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I'm Nobody! Who Are You?

by Emily Dickinson

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Discuss the use of irony in "I'm Nobody! Who Are You?"

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Dickinson opens this poem with a somewhat surprising statement, especially for our world of "15 minutes of fame":  "I'm nobody."  Then she asks the reader or someone to whom the poem is addressed the question:  "Are you nobody too?"   Whomever is being spoken to must answer in the affirmative, because she notes that there's a pair of them, and she adds, playfully, that they should tell because they'll be banished for being nobodies.  Alread the poem is ironic:  who would both banishing a nobody?  And why does she seem to happy to be nobody?

The answer comes in the next stanza.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

Being a somebody is being just another somebody.  The comparison to a frog is telling.  You might think that the frog belongs to the "nobody" since it doesn't make the most flattering simile.  And look what a somebody does:  the "tell" their name.  Telling and name are an interesting choice of words.  It almost sounds like the croaking of a frog:  I'm here, see me, pay attention.  And of course, look who their audience is:  a bog.  Definately not a favorable description of the audience that is reenfocing them.

So, ironically, it's better to be "nobody," to be your OWN nobody, than to be the somebody who tells his name all day to get the reenforcement they need.

This poem reminds me of Emerson's Self-Reliance.  Croaking for attention with the rest of the frogs will never make you an individual; only being a "nobody" will.

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Irony is often defined as when the opposite of what is expected occurs.  In Emily Dickinson's poem, she states that she is a nobody, and seems to be quite happy about it.  This is ironic, because you expect most people to want to be considered important, to be acknowledged, to be known and admired.  But, ironically, Dickinson seems to enjoy being a nobody.  That is where the main irony lies.  Dickinson states proudly, "I'm nobody!" and rejoices that there is another nobody that she has met, so that "there's a pair of us."  She says that being admired, noticed, and well-known is "like a frog" who croaks its name "the livelong day/to an admiring bog."  She finds outgoing people who are well known to be as obnoxious as a loud frog croaking away, forcing people to hear it, whether they want to or not. She would rather just be a quiet nobody.  Not very many people probably really long to be the quiet person in the background, so it is ironic that Dickinson does, and proudly writes a poem about the fact that she does.

Another possible irony exists in the fact that by writing a poem, she has become a somebody.  Writing a poem about being a nobody automatically draws attention to her, and makes her known.  So, through touting the fact that she likes being a nobody, her nobody status is lost.  So there's another possibility for irony.  I hope that helps!  Good luck!

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