The Primary Literary Strategy in 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 poem is about the objectification and lack of agency in women in the 19th century. The gun/hunter metaphor is the the argument. In the poem, the woman is literally reduced to an object which is at the disposal of the hunter/master/husband.

In this poem, a reader is faced with 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?”(XX). 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, X). Society pressures women to be passive and can look down on women who have a strong will and are powerful. Therefore, women could only express power and will in conjunction with their husband's power and will. This is symbolized by how the gun can only expresses 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...

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...or the gun's sake, they are valued for what they can do. In other words, they are valued for the extrinsic or instrumental value and not for any intrinsic value. When the gun metaphorically stands for a wife, it implies that she too is only valued for her extrinsic or instrumental value and not for her intrinsic value. If the hunter only values the gun because it gives him the power to kill, than on the other side of the metaphor the husband only values the wife for what she can do for him and he does not value her for who she is.

The gun and hunter metaphor is used to represent a relationship between and husband and wife where the power dynamics are uneven. By using a metaphor where the woman is an inanimate object, it illustrates her lack of agency and objectification because she is represented by something which does not have agency and is literally an object.

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