Emily Dickinson's My Life Had Stood a Loaded Gun

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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 object... ... middle of paper ... ...a loaded gun. Works Cited Dickinson, Emily. “My Life Had Stood — A Loaded Gun — (764).” The Poems of Emily Dickinson. Ed. R. W. Franklin. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999. Poetry Foundation. Web. 8 April, 2014. Estes, Angela M. "My Life Had Stood — A Loaded Gun —." Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition. 2002. 1-3. Literary Reference Center. Web. 8 Apr. 2014. Forman, Robert J. "My Life Had Stood — A Loaded Gun —." Magill’S Survey Of American Literature, Revised Edition. 2006. Literary Reference Center. Web. 8 Apr. 2014. Palmerino, Gregory. "Emily Dickinson's MY LIFE HAD STOOD – A LOADED GUN –." Explicator 69.2 (2011): 81-85. Literary Reference Center. Web. 8 Apr. 2014. Vendler, Helen. “764. My Life Had Stood — A Loaded Gun —.” Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2010. 318-322. Print.
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