Much Madness Is Divinest Sense Questions and Answers
by Emily Dickinson

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What is a one-paragraph summary for "Much Madness Is Divinest Sense"?

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"Much Madness is Divinest Sense" is a short poem by Emily Dickinson. The poem reads as follows:

Much Madness is divinest Sense—
To a discerning Eye—
Much Sense—the starkest Madness—
’Tis the Majority
In this, as all, prevail—
Assent—and you are sane—
Demur—you’re straightway dangerous—
And handled with a Chain—
The poem begins by saying that someone who has a "discerning eye," or, in other words, someone who is very observant and insightful, may see many instances of "madness," or insanity, as actually something godlike. On the other hand, what seems like "sense" or normalcy to others, may seem like "Madness" to that discerning individual. The speaker then transitions from this first paradoxical comment into a general statement about how the world operates: the majority rules in all things, including the way sanity and insanity are viewed. To develop this idea, the speaker says that those who "Assent," or go along with the majority, "are sane," while those who "Demur," or refuse to conform, are "dangerous." Social norms determine these definitions of sanity and insanity; they are not absolute concepts. Those deemed mad by the majority can be locked up in an institution for their failure to behave according to the norms.

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Summary: A perceptive person can tell that sometimes madness is actually sensible and sometimes being sensible is actually mad. The majority calls the shots on this, as on everything else. Agree with the majority, and they will call you sane; disagree with them, and they will call you crazy.

The central paradox of the poem is the idea that madness could ever be sensible or vice versa. What one needs to understand the paradox is the reference in line two to "a discerning Eye." The narrator clearly believes that the majority is not discerning, else agreeing with them (and being called sensible by them) wouldn't qualify a person -- in the speaker's eyes -- as being mad; further, since the majority is not discerning, disagreeing with them makes a person sensible, to the speaker.

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