Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department / School


First Advisor

Paul Witherington


As a romantic poet, Emily Dickinson was fascinated by nature, individualism, man's relation with God and the universe and the other unperceivable problems of love, pain and death. Emerson and Thoreau dwelt on "Transcendentalism” with great enthusiasm; they were absorbed in their pilgrimage into nature and with man's place in this ambiguous universe. Melville's literary interests revealed the tensions that existed in his mind and in the culture at large--tensions set up by the conflict between the will to believe and the need to be shown, between transcendentalism and empiricism in philosophy, between religion and science. Whitman was content with "democracy" in nature through its “Leaves of Grass” --looking with great pleasure at this brave new continent and gazing with deep admiration and love at man's calloused hands and his drops of sweat. Dickinson was also creating her own world: so private, so crowded and so turned into itself. Her world was limited to the garden and its flowers, mushrooms, birds, insets, spiders and trees. Her window was her channel for the storm, sea, the aurora, the Amherst new train; the window was also her distinctive ear through which she heard the church bells, the birds' songs, the wind's lashes. Her window, too, was her medium to see the people plod along the streets with their hopes and fears. A large part of her world was reading which acquainted her with Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton, the Brontes, Byron, Shelley, Keats, the Brownings, and even her contemporaries such as Emerson and Helen Hunt Jackson. Reading was her magic carpet to Paris and Geneva, the Alps, and The Himalayas and Vesuvius. But Dickinson created a mythological personality through her poetry much more daring and much more attractive than that of Mark Twain's Huck or Stephen Crane's Maggie or even the pale, half-dying, Hellenic women of Edgar Allan Poe. Dickinson has given world literature a unique personality in her poetry where dread mingles with peace, hope with despair, success with failure; where the bee and the butterfly and the spider and the flower communicate their secrets to man. Her poetry yields a personality which will forever allure readers and teach them how “the human heart in conflict with itself"--as Faulkner put it in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech will always remain the center of all living literature. like Melville, Dickinson never tried to resolve such a conflict even at her deepest and most complex creative level; instead, she dramatized it. She had learned that the world was too complex to be pictured in black and white. One of her amazing techniques of style is her frequent use of the dash as a punctuation mark. By the dash Dickinson suggests either one of two things: a pause which enables the reader or listener to connect the previous idea or vision with the following one, or a gap that suggests an open-ended vision that no words could express.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Dickinson, Emily, 1830-1886 -- Criticism and interpretation



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University