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”The Soul Selects Her Own Society” by Emily Dickinson

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  • Pages: 5
  • Word count: 1241
  • Category: Society

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Emily Dickinson’s poem, “The soul selects her own society”, is very vague and has many double meanings that are difficult to understand the first time read. In “The soul selects her own society”, Emily Dickinson uses diction, imagery, and symbols to show her dedication to her poetry and her suitor. Through diction and imagery, Dickinson is able to define what is literally happening and the figurative meanings behind the words. The symbols describe the seclusion after choosing one suitor and shutting out the world. In the poem, Dickinson uses diction to show what is literally happening and the figurative meanings behind the words written. Dickinson presents the individual as unqualified and the rights of the individual as absolute. The opening statement “The soul selects her own society” gives the thought that the poem may be about Emily Dickinson; although, later in the poem the use of “her” begs the question of whom it is. In doing so, the third person narration allows the reader to relate the poem to themselves, friends, or family. The poem’s appearance, written in lines of two, shows Dickinson’s wants of another. The thought of another could be her “divine majority” or it could be another suitor “kneeling upon her mat.” The other person that Dickinson hints at in her poem is another suitor.

In the poem “The soul selects her own society’ Dickinson is excluding everyone except one. The soul is “shutting the door” on her divine majority which signifies her loss of opportunity. The soul notices “the chariot’s pausing- at her low gate” but stands unmoving. The chariot describes wealth and a god-like appeal while the low gate is a connotation of her lower class. “Unmoving an emperor is kneeling-upon her mat”, this is describing the emperor’s physical actions not to move from the soul’s mat. Nonetheless the soul will not emotionally move for she has made up her mind. “Then close the valves of her attention-like stone.” The valves of her attention represent her heart or her dedication to one suitor. The stone represents her permanence and unchanging decision to her suitor or her exclusion of the outside world. The valves also represent her lack of control over her own emotions and what will be excluded and included in her life. Dickinson, through the use of symbols, shows the difficulty of having to choose a worthy suitor and the seclusion of shutting out the outside world. The symbols of romance and wealth display the woman’s indifference to the emperor’s courtship.

The woman “notes the chariot’s pausing at her low gate” but still stands unmoved as he kneels at her mat. Her disapproval and shunning of the emperor, indicates that the woman is dedicated to another figure or mate. The “close[ing] the valves of her attention- Like stone” represent a clam, heart, or will turning to stone. The clam when it gets a grain of sand, closes, and encases the grain of sand. The grain of sand eventually becomes a pearl. The grain of sand signifies the figure that she is excluded others for, but they may have been adversaries once. The grain of sand also shows that the lover was the grain of sand and felt similar to a prisoner. The stone symbolizes her will or heart being turned to stone. Her heart or will may be unmoving and unwilling to change. Bernhard Frank, focuses on the third stanza when Dickinson writes “Then-close the valves of her attention.” Frank researches the definitions of valves and finds three distinct variations that relate to the lines used above. The first definition is self-evident because the heart “seals off the outside world, preventing it from flowing in” (Frank). Although by excluding herself from the outside, the soul may unintentionally make the loved one feel similar to a prisoner. The second interpretation is a double folding door.

The double folding doors represent a double folding door whose panels are “two tightly interlocked soul mates” (Frank). The third connotation is the “hinged shells of many mollusks” (Frank). The mollusk symbolizes the soul and once the soul, or mollusk, has a grain of sand that entered, the mollusk closes. The sand causes much irritation to the mollusk that the mollusk must encase the sand and make it a pearl. Frank changes the serendipitous tone by implying the “precious soul mate may originally have been an adversary.” The beginning of the poem is serendipitous and sentimental but “reveals erotic and dark underpinnings” (Frank).

Chris Semansky believes that “The soul selects her own society” is about Emily Dickinson’s life and her actions. Semansky thinks that the first stanza is about Emily Dickinson’s life and her choices “regarding her contact with the world outside Amherst, Massachusetts”. With this point of view, shutting the door on “her divine majority describes a sensibility that has decided whom and what she would choose to pay attention to” and what she will disregard (Semansky). The second stanza is also the soul’s actions or non-actions. When the soul notes the chariot and emperor’s pausing, she stands unmoving and isn’t distracted by their presence.

The soul does not change its mind about her decisions she has made. The third stanza has initiated controversy. Some biographers of Dickinson believe that the third stanza is about a secret lover although another critic refutes that “The ‘one’ is Christ” (Semansky). In that point of view, the poem becomes a reflection of her Christian faith. Still some scholars believe that her poem is about her dedication to her writing and is a “persona of the poet” (Semansky). This suggests that the poet “has rejected the lures and demands of the ‘outside’ world” to devote herself to her writing. Semansky explains that Dickinson uses metaphors and symbols to allude to her personal life.

The two critics had differentiating opinions on the analysis of the poem. Frank was precise when he related the mollusk and the valve to the soul’s heart. Although he overlooked a step in the definition of valves when the doors interlock. The soul and the romantic suitor may represent the double doors interlocking with one another, but even though the doors match it does not mean that they interlocked willingly. The suitor may have not been able to detach himself from the soul which could be cause for the suitor feeling trapped and unable to unlock himself. Semansky, on the other hand, questioned whether the poem could be about Queen Elizabeth and her subjects. The poem gives little indication that the poem could be about Queen Elizabeth. The “supposed person” who selects her own society is Queen Elizabeth and she is degraded to a mollusk that is rejected to all but a grain of sand. The mollusk will then produce a pearl which is now reversed point of view. This evidence is mainly an educated guess with a lot of predicting. The critics had very knowledgeable opinions but had a few missed guesses and steps.

Emily Dickinson uses diction, imagery, and symbols to convey the soul’s troubles with seeking a suitor and her exclusion from the outside world. The critics were accommodating to conveying the poems understanding. Dickinson’s poem was very vaguely about her, but wrote the poem in such a way that the reader was able to relate the poem to themselves. Through Dickinson’s diction, imagery, and symbols, the reader is better able to clarify what is happening in the poem.

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