What is the meaning of Russell Banks' use of Emily Dickinson's poem 1563 in The Sweet Hereafter?  

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Russell Banks' novel, The Sweet Hereafter, like William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, approaches a single incident by viewing it from the viewpoints of multiple narrators. This multiplicity of vision gives the effect of revealing the response of the community as a whole to the tragic centrepiece of the novel, thus shifting the focus of tragedy from individual emotional response to transformation of a community.

Emily Dickinson's poem 1563, "By homely gift and hindered Words", functions as an epigraph, and highlights the theme that is created by the narrative structure. The poem emphasizes that although "homely gifts" and words which do not conform to the standards of eloquence may not create grand narratives, the "nothing" they communicate, by their very reticence, shapes and transforms the world. In the novel, this may refer to the way that the halting perceptions of individual narrators point to an unspoken composite of the community as a whole that is transformed by the accident.