Emily Dickinson: Transcendentalist or Anti-Transcendentalist?

Essay by shanturner10High School, 11th gradeA, November 2014

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Shannon Turner

Sr. Sharon

ACP American Literature

13th February, 2014

Emily Dickinson: Transcendentalist or Anti-Transcendentalist?

Emily Dickinson is one of the most iconic writers in American literature. Although she mostly wrote poetry, her writings and messages changed the American viewpoint in drastic ways. Her themes regarding death, friendship, family, and relationships have survived the trials of time and are still prominently discussed in complex nature in modern literature classes. Although Emily Dickinson is a common topic of discussion regarding American literature, one question about her continues to puzzle critics. That question is: Does Emily Dickinson fall under the umbrella of writers who expressed transcendentalist ideas? This puzzles critics because Emily Dickinson's poetry expresses both transcendentalist and anti-transcendentalist ideas. Although Emily Dickinson's poetry shows inconsistencies by expressing both transcendentalist and anti-transcendentalist, she would be considered a transcendentalist because of her fascination with the divine aspect of the human role in the world.

In many of her poems, Emily Dickinson reflects the ideas of transcendentalism. Dickinson chose to write about topics that deal with nature, which is a common trait of the transcendentalists. In Emily Dickinson's poem, "I Never Saw a Moor," she says, "I never saw the sea/ Yet I know how the heather looks/ And what a billow be" (389. 2-4). Dickinson is saying that she has never seen the sea, but that she knows what it looks like. In the same way, she also expresses how she has never seen God or Heaven, but that she knows they exist (Fu). This mention of the divine nature could be an expression of transcendentalism. Dickinson's belief that God and Heaven exist and that she knows what the sea looks like could be a reference to intuition and her utmost faith in her intuition. Dickinson's mention of her...