervened, and she stayed only a year. At the same time, friends and relatives continued to convince her to join the church, and she consistently refused. From a personal standpoint, and for the analysis of her poems, her rejection of conventional religion is an important element in her life and reflects an inner strength.
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