Please explain Emily Dickinson's poem "I'm nobody."       

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It seems like the main idea in Dickinson's poem is aimed at adolescents.  Describing Dickinson's poem could be done by displaying a high school lunchroom.  In this setting, so many are driven by wanting to be known as determined by to whom they speak, with whom they sit, how they carry themselves.  Those who engage in this practice seek to be "someone."  Dickinson's poem might apply to the handful who are seeking to escape this setting.  The opening stanza makes a stinging condemnation of social conformity, making the title of being "nobody" as almost a badge of honor or distinction from the "madding crowd."  The interesting idea brought out is that when encountering the opportunity to see another "nobody," the speaker does not reject the chance of social solidarity.  In the welcoming tone, the speaker employs the collective pronoun, "Us," in trying to establish a new social order.  This is continued in the second stanza, when the speaker suggests that there is a banality to social acceptance and conformity.  In this setting, a type of blandness is linked to those who are so well known.  I cannot think of this poem as being a contrast to the modern depictions of high school life as presented in forums such as "High School Musical" or "Mean Girls."

coachingcorner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Emily Dickinson's poem 'I'm Nobody' the poet is speaking as a child and uses a child's voice. She makes a statement about herself - a decision she has already come to - and then asks a seemingly ingenuous question 'Who are you?' This seems to reflect the innocence of childhood.

She wants to know whether the person she is questioning is like her a 'nobody' but the philosophical nature of the question belies the childlish tone = she is making a judgement about the label 'nobody.'

'They'd banish us you know' suggests that that there is another body,society perhaps that is making those judgements and they have different values to her.

She seems critical of those people and their values, comparing them to a frog who has no other purpose than to sit croaking all day in a swamp telling everyone it's name.

She seems to be saying that you are not a somebody just because society tells you that you are - those that croak the loudest are not the ones most worth listening to in her eyes. Quiet modest people can have more wisdom and value.


kc4u | Student

As an addition to the already given answer, I would like to make some points about Emily Dickinson's poem "I'm nobody".

This poem is about a self-cancellation on both the social and the psychic level of the ego. Dickinson's poetic persona is always a protean. It changes from one poem to another, sometimes a bride, often a corpse and so on. In this poem, the persona is a stripping of the identitarian grab, which might be read as a radical rejection of the entire social process of communication, identity-formation and its complex networking. There is a sense of being exhausted, in the tone of the narrator. One must note that this self-negation is no compulsive plight of haplessness but a deliberate, if not ideological decision on her part.

However, quite ironically, or in an idealistic way, there is a communication developed with yet another 'nobody'. This is a radical commune of an alternative relationality. The 'they' represents some sort of repressive social space with its fixation with nomination. To be 'somebody' is to conform and thus 'dreary'.

There is an ethics of privacy at work in the poem. Dickinson rejects the public idea of a social performance of self. Telling the name throughout the day in front of a bog full of audience , which admires the name-reference is an act of conformism that the flexible artistic self denies.The poem may also be read from a feminist perspective where it may be seen as thematizing the exclusion of the female from the patriarchal set-up. And the woman turns this exclusion on its head to make it a feminist ideology of the rejection of the male order.