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Analysis Of Much Madness Is Divinest Sense By Emily Dickinson

984 words - 4 pages

In 'Much Madness is divinest Sense' (435), a definition poem, Emily Dickinson criticizes society's inability to accept rebellion, arguing that the majority is the side that should in fact be considered 'mad.' The perception of madness and insanity are a common theme among Dickinson's poetry, as she fought against society's tainted view of herself as crazy. She focuses on how judgmental society is on non conformist views when she describes the majority as 'discerning' (line 2). As similar to most of her poetry, she writes in iambic meter and uses slant rhyme, as lines one, three, and seven end with 'Sense', 'Madness', 'dangerous', and lines six and eight, in 'sane' and 'Chain' in seemingly rhyme scheme. Dickinson credits the majority with prevailing, however, anyone who disagrees is considered a threat to society and sentenced to punishment.

MacDonald agues that 'Much Madness in divinest Sense,' (435) features one of Dickinson?s more disturbing themes, using ?dark imagery of confinement and fear? (1) to draw the reader into the subject of madness. A division between society?s view of acceptable and appropriate is made between that which is considered against the norm, or mad. Tying into a current issue at the time MacDonald suggests among contemporary writers of the time, Dickinson?s poetry is in response to the Civil War, as it questions ?the purity of the nation,? (1) challenging readers to understand the sanity of the war itself. However, this critique does not limit Dickinson?s poem in response to the Civil War, as ?madness? can suggest more than simply the immorality of slavery in the late 1880s. This ?madness? is also compared with the normalcy during the 1800s that ?women should marry and lead lives for the benefit and entertainment of men? (1), a time in which she yet again conflicts with society?s view of normal. Although she was not literally insane, she was judged as so from society because she chose to bar herself socially for much of her adult life. Throughout the poem Dickinson exhibits anger both ambiguously, ?Much Madness is divinest Sense? (line 1) and blatantly, ?Demur?you?re straightway dangerous? (line 7), with a conflict of madness between the parties. The final line of the poem, ?And handled with a Chain?(line 8), is a direct reference to a psychiatric treatment performed late in the century, of a literal restraining of chaining patients who were considered mad and harmful to society.

Kattelman believed Emily Dickinson was an expert at combining clever word choices with concepts and images into a few short but very powerful lines of poetry (1). On the surface ?Much Madness is divinest Sense? communicates both irony and defiance as the speaker denies the idea of common sense while reaching for a greater truth. We initially learn and recognize the difference between sane and insane as recognized by the society at large. As we read deeper, we begin to understand her...

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