The primary literary strategy in Emily Dickinson’s “My Life Had Stood – a Loaded Gun”, is a metaphor of a gun and its master which is used to represent a wife and her husband. This metaphor is used to illustrate an unbalanced relationship where the wife is objectified and lacks agency. The wife reduced to an object which is at the disposal of her hunter/master/husband.
The gun narrates the poem and it takes pleasure in expressing its power to kill. The poem presents the challenge of identifying who the speaker is and who the gun metaphorically represents (Forman). To help solve this riddle, Angela Estes asks, “For whom in the nineteenth century would pleasure and power be problematic should they be expressed?”. A female speaker is the most obvious and workable answer. If the speaker is a woman, than Estes asserts that the poem is “the plight of a speaker who is dependent on the actions of another for the release of power.” Because power and a strong will are traditionally characterized as masculine qualities, it would be difficult for a woman in the 19th century to express these characteristics without appearing as if she has lost touch with her femininity (Estes). Society pressures women to be passive and can look down on women who have a strong will and are powerful. Therefore, the only socially acceptable way for women to express their power and will is in conjunction with their husband's power and will. This is symbolized by how the gun can only express its explosive power and its will to kill when the hunter pulls the trigger. The gun is literally unable to express itself or act on its own because it is an inanimate object. By metaphorical extension, the poem is showing us how women are forced to become like inanimate objects, discouraged from expressing their desires, pleasure, will or power.
Angela Estes claims that the speaker’s description of her past, present and future life can be characterized as a life of repression, eruption, and than fear of repression. The gun/wife was useless while she waited in the corners, she become useful while in the hands of the hunter, and she fears returning to the corners and being useless again.
The poem describes the hunter/husband and gun/wife lives together as they roam the woods and hunt doe. The gun/wife propels her husband to loftier heights with her power (Palmerino). In contrast to her life prior life in the corners where she sat unnoticed, when the gun/wife now speaks “The Mountains straight reply -”. In other words, when the gun is fired there is a echo. Now she can be heard and her power can be felt. She has an effect on her surroundings. This can allude to how as a married women, the wife now has a higher social status and is more likely to be taken seriously and listened to. In the fifth section, the gun comes to the peak of her power and sounds like she has autonomous agency, or as Vendler describes it, the gun takes a “grammatically independent action” (319). The speaker says that “I...