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The Implications Of Calvinism Essay

1255 words - 5 pages

With apologies to Winston Churchill; Emily Dickinson is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Dickinson scholar Linda Freedman attempts to decipher the mysteries of the poet’s language in her book Emily Dickinson and the Religious Imagination by considering her religious imagery as an allegory for Dickinson’s poetic journey; a quest that shaped the narrative in Emily Dickinson’s work. Freedman posits a theory that “the sense of a life to be lived in the difficult knowledge of a goal beyond unites the poetic and religious quest” (98). On the other hand, author Judit Konyi argues in her essay “The Pseudo-Silence of Emily Dickinson” that Dickinson’s religious language referenced her calling as a poet and Dickinson considered herself a messenger of God (96). Could these ideas be the key to unlock the inscrutability of Dickinson’s poetry? Although I agree with both of these authors in their assessment of the importance of Dickinson’s religious phraseology each of them seem to have overlooked the overarching cogency of the harsh reality of classical five-point Calvinism and the connection between this dogma on her thinking and use of language. I celebrate the fact that these authors have identified the value in Dickinson’s religious language but a point that needs emphasizing I will examine in this essay is the influence of Calvinism on Dickinson’s poetry and the interpretation of language in her poetry through a Calvinist lens. Specifically, I will focus on the poems that reference “grace” and “election.”
Emily Dickinson was raised in a time in which religion and religious thought was a reality that shaped the everyday interactions of her time. The family and Dickinson attended a Congregationalist church with roots in Puritan or Calvinist doctrine (Freedman 16). Dickinson’s father saw to it that his daughter was well educated by sending her to the Amherst Academy and then at the age of 15 enrolling her in the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. One of the missions of Mount Holyoke was to not only educate the young women in their charge, but to convert young women to the word of Christ and give them a role in spreading it to the world. Dickinson wrestled with the question of conversion and never “raised her hand” to accept conversion while at the school. In one widely reported instance, the headmistress of the school, Mary Lyon, asked all the students who wanted to be Christians to rise. Dickinson remained seated. She was one of only a handful who did not succumb to the pressure to convert. She later said to one of her classmates, Clara Newman Turner, “they thought it queer I didn’t rise, I thought a lie would be queerer.” As revealed in much of Dickinson’s personal correspondence, it appears that the poet struggled with the thorny issues of faith, and questioned religious doctrine and in my opinion Calvinist doctrine. Dickinson went to church with her family until the age of thirty, after which she never attended again. The poet lived...

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