Examine how "This is My Letter to the World" challenges or supports the idea that belonging involves some degree of loss of identity.

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

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Like much of Dickinson's work, complexity is embraced in a small space.  Examining the relationship between belonging and loss of identity in "This is My Letter to the World" involves such intricacy.  On one hand, an argument can be made that the poem challenges the idea that there is a loss of identity in the notion of belonging.  Evidence of this can be seen in the "committed" nature of the poet's "message."  There is little loss of identity when the message of the poet is so driven and fully authenticated. Even though the world "never wrote to me," the voice of the artist is one that is strong enough to speak to the larger entity without being sacrificed.  The outside world cannot shake this foundation.  Such a resolve is evident in that the poet can submit her work, her voice, to the world. In doing so, there not a loss of identity through her participation with the world through her work. It becomes clear that the poem might challenge the idea that belonging involves some loss of identity.

Yet, by the same token, the complexity of the poem lies in how it can be easily seen that there is a loss of identity when one seeks to belong.  The ending of the poem in which Dickinson pleads with the world to "judge tenderly of me" conveys how the external world can remove identity of the individual through its harsh judgment. The invocation of a desire to "judge tenderly" is extremely important in the poem.  It suggests that there is a loss of identity when one interacts with the world, and for this reason, the desire to "judge tenderly" is what closes the poem.  Dickinson leaves the reader with colliding images about the implications of socialization, prompting reflection and rumination about what it means to interact with others.

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