What purpose does the capitalization of Madness, Sense, Majority, and Chain in "Much Madness is Divinest Sense" serve?

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In her criticism of "Much Madness is Divinest Sense," Beth Kattelman points to Dickinson's effectiveness of defying the norms with the visual elements in her poetry. One of the strongest of these elements is her use of capitalization.  In this short, but pithy poem, Dickinson's capitalization serves three purposes:  It  personifies words, it emphasizes important ideas, and it provides a strong visual element.

By capitalizing words such as "Majority," Dickinson changes the What to the Who. By evoking the image of people, the poet creates a specificity that produces a greater effect upon the reader.  For, then, as readers visualize who this "Majority" represents--civic rulers, religious leaders, business leaders--they gain a deeper understanding of the poem's meaning.

Likewise, the words "Madness" and "Sense" are scrutinized as a result of their capitalization. For one thing, this capitalization draws readers' attention to the contrast of ideas of what is considered insanity by the ruling majority and what the poet suggests is truly sense, thereby emphasizing the theme of this poem, that "insanity" is an ambiguous term, given meaning only by those in power. Further, the capitalization of the word "Eye" creates a pun upon the pronoun I: the speaker perceives the insanity of blindly following the dictates of society.

  • Emphasis of Important Words

By capitalizing certain words, they are made to stand apart from the rest of the verse, thus attaining the attention and consideration of readers. As Sense is capitalized, for instance, this word's concept draws attention to its modifying adjective, "divinest," a word that suggests that in reality, "Madness" is divine, the ability to create and be different, which is godlike.

  • Provocation of a Strong Visual Element

Certainly, the visual effect of capitalization draws readers' attention to the words and their meanings. In addition, seeing such a word as "Chain" capitalized extends its connotations as readers visualize not only a literal chain, but the idea of being physically and socially restrained and cruelly forced into submission--"handled with a Chain."


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