How does Dickinson's "The Brain is Wider than the Sky" relate to The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One of the most basic elements that comes out of the poem is the idea that internal subjectivity, in the form of the brain, is one of the strongest elements in human consciousness.  Dickinson makes it clear that human subjectivity, the notion of personalized being in the world, is something that cannot be denied or withered.  In this, I think that the characterization of Thoreau in the drama is something similar.  The manner in which Thoreau is shown in the play is one who refuses to sacrifice or negotiate his passionately held beliefs.  His insistence on his own uniqueness and his own zeal towards his own path and following it at all costs is a notion of subjectivity that Dickinson brings out in her poem.  The idea of not relinquishing an aspect of being that both Dickinson in her poem and Thoreau in the drama revere is central to both works.  It becomes essential in the poem to recognize the power of the subjective as Dickinson suggest that it the brain "contains" the sky within it and remarking on its own capacity for absorption, as well as "the weight of God."  In this, Thoreau would zealously agree, reflecting his own belief that the individualized notion of the good cannot be something negotiated away or minimized in the face of social pressure.


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