Much Madness Is Divinest Sense Topics for Further Study
by Emily Dickinson

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Topics for Further Study

(Poetry for Students)

Find a complete collection of Dickinson’s poems that contains a subject or category classification of her poetry. Choose at least five poems that could be interpreted as focusing on issues of self, identity, oppression, or some other topic that could be taken as a feminist concern. Write a paper as if you were a feminist theorist studying these particular poems.

The treatment of those who were deemed insane was a topic often discussed during the nineteenth century. Research the history of the asylums that existed in the United States during this time period, especially those in New England, focusing mainly on the female population that inhabited these institutions. What was the most significant malady? What were the treatments?

The film Beautiful Dreamer (1991) captures a portion of the lives of Dr. Maurice Burke and Walt Whitman as they come together in an attempt to look at insanity in a new and creative way. Watch this movie, then watch One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, another movie that deals with people who have been deemed insane. Compare the themes in these two movies. After watching both videos, write your own poem dealing with some aspect of madness and sanity.

Dickinson wrote hundreds of letters in her lifetime. In most of these letters, she included one or more poems. Pretend that you are Dickinson and that you have sent a poem to one of your closest friends. Make up a letter to go with this poem. Expand on Dickinson’s ideas of how the definitions of sanity and madness are somewhat arbitrary concepts. Go deeper into her feelings of suppression in regards to her sense of individuality.