Emily Dickinson – Belonging

To belong requires greater commitment than to not belong

Belonging is a concept that is desired by some and rejected by others. The 19th century poet, Emily Dickinson found it was impossible for her to compromise her own values, for the sake of belonging to her community. In Emily Dickinsons poems “I gave myself to him” and “I had been hungry all the years”, she reflects her acceptance of her own condition of not belonging. Through use of mercantile language, gastronomic metaphor and deromantisied language she reflects her own rejection of belonging. Michel Fabers short story “Serious swimmers” uses juxtaposition, sensual imagery and distorted reality to reflect the main characters struggles with chemical addictions, and search for belonging.

The inability to sacrifice ones values for the sake of belonging is shown in both texts. In “I had been hungry all the years” Dickinson previous desire for belonging, is studied later in life, and she comes to the revelation that what she thought she desired was in fact spiritually hollow, and that she had made the right choice in not compromising her own values for belonging. In 19th century, puritan Amherst, Emily Dickinsons life was strongly influenced by religion. The community was strongly focused on Christianity, and most of the social events revolved around these beliefs. Dickinson chose to reject this communities beliefs, when although she wanted to belong, she could not sacrifice her own beliefs to do so. “I had been hungry all the years. My noon had come to dine.” Even in the first stanza she is using past tense, revealing how she no longer feels such a desire for this mysterious food. Throughout the poem she uses a gastronomic metaphor, representing religion, and the community that came with it. The “ample bread.” and “the crumb” are direct examples of this food imagery. “nor was I hungry,”, the last stanza is the reflection of her desire and the revelation that she was better of without. Where Emily Dickinson could not bring herself to her sacrifice values, the main character of “Serious swimmers”, Gail, cannot sacrifice her values also. “”One child and one…ah…grown-up.” She flinched at the stumble” It goes on to describe how her previous addiction has destroyed a large part of her memory. She “flinched” at the stumble. The word flinch reflect her embarrassment, and hate for her own mistake. It evokes similar emotions within the responder, emotions of embarrassment at mistakes of own fault. She would change her past if she had the chance. She would be healthy and be a great mother, but no-matter how hard she tries, the drugs will always take their toll, and she will never be a “normal” human being.

Gail believes herself to be different, alienated from society almost entirely. When sher juxtaposes the healthy Australian swimmers “well-fleshed body” to her own empty breasts. “She was another species, as different from Gail as a seal or a porpoise.” She see herself as a junky and every normal person as a different species. Even when her son points out the obese man, who in normal society would oft be considered abnormal, she still considers him to be part of normal society. In this she reveals barrier between her existence and belonging with normal society. Aside from the physical differences, they lack the confidence, or the self appreciation, or the shear will power to change. In this she alienates herself from society. In Dickinsons “I had been hungry all the years.” She compares “the ample bread” to “the crumb”. Although the bread appeared more satisfying, it proved less so than the joy of the crumb shared with nature, represented by “the birds”. The juxtaposition between the “berry of a mountain bush” and “the road” its transplanted to. The road is cold, emotionless and completely alien from the bush of the mountain. Dickinson feels as the berry, belonging to nature, but transplanted to the road, born into a time she did not fit, into a society that she did not accept. She felt she belongs to nature, and reflects the plight of nature in her words. Her poem “I gave myself to him” reflects her views towards marriage, and the patriarchal society of the 19th century that she was born into.

Like Dickinsons self portrayal, the charater of Gail simply cannot sacrifice what needs to be sacrificed in order to belong to their respective societies. The key difference is that Dickinson refuses to change because she believes it would not be worth compromising her own values for belonging. Whilst The character of Gail tries to change, but tere is always the chemical holding her back, the damaged that the chemicals have done. She uses this as an excuse not to change, whereas Dickinson does not need any excuses to reject belonging. This is the difference to a strong minded, willful and free mind in a time of oppression and sexism, and the mind of a depressed, drug addled mind, in a world of freedom and rights. But both women are held back by their own beliefs in one way or another. Both women choose to not belong, conciously or not.