illustrated portrait of English poet Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson

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How does "This is My Letter to the World" challenge and support the idea of true belonging through shared values?

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Dickinson's poem about an artistic statement to the world is packed with complexity and intricacy.  Different vantage points from the same poem can be generated.  One such divergence can be seen in how the poem addresses that true belonging comes from shared values.  Dickinson as the speaker is quite open about how she is going to be sharing her work with the world.  From the opening of the poem, it becomes clear that the speaker, presumably Dickinson, is going to share her "letter to the world."  Even if the world "never wrote" to her, she is still going to share her voice with the world.  This voice is reflective of "simple news that Nature told," and she has no worry about the act of communion that will take place.  This opening suggests that values might not be shared, but there can be a sense of belonging established.  The opening of the poem does not suggest that what is shared is going to be convergent with values shared and accepted.  Rather, the act of sharing is something that can exist outside of shared and parallel values.  This helps to support the idea that true belonging does not have to comes from shared values.

However, within this light, the close of the poem can offer some evidence to support the idea that belonging must come from shared values.  Consider the ending of the poem as an example of this.  The "hands" that cannot be seen are emphasized in the closing plea of the poem to be judged tenderly.  Dickinson would not make this request of those she cannot see unless she understood that social judgments can result in the most brutal of manners. Dickinson makes this plea because she is aware that those who hold values which are not shared by external world can be treated in a harsh manner.  It is for this reason that she pointedly asks to be judged "tenderly."  This request comes from a position in which she understands that individuals are not necessarily judged in the most open of manners should their views collide with the dominant majority.  It is in this where the poem might suggest that true belonging does come from shared values.

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Examine how "This is My Letter to the World" challenges or supports the idea that belonging involves some degree of loss of identity.

Like much of Dickinson's work, complexity is embraced in a small space.  Examining the relationship between belonging and loss of identity in "This is My Letter to the World" involves such intricacy.  On one hand, an argument can be made that the poem challenges the idea that there is a loss of identity in the notion of belonging.  Evidence of this can be seen in the "committed" nature of the poet's "message."  There is little loss of identity when the message of the poet is so driven and fully authenticated. Even though the world "never wrote to me," the voice of the artist is one that is strong enough to speak to the larger entity without being sacrificed.  The outside world cannot shake this foundation.  Such a resolve is evident in that the poet can submit her work, her voice, to the world. In doing so, there not a loss of identity through her participation with the world through her work. It becomes clear that the poem might challenge the idea that belonging involves some loss of identity.

Yet, by the same token, the complexity of the poem lies in how it can be easily seen that there is a loss of identity when one seeks to belong.  The ending of the poem in which Dickinson pleads with the world to "judge tenderly of me" conveys how the external world can remove identity of the individual through its harsh judgment. The invocation of a desire to "judge tenderly" is extremely important in the poem.  It suggests that there is a loss of identity when one interacts with the world, and for this reason, the desire to "judge tenderly" is what closes the poem.  Dickinson leaves the reader with colliding images about the implications of socialization, prompting reflection and rumination about what it means to interact with others.

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