Is this a good thesis: Dickinson use of enjambment and repetition shows society's disregard for virtue and the debilitating nature of death.I have to write a commentary on Emily Dickinson's "I...

Is this a good thesis: Dickinson use of enjambment and repetition shows society's disregard for virtue and the debilitating nature of death.

I have to write a commentary on Emily Dickinson's "I died for beauty but was scarce"

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mstultz72's profile pic

mstultz72 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

I don't see the connection between any of those.  I'm pretty sure Dickinson's speaker does not disregard virtue.  In fact, Dickinson is poking fun at her speaker for dying for a cause (beauty).  The poem is a satire on romantic martyrdom.  It reminds me of Romeo and Juliet, who died for love.

I don't believe death can be debilitating, can it?  In fact, the dead people live on for a while.  There are gothic elements of decay in the last two lines, and the "moss" growing over their mouths shows the natural world thriving, intruding, and silencing the dead.  So, their deaths were in vain: time marches on.

There's only two instances of enjambment (in the first stanza between lines 1-2 and 3-4):

I died for beauty, but was scarce
Adjusted in the tomb,
When one who died for truth was lain
In an adjoining room.

The enjambment enhances the lyricism and rhyme of that stanza.  I don't see any special connection with enjambment to virtue or death.  I don't see any repetition in the poem at all, do you?

Regardless of which rhetorical devices you place in your thesis, you need to prove directly and explicitly what matches up with what.  Your thesis has four random elements thrown together without cause or effect.

margaretlouise's profile pic

margaretlouise | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted on

A few thoughts:

I do love that you're pointing to the actual language of the poem in your thesis, and enjambment is huge for Dickinson, esp. this poem.

when you say it "shows" society's disregard, you have to be careful, because that assumes that there is some stable truth about society that the poem is merely revealing.  Poems actively construct a certain world and a certain effect with each choice of diction, enjambment, etc.; they depict society as X or argue that society thinks Y.

I think the trouble with this thesis as it stands now is that it's somewhat hodgepodge.  We've got two ideas: dying for truth is no better (or something) than dying for beauty, and death is debilitating.  How do they go together?

I'm trying to mind read here, but it seems as if you're going to talk about the double meaning of "I was scarce" and "I was scarce/ adjusted in the tomb," where the latter reading (across the enjambment) produces narrative information, while the former reading (which registers the pause created by the line break) creates a sense of lack on the narrator's part (I was scarce).

The repetition is, I think, going to be "died for beauty," "died for truth" + was + adjective (scarce/lain)?  So the fact that these deaths are made parallel by the language, aside from the fact that one death is for beauty and the other truth, and the fact that the actual "characters" are laid in adjoining rooms, implies that the deaths are somehow equivalent or comparable.

I *think* that's where you were going with enjambment/repetition.  So the question remains, for me, whether you see the sense of lack implied by the enjambment, a lack connected to a death for beauty, as contradicted or reinforced by the fact that the death for beauty is written as parallel to the death for truth.

Are beauty and truth both "noble causes," or are you taking beauty to be a lesser cause than truth (that's what it seems like from your thesis that society disregards virtue).  If they're both noble causes, and the deaths are portrayed as parallel, then it seems that the "lack" expressed by the enjambment condemns both deaths-for-causes as not worth it.  If beauty is a lesser cause, and that's the lack the enjambment names, then that sense that it wasn't worth it to die for beauty contradicts the fact that the poem makes the deaths parallel, or comparable.

I hope that isn't totally confusing.  Those questions are meant to help you develop an argument that draws a connection between the two meaning-producing features of the poem that you've identified.  Again, I hope you'll scrap the pronouncement about society, and stick to making a claim about what the poem says about death, or causes, or, or, or...

Good luck with your essay!

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