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What are two literary techniques in "My Life Had Stood A Loaded Gun" by Emily...

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pocobc2 | Student, Grade 9 | eNotes Newbie

Posted February 22, 2010 at 1:35 AM via web

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What are two literary techniques in "My Life Had Stood A Loaded Gun" by Emily Dickinson that develop the theme and ideas of this poem?

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lynnebh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted February 22, 2010 at 2:23 AM (Answer #1)

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One technique is allegory. The poem compares something in her life to a loaded gun:

My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun -
In Corners - till a Day
The Owner passed - identified -
And carried Me away

What really IS the loaded gun? It represents anger, anger so strong, it has the power to kill. Anger which most of the time she hides, "in a corner" but sometimes, it "carries her away":

Though I than He - may longer live
He longer must - than I -
For I have but the power to kill,
Without--the power to die--

There is also personification. The speaker and the "gun" go out hunting together (the gun is personified):

And now We roam in Sovereign Woods -
And now We hunt the Doe -
And every time I speak for Him -
The Mountains straight reply -

There is other personification in the poem as well (the mountains straight reply).

Some critics believe that this poem is autobiographical, as much of Dickinson's work was, and expresses anger at her repressed role as a woman in the society in which she lived.

What do you think? Her work is ambiguous at times, so you could have your own interpretation. Read about Emily here on enotes.

 

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted February 22, 2010 at 3:03 AM (Answer #2)

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As stated in the previous post, the most prevalent technique in Emily Dickinson's poem, "My Life Had Stood A Loaded Gun" is personification, for the gun is the speaker.  Then, in a metaphor the "I," who explains itself in the appositive"--A Loaded Gun--"says its life stood in a corner until empowered by a human being.  In this sense, too, the character of the gun is allegorical since it represents the death that is only given power by means of human creation.

Also prevalent throughout the poem is the use of allusion, particularly the mythological references to Vestuvius and the idea of deities dealing out death with thunderbolts, etc.  And, finally, there is the final stanza's riddle:

Though I than He may longer live

He longer must--than I--

For I have but the power to kill,

Without--the power to die.

Critics disagree upon the interpretation of this riddle, but with the allusion to mythology in the mention of Vesuvius, some feel that the theme is that death is both a master and a means.  For, while the gun can cause destruction of the owner, it also loses what gives him life like the gods who wreak vengeance by causing destruction of that which often enables them. The one consolation to those on whom death comes is that death and its tools have the power to kill creation, but they will not last forever, either, since they are dependent upon the creation that empowers them.

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