The poem ‘I’m “Wife” – I’ve finished that’ by Emily Dickinson will be stylistically analysed using feminist stylistics and speech and thought representation analysis.
Feminist stylistics involves analysing literature and observing why authors choose certain ways to express themselves and how ‘certain effects can be achieved through language’ (Mills, 1995:5). An understanding is needed to recognize that literature is often bias mirroring a social perspective, whilst feminist stylistics focus on a feminist perspective.
Speech and thought representation allows readers to understand a characters thoughts and feelings through their use of speech which can alter readers understanding (Mushin, 2001).
The poem, ‘I‘m “Wife”- I’ve finished that’, is written from a female perspective about a woman’s freedom before and after marriage. The female voice in the poem is present however the identity of the woman is ‘made ultimately invisible’. This is because nineteenth century female writers had to ‘make themselves heard’ whilst ‘denying their presence as a female object’ (Grabher, 1998: 231).
Many critics share the view that Dickinson lived in a ‘patriarchal’ society (Martin, 2002:45). Majority of her poems include women living in an oppressive society and the poem is unsurprisingly feminist. Many of Dickinson’s poems have been analysed in order to understand how the poet reacted to the limitations put on women in the nineteenth century society.
Dickinson lived a quiet private life; it was in her writings that she revealed a strong feminine supremacy through her inspiring and creative work. She rarely left her house and started to live in almost complete isolation yet her poems demand ‘readerly participation’ (Martin, 2002:6). The poetic voices in Dickinson’s poems are often seeking to want more from life; but they also contain the idea of hope where opportunities for contentment and happiness are possible.
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In the poem ‘I ‘m “Wife”- I’ve finished that’ Dickinson wanted to show the difference in becoming a ‘Woman’ and a ‘Wife’. The poetic voice is a young girl who has conflicting feelings about turning into a woman particularly a wife, whilst constantly reassuring herself that it is ‘safer’ and ‘comfortable’ to be so. Her contradictory feelings arise when she realises that leaving girlhood, becoming a woman and then a wife will prevent her from having self-identity, because once she is a ‘Wife’ she is almost labelled as the possession of her husband.
Emily Dickinson portrays an extremely complicated approach regarding marriage in the poem. Although Dickinson was not married, she clearly demonstrated her perception on both situations, of being single and being married.
In the opening verse, the poetic voice is clearly anxious and concerned that she will have to close the chapters of her life as a girl now that she is married. The label ‘Wife’ given to women is contrasted with ‘Czar’; which is commonly associated with men as a wife can never become ‘Czar’ but a husband can. A woman is capable of becoming ‘Czar’ on her own, however once a ‘wife’ becomes a wife it ‘Stops there!’ with only the husband to appreciate her. It is clear that there are pressures on becoming a wife and the poetic voice is nervous that her life will become dominated by her husband after marriage.
Inequality is present in the first stanza because the female is expected to go through changes to become a woman and then change from a woman into a wife; however nothing is expected of a man. Piercing dashes are used to dismiss any comparisons which may be used in regard to the persona’s previous life as a girl (Crumbley, 1997: 123). Capital letters and exclamation marks on the closing line of the poem show the frustration, unfairness and discrimination between men and women in Dickinson’s society.
I think the poetic voice is reluctantly accepting the idea that a ‘woman’ should ‘Stop’ at becoming a ‘wife’ and to be nothing more, because a wife has to acknowledge her husband wishes which restricts her from full freedom. In the poem Dickinson is implying that a woman who is not married is capable of more, without having others interfere such as a husband might.
Dickinson did not get married. It is startling then that her view on girls growing up would be to then move on to the stage of marriage. Dickinson is experiencing change because she has never been married before; therefore fantasizing about marriage allows her to explore her imagination and experience male dominance which in reality she does not want. I think the poet believed that it is ‘safer’ to be labelled and to be given an identity and she reflects this in the poem because it makes her feel protected compared to the identity she has in reality.
Dickinson produces a complicated representation of marriage. In the first verse ‘I’m “wife” – I’ve finished that / I’m “Woman” now – It’s safer so,’ the poetic voice is trying to reassure herself that now that she is married she has left her girlhood behind and has become a complete woman. I think the point Dickinson is trying to express is that every girl only truly becomes a full woman after she has married. In line 3, ‘I’m Czar’ illustrates a positive idea regarding marriage however the last line of verse 1, ‘It’s safer so’ is contradictory. In the nineteenth century it was the norm for girls to grow up get married and to have children; therefore in the last line Dickinson ridicules the cultural norms of society for imposing these stereotypical views on girls pressurising them to get married.
In the second line of stanza 2, the marriage is called a ‘soft Eclipse’ which is the phase the woman is going through whilst reflecting on herself as a girl who has a sceptical feeling on marriage. The inequality of men and women is present when the woman goes through the stages of being a girl and into womanhood. Dickinson’s feminist thoughts are reflected in the poem showing that the persona secretly thinks it is more acceptable to be “Woman” instead of “Wife”. However, it could be argued that she is reflecting on the natural stages a girl goes through in life, and she sees marriage as a protection from pain. I think that Dickson is implying that a woman is more secure in marriage having a place in society, a partner to care for you and household full of responsibilities to fulfil the expectations of a “Wife”.
The poet compares being single and married to that of heaven and earth. The ‘Earth’ is used to suggest that single life is hard whereas married life is compared to that in ‘Heaven’.
Emily Dickinson is insecure with the idea of becoming a full woman. She talks about marriage and uses quotation marks around “Wife” and “Woman” because these words seem strange when associated with her, because she does not want to get married. However she visualises getting married and appears to be mocking the concept too.
Becoming a “Wife” was the only responsibility a girl had when she reached womanhood and there is clearly a feeling of regret. Dickinson has no social identity because she was single and women did not want to have this title as it was undesirable in society.
The last stanza emphasises on Dickinson’s feelings about marriage. The point she is making is that married life will bring ‘comfort’ to a girl through marriage. The final verse starts with ‘This being comfort – then/ That other kind — was pain’, this creates contrasting ideas suggesting that marriage can bring happiness however it can also bring problems, sadness and pain.
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The pain represents the reality of marriage within the poem. A husband and wife are combined by marriage and may be happy however, if they do not unite problems will arise that threatens the marriage and the home. When this happens it is very often that one person in the relationship will over power the other and it is usually the husband who dominates and suppresses the wife.
Dickinson constantly compares herself as a wife to a woman and a girl from the start to the end of the poem asking ‘why compare?’ because she is confused by the expectations required of a girl to get married, however she is trying to come to a conclusion. The last line ‘I’m “Wife”! Stop there!’ sounds like a command from a man, shouting and ordering the woman to stop questioning herself. The poet is trying to reflect that pain is caused when being alone. A married woman is a woman in her own right, although she will be expected to stop at being a “Wife” because only certain traits will be required of them.
Dickinson finishes the poem in an optimistic manner, stating that marriage should not be compared because she is a “Wife” and her thoughts should stop there. Again she is choosing to identify herself as a “Wife” although in reality she was not, which implies that being a “Wife” was a respectable status, and Dickinson is clearly mocking society by going against it.
A distinct emphasis has been placed on the way Dickinson portrays speech and thoughts, on the poetic voice in the poem. Direct thought is the dominant manner that she uses to display the persona’s expressions because it makes the poem more dramatic. The reader gains an insight into the conscience of the poetic voice and the authors mind; this allows readers to observe the different thoughts and feelings that the author is experiencing and trying to convey. The speech and thought of the poetic voice appears to be very confused talking about marriage with contrasting thoughts which shows that the poet is incomplete in some way and her thoughts are very disarrayed.
Dickinson clearly wanted to reflect the complicated issues regarding views on women and marriage. The first stanza lines 1-3 show that Emily is in favour of marriage, however the last line contradicts her opinion and she is implying that being married is the safer option, ridiculing society, as they impose these views on girls that they should get married.
She wants to highlight that marriage is respectable in society and provides girls with a secure life however, it can also cause pain and problems especially for women who enjoy their independence which reflects the feminist views that women will be restricted after marriage because they will be dominated by males, their husbands.
The poem compares the confusing thoughts of a female who is pressurised to get married and to follow the norms of society. I think the poem has an extremely feminist approach and is intended to mock society for wanting girls to grow up, marry and live a typical life. This poem contrasts ideas to show that women are independently better on their own; however marriage is the safer option because it is what society expects of them.
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