Analysis of Emily Dickinson’s 320

emily-dickinson

Emily Dickinson’s 320 deals with themes of death which is somewhat predictable for Dickinson, but what makes this poem different, is that this poem delves into the competing narratives of religious teachings and her personal instincts. 320 begins with imagery of attractive light but describes it as oppressive and of heft. Here she expresses the heavy weight that the light casts which I interpret as Heavenly imagery. The weight of heaven reflects the weight that death has on her mind (which is often the case for Dickinson). The last line of the stanza says that the light is “Of Cathedral Tunes” and at this point, she is contrasting the Church’s narrative of death and instincts of death. Here, she breaks her rhyme scheme (which is generally ABCB in this poem), reflecting her break from the church’s values. In the following stanza, she elaborates on her personal views of death, claiming that one who dies and goes to heaven with “Heavenly Hurt” (capitalized to imply that its a proper noun since it is religious imagery). Dickinson also claims that faith should be in tandem with soul searching, or “internal difference where Meanings are”. “Meaning” is capitalized here to create a pause for further emphasis as it is elaborated on later. The following stanza discusses her frustration with the church’s teachings, deeming it “Seal Despair”, implying that “none can teach” these meanings. The final stanza concludes with the personal experience of death. Dickinson says “the landscape listens-“. The hyphen suspends the phrase for a moment, reflecting nature’s pause to observe death. Then, the death goes “like the Distance”, proving that only in that time, can one truly find their own  truth and meaning.

Citations:

Baym, Nina, and Robert S. Levine, eds. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 8th ed. Vol. C. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2012. Print.

A full version of her poem can be found here

 

How the Other Half Lives Reflection

Jacob Riis’ Photographs were shocking and moving, as they displayed an unfiltered version of America’s past. Many times, we choose to tell our American story through the eyes of American exceptionalism; a “city on the hill” built by hardworking people. But the way that we built our infrastructure wasn’t so honorable because, in fact, it was built on the backs of the poor, working class.

RiisDump

Photograph found here

I found this photo particularly striking because we see a laborer in a poverty, displayed in the most unfiltered way. We see a tired and unhappy laborer. The caption tells us that this is where he lives and we are to infer that the belongings around him are all that he has. He is truly impoverished. He seems to be without access to showers or a way to clean himself, he is without a proper bed and seems only to have the clothes on his back. In this way, at least in my opinion, he is being denied basic rights.

What was most striking to me was the caption. The caption read “In sleeping quarters, Rivington Street Dump”. I had studied the picture first, trying to understand what was being portrayed until the caption caught my eye. I realized that not only is he living in extreme poverty, but he is living in a dump. I assumed he was living in a basement or out of a small room, when he doesn’t really have a “real” home. So then I went back to the picture and studied his face and that is where I found the true narrative. He is a poor, working class man. He looks tired and despondent, reflecting the feelings of other working class members as well. He is without a home, and seems to be, without a family.

Fredrick Douglas said that, sadly, his story wasn’t unique. In the same way, this laborer’s story is not unique in that many other working class people struggled in poverty and struggle. And that is precisely the type of American History that we often leave out.

Citation:

Riis, Jacob. In Sleeping Quarters, Rivington Street Dump. N.d. How the Other Half Lives, n.p.