Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In this poem, Dickinson begins with a familiar American scene—a gun, a hunter, and a hunting trip in the woods—and transforms it into a poem about a divided self—a self filled with the potential for pleasure and power but without the means to express pleasure and power for herself. The central concerns of the poem are the separation within the speaker of her “Life” from the means to express it autonomously and the consequences for her in the expression of power and pleasure.

The structure of the poem underscores these concerns. The poem’s most obvious structure—moving from past to present to future—makes possible the thematic progression of the poem from impotence to power to impotence or, in other terms, from repression to eruption to fear of repression. As the poem develops, the unleashing of the speaker’s pleasure and power builds to a climax as the speaker’s awareness of her ability to act and enjoy increases. The speaker’s interaction with her own autonomous power, in fact, leads her to either the realization or the illusion (the poem never makes clear which one it is) that she can be the author of her own pleasure and power.

At the final stanza, the speaker (as gun) is pulled from her reverie of power by her sudden recollection of her dependence on her “Owner.” It is he, after all, who must pull the trigger. Her realization corresponds metaphorically to her emptiness after her powerful bullet has been fired. In...

(The entire section is 596 words.)