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Analysis of gender differences and themes in Emily Dickinson's poem "They Shut me up in Prose."


In "They Shut me up in Prose," Emily Dickinson explores themes of gender differences and societal constraints. The poem reflects the limitations imposed on women, symbolized by the confinement in "prose," representing conventional roles. Dickinson's rebellious spirit contrasts with these constraints, highlighting her desire for creative freedom and the struggle against patriarchal norms.

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What is Emily Dickinson saying about gender differences in "They Shut me up in Prose"?

The speaker in the poem connects her gender to her captivity in the first stanza. She likens being trapped in prose, a prosaic or unimaginative world, to being locked as a "Girl" in a closet. She is locked in the closet, she implies, precisely because of gender, which is expected to be passive and "still"—anything but daring and poetic.

However, in the second and third stanzas she laughs at the idea that locking her up physically can stop her poetic mind from working. As she points out in the second stanza, her "Brain" still goes "round." If her captors had seen that they would have understood the futility of trying to repress her spirit.

The third stanza ends ambiguously on a broken off thought that contains the idea of potentiality or uncompleted business. It begins by invoking "Himself," a cryptic figure looking down on her. Himself may be God, or the patriarchy, or more likely, a hybrid of the two. This male-gendered figure can do things easily, which implies that he—the man—has the power. He can look on her captivity and "laugh," but so can she; whatever men may think, she cannot be held captive by their desire that she be prosaic or ordinary.

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Analyze the poem "They shut me up in Prose-" by Emily Dickinson.

"They shut me up in Prose-" consists of three quatrains, which are stanzas of four lines each. In the first stanza, the speaker uses a metaphor to liken being forced to think in prose—to think literally and rationally—to being locked in a closet as a girl to learn to be still. Using "prose" is equated to being restricted, confined, or imprisoned as a way to learn to be docile and obedient ("still").

In the second stanza, the speaker scoffs at the idea that being confined in a small space can force her mind into obedience. By repeating the word "still," and with exclamation, she shows how confining her to keep her immobile doesn't work. The speaker goes on to jeer at the idea that keeping her body still kept her mind still, saying that her brain continued to go "round." She states they could as easily have kept her docile by imprisoning her as they could have "pound[ed]" or imprisoned a bird. Like a bird, she simply slipped away between the iron bars of the cage. In her case, she slipped away by using her imagination.

The speaker moves to the male gender in stanza three, beginning the stanza with "Himself." Himself, a male, can easily impose his "will" on a female, look down on her captivity, and "laugh." However, the speaker ends on a note of subversion that sustains the defiant tenor of the first two verses, stating, "No More Have I." By this, she means she, too, has laughed from afar at her girlish captivity just as a man might, because she wasn't a captive at all.

Dickinson causes abrupt pauses with her dashes, underscoring the subversive theme of the poem, in which a woman declares her freedom from the restrictions on thought that patriarchal "prose" and society imposes on her.

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