illustrated portrait of English poet Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson

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Why does the speaker in Dickinson's "There has been a death in the opposite house" infer death rather than knowing it outright?

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1. It seems that the speaker is observing the scene from outside, probably from a nearby house ("opposite" her own), but this speaker also seems to see herself as apart from the rest of the community. She documents what she sees in a mostly neutral tone, not really indicating any feelings toward this possible death or the events that follow, but mostly reporting on what she observes. She "intuits," or infers, based on clues that she sees outside the house (the neighbors, the doctor, the mattress, the minister). At the end of the poem, she anticipates what she thinks will happen next based on these same clues. She is presumably making these inferences because she has seen similar series of events before and can read the signs.

2. The word "appalling" describes "the man ... tak[ing] measure of the house." This implies that he is some sort of appraiser or is in some way responsible for dealing with the deceased person's estate. It might be "appalling" because the speaker may see it as distasteful considering the person has just died. I could also "appall" because it hints at how  quickly the business of life goes on despite a death nearby. In context, the word  "dark" seems to refer to a parade of mourners who will be dressed in black to grieve the loss of this person.

3. The shift here is primarily a chronological one. Before line 20, the speaker seems to be making observations in the present, while  at line 20, she introduces a future tense verb ("There'll be" meaning there will be). Here, the speaker imagines what will happen next and speculates instead of reporting what she sees at the "opposite house." 

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  1. The speaker doesn't know for sure there's been a death because he doesn't see any dead body and no one actually comes out and says that someone has died.
  2. Not sure what comments you want.  Both of these words are emphasizing the negative view of death that is in this poem.  Appalling means horrifying or disgusting (and sounds like "pall") and dark has bad connotations.  So I believe she uses these words to make us feel more negative towards what has just happened.
  3. I think this shows that we are moving on from all the signs that have shown what already happened.  We are now going to put the death behind us (along with the rest of the poem) and go on with our own futures.

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