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I'm Nobody! Who Are You?

by Emily Dickinson
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What is the tone of "I'm Nobody! Who Are you?"

The tone of "I'm Nobody! Who Are You?" is simple and lighthearted, but it also has undertones of loneliness, rebellion, and scorn.

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This is a poem that can be read to have a number of tones. On a lighthearted level, it feels like this is an amusing poem which encourages individuality and pokes a bit of fun at conformists who are afraid to be themselves. The first stanza implies that if more than one person considers themselves to be a "nobody" then in fact, the "nobodies" can consider themselves the new "somebodies".

The second stanza continues to tease the idea of being a "somebody." It likens "somebodies" to frogs, which, as we know, croak day and night at certain times of the year to make certain that other frogs are aware of their presence. The fact that the bog (which would be where the frog lives) is referred to as "admiring" implies that the "somebodies" like to have an adoring audience at all times.

One could also apply a more satirical or sarcastic tone to this poem, and read it as though is it actively designed to belittle those who believe that they are "somebody. I think the words "admiring Bog" add credence to this tone. The bog is personified by being given the human quality of being able to admire the "Somebody." In doing this, Dickinson has allowed an element of sarcasm into the last line of this quirky poem.

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At first, the tone of the famous poem "I'm Nobody! Who Are You?" by Emily Dickinson seems to be simple and lighthearted, but this is deceptive. In fact, the poem has deep undertones, and a careful reading causes these to emerge. There are several tones that complement one another.

First of all, the beginning of the poem has a lonely, plaintive tone. The narrator considers herself to be nobody, that is, a person of no importance; however, she longs for companionship. For her, the best person to befriend is another nobody. In this way, she and her friend will not threaten one another. They feel safe in their anonymity and have no desire to be brought to anyone else's notice.

The poem also has a tone of rebelliousness against the status quo. The last thing most people want to become is a nobody. Most people crave the attention of others and take steps to make themselves popular. In proclaiming herself nobody, the narrator is standing apart from the rest of the crowd, all of whom are vying for the attention of the others.

Finally, the poem is scornful of people who crave societal attention and celebrity status. The narrator compares celebrities to frogs, and the people who adulate them as "an admiring bog," which is a swamp where frogs live. This ties in with another famous poem of Emily Dickinson's called "Publication - Is the Auction." In it, she refers to publication as "so foul a thing" and the "auction of the mind of man." She was of the opinion that creativity could not be bought or sold. She was extremely reclusive, and most of her poems were not published until after she died.

We see, then, that "I'm Nobody! Who Are You?" is outwardly simple and lighthearted, but has deep tones of lonely longing for companionship, rebellion, and scorn for celebrity.

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The word "wry," which means dryly humorous, is useful in describing Dickinson's tone in this poem.

The speaker is satirizing people who are attention-seekers, or people with large, public personas to maintain. She seems to relish her anonymity, and when she encounters someone who is retiring, like herself, she exclaims "then there's a pair of us!" She imagines the life of an extroverted, public-oriented person to be "dreary"—a chore—and likens that person to a "frog," a reptile declaiming his identity to a "bog," the environs of other reptiles. It is far from a flattering portrait of the extroverted personality, or those who gather around these magnetic individuals.

The speaker wryly cautions her introverted companion not to call attention to them, warning her "don't tell—they'd advertise—you know!" The speaker implies that the attention-seekers would even use the attention brought to the outliers as another subject with which to bring attention to themselves.

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The tone of "I'm Nobody! Who are you?" is a light, humorous one, and one that is also inviting; however, at the same time there is an undertone of satire that is accompanied by sarcasm.

Emily Dickinson's playful invitation to her reader to join her in being a non-entity cleverly disguises her edgy satire so that it is not so stinging. For, she is really telling her readers that being a "somebody" and having fame is often deceptive in its true value, and, therefore, not something to really admire or envy.

How public--like a Frog--
To tell one's name--the livelong June--
To an admiring Bog!

Satirizing the famous, saying that they must keep their names in the public consciousness lest they be forgotten, and mocking the people who admire the famous, calling them an "admiring Bog," a swamp that is stagnant and without any distinction, suggests that the fans along with the famous people lack any individuality and initiative of their own. Comparing them to a bog is certainly sarcastic in tone.

Clearly, then, Emily Dickinson's tone may be playful, but it is also potent in its underlying satire of the sacrifice of individuality that both the celebrity and the admirer suffer.

 

 
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