woman in repose floating through the air surrounded by ghosts

Because I could not stop for Death—

by Emily Dickinson
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What is a good thesis statement for "Because I could not stop for Death—"?

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A good thesis statement should allow for debate and discussion. The main character, and the main focus in "Because I could not stop For Death—" is the personification of death. Death is presented as friendly and accommodating, but also as unavoidable and unbending. A good thesis statement, therefore, might be...

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A good thesis statement should allow for debate and discussion. The main character, and the main focus in "Because I could not stop For Death—" is the personification of death. Death is presented as friendly and accommodating, but also as unavoidable and unbending. A good thesis statement, therefore, might be something like the following: Death is presented in an unfamiliar, comforting light. One might then draw upon other literature from the late nineteenth century to debate just how unfamiliar Dickinson's presentation of death really is. One might also debate whether the presentation of death is indeed comforting, or in fact disconcerting. It seems comforting on one hand: indeed, the personification of death is described as behaving with "civility." On the other hand, "Death" doesn't speak or pause. It continues relentlessly, inevitably, taking the speaker towards her death whether the speaker is ready or not.

Arlo Bates, an American author, once described Dickinson's poetry as "obscure, broken, unmelodious." This criticism might be used as the basis for a more challenging thesis statement, for example, Dickinson's "Because I could not stop for Death—" gives credence to Arlo Bates's view that her poetry was often "obscure, broken, [and] unmelodious." Any response to this thesis statement would need to focus on the rhythm of the poem but would also need to unpack the word "obscure." The word "obscure" implies a lack of clarity, but the meaning of the poem seems, ostensibly, rather clear. The meaning of the poem seems simply to be that we should not be afraid of death. However, one might also infer from the poem that death is cold, unbending and unavoidable, which would seem a fearful prospect to most. Perhaps then the meaning of the poem isn't as clear as it might at first appear, and perhaps Arlo Bates was right to comment that Dickinson's poetry was obscure.

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Death is personified in this poem. He is presented as a kind of chauffeur and then a seducer. But the journey is slow and leisurely, so one implication is that death is natural, even peaceful. And the personified Death is likewise a guide as much as he is a thief of life; death itself.

That being said, the opening lines suggest that one is never prepared for death.

Because I could not stop for death -

He kindly stopped for me -

The entire poem is the speaker's narration of her journey with death (or Death). This journey has lasted centuries. This is noted in the final stanza. This could mean that death is timeless or endless. The speaker is basically wandering while watching familiar signs of life. Since this centuries long journey only feels like a day, it is as if time stopped and she is now an immortal observer.

The word "passed" occurs four times. Note the pun on "past." The speaker says that the sun passed them, meaning the sun sets more quickly than they move. The speaker, Death and Immortality are outside of time. Everything to them is "past" or, everything passes them by. In this context, a potential thesis statement would be something dealing with time in life and in death. Might Dickinson be presenting an odd afterlife? Rather than heaven or hell, the dead are "past" (beyond) time, like ghosts are beyond the physical world, aimlessly (and yet peacefully) wandering.

 

 

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