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Emily Dickinson wrote at the tail end of the Romantic period, and even though she was influenced by some of the ideals of Romanticism, is most commonly known as a writer from the Realist era. However, her writing embodies the defining characteristics that are identified with each of these periods.
The main characteristic of Romanticism that Emily Dickinson portrays in her writing is the emphases of the importance of Nature to the Romantics. In most of her poems there is some mention or comparison to something found in Nature. In Poem 449, she refers to the moss that covers the names on the graves of the tombstones of “Beauty” and “Truth.” The Puritans believed Nature to be the realm of the devil. By including references to Nature in many of her poems, she was rebelling against the ideals of the Puritan upbringing she had hated so much.
Realists are considered to be concerned with poverty, extortion and the negative aspects of life; the harsh realities of life. In Poem 216, Emily uses words to create a metaphor for the Puritan way of life. She reveals how much they distance themselves from others and how living a Puritan way of life is much like walking on earth dead. In many ways, she mocks the wealthy Puritans too. It was their belief to not spend their money, but rather save it. In Poem 216, she is saying that all the money the Puritans obtain in life is spent on their tombstones since they are not allowed to enjoy their riches in this life. Many of her poems deal with death or dying, but this is simply a metaphor to express how bleak life has come to be in the present.
Realists were also trying to push for social reform through their writing, hinting at what may happen if reforms do not take place. Emily Dickinson views the Puritan life as a life that oppresses people from the joys it can bring. Puritans try to live a life full of hard work and little pleasure since pleasure is a thing of the devil.
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