The Limits Of The Self In The Works Of Emily Dickinson And Walt Whitman

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What are the limits for the self? Where does the self-finish and the other or the community begins? One of the concepts that say the most about our way of thinking is the idea of the self. Whether language reveals or delimits how thought works, the truth is that the self is such an elementary part of vocabulary that at first glance it seems indivisible. Different authors have been inspired by the self to write their works and try to give an answer to what the self is. But is there a homogeneous answer about what the self is? In this essay I am going to analyse the works of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman and how they have dealt with the subject of the self.

In the work of Emily Dickinson, we can see his censorship of the figure of God and what he represents, being a theme closely related to the importance of the self. According to Dickinson’s point of view, the poet is the chosen one to express and explore the self for others. The understanding of identity with the way of systematizing world perceptions, including values and objectives, is what the self implies according to Dickinson.

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The exploration of the relationship between the individual and God has been one of the themes that Emily Dickinson dedicated most in her poetic works, where we can see her criticism of how human identity is continually being subjugated by the power of God, in other words, Dickinson rebels against the suffering that God causes to the human being. We could declare that she was a religious poet, but with a very different point of view than other religious poets. Dickinson defied God throughout her life, refusing to submit to him will and be her instrument.

On the other hand, in Dickinson’s work, we can see in detail the suffering and the various grievances that God causes to the sense of self of an individual, thus making a criticism without the need to speak directly against him. Although the narrator of her work “Tell all the Truth, but tell it slant” never makes reference to God, his repression of the apostle Paul can be interpreted in the last two lines of the poem. In the poem, the narrator explains how unmitigated truth, in the form of light, causes blindness. In the Bible, Paul is blinded because God decides to enlighten him and then heal him with a condition. In this way, Paul becomes God’s chosen one so that he can satisfy God’s will. In the poem we can see how the narrator prefers to tell the truth, without censuring God, and retract the domination of God towards Paul

Despite other narrators, the vast majority of them behave according to the scoop on the self in the works of Emily Dickinson. One of Dickinson’s works where we can see a much more evident self is in the poetry ‘They shut me up in Prose’, with a narrator who fights against a potentially violating force. We can see a narrator who has been physically imprisoned, but whose mind is still free, causing him to mock his captives. As an omnipotent being, God normally plays the guilty role in Dickinson’s works, as he imposes compromising conditions on people. The self can be found essentially defined against that power of God. Dickinson shows in her works that the individual can suffer any amount, but as long as the individual remains as a sovereign self, he has everything necessary to separate him from other beings, whether animated or not.

The people of the early 19th century United States still harboured many doubts whether they could survive and prosper as democracy as a democratic system. Walt Whitman, who believed that democracy was also a way of experiencing the world, tried to be democratic in his life and in his poetry to calm those fears and praise democracy. Whitman believed that democracy should include all individuals equally because if not it will fail and that can be seen in his work ‘Song of Myself’.

Whitman praises the self in all his work, with unique and equal individuals in a democratic nation. A triumphant hymn to the individual can be seen within his work ‘Song of Myself’. The narrator of this work, through different voices, identifies himself as the same Walt Whitman, thus creating an individual democracy through many individuals, as a single entity made up of different parts. Each individual, with their own voice, has the same importance within a unique democracy, making them beautiful individuals. Whitman also highlighted specific individuals in his works, without forgetting his pluralistic vision, in particular, President Abraham Lincoln. When he was assassinated in 1865, Whitman dedicated various elegies to him, including “O Captain! My Captain!”. For Whitman, some people deserved their own poems for their contributions to society and democracy, not forgetting that all people are commendable.

Whitman links the conception of poetry in all his works with the self as praise of the individual, as the birthplace of poetry. We can find the pronoun I in the vast majority of the narrators of his poems, where they are spoken in the first person, where we find that the most famous narrator assumes his own name, but the narrator is a fictitious individual that Whitman uses in his work ‘Song of Myself. ‘ Whitman uses both popular works of literature, art, and music as well as his own autobiography for his works. In this way, Whitman is able to create a border between the world and the self, creating an analogy about ideal democracy, where the self is able to contain the entire world.

In conclusion, we can say that there is no homogeneous answer about the limits of the self, as we have seen in the two authors analysed. Emily Dickinson speaks of a more spiritual and religious self using the individual as criticism of God and Walt Whitman in a more political and democratic self using the individual as a source of praise, but this does not mean that they are wrong, because each person can interpret the self and its limits according to their own experiences, historical context and point of view.


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