Ideas of Gender and Domesticity in Leaves of Grass and Selected Emily Dickinson Poems
Though both Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson were highly self-reliant and individualistic, he found importance in the “frontiers” and believed the soul was only attainable through a physical connection with nature, whereas she chose to isolate and seclude herself from her community in order to focus solely on her writing. In this analysis, I will look at excerpts from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and Emily Dickinson’s poems, “I’m ‘wife’— I’ve finished that”, “What mystery pervades a well!” and “I’ll tell you how the sun rose”, to contrast their representations of self-realization and domesticity and the implications of this domesticity on their gender.
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In his opinion, the only way to live was to live freely and to be free from human entanglement, and so he sought to sever himself from all connections with urban civilization (Farland, 823). Evidently, according to his text, this method was effective, as he said, “we ascend dazzling and tremendous as the sun, we found our own O my soul in the calm and cool of the daybreak”, a daybreak which, if he hadn’t given up all urban connections, he may never have encountered. Furthermore, he argues that even though he has found this self-actualization, it isn’t something you can experience through his text—“Not I, not any one else can travel that road for you, you must travel it for yourself” (L, 46). Emily Dickinson’s ideas of domesticity, however, are much in contrast to Mr. Whitman’s. In her poem, “What mystery pervades a well!”, she discusses the ‘mystery’ of nature and says “I often wonder he
/ can stand so close and look so bold
/ at what is awe to me”, signifying that she is much more intimidated by nature—“nature is a stranger”— and not as prone to go forth into it in search of adventure. I don’t mean to say that she doesn’t write about nature, Dickinson does write about nature quite a bit, but her representations of nature are far more domesticated. In “I’ll tell you how the sun rose”, she remarks