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Comparing Emily Dickinson Much Madness Is Divinest Sense With Adrienne Rich’s Aunt Jennifer

Compare and Contrast Essay: Much Madness is Divinest Sense by Emily Dickinson, pub. 1890 and Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers by Adrienne Rich, pub 1951

“Much Madness is Divinest Sense” (1890) by Emily Dickinson and “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers” (1951) by Adrienne Rich are renowned masterpieces, each unique to its own composition of sound affects, meaning, image and arrangement. Both poets were women under the oppression of society during their time period, Rich being a lesbian and Dickinson simply a woman in the 1800s. As a result, the tales they tell in their work often revolve around the injustice they experienced and how it affected them. However, despite the fact these two shared a similar environment, the way they communicate their thoughts are distinctly different.

To begin with, Dickinson was a woman from a Calvinist family during the 19th century where men owned most- if not all- private property. Males that dominated society caused her “inferiority” as a female. They created a patriarchal society where women were financially dependent on men and this was acceptable during that time period. In fact, her literary works were declined for publication multiple times during her life and were only discovered and publicized after her death in 1890. In line 7 and 8 of Much Madness is Divinest Sense, Dickinson writes “Demur- you’re straightway dangerous- And handled with a Chain –“ possibly referring to how her strive in the literary field opposed the norms of society and thus the media was forced to turn her down each time. Similarly, Rich’s position as a gay woman was not widely accepted in the 1950s. In fact, in 1953 Rich married Harvard professor Alfred Conrad, likely out of peer pressure of her oppressive society. She later divorced him in 1970. In line 7 and 8 of Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers, Rich writes “The massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band- Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer’s hand.” Using the words “massive”, “weight” and “heavily” is a form of organic imagery that connotes how the synecdoche of wedding from the wedding band is a burden to its user. This is likely a reference to how Rich’s marriage only seemed to bring her down.

Despite their patent similarities in social environment, Dickinson and Rich did not share a composition of the two seemingly same tales of horror in fact share a composition of sound affects, meaning, image and arrangement to translate their experiences. In fact their structure showed quite a contrast as a result of their different literary periods.

Much Madness is Divinest Sense is a single octave stanza while The Mosquito is composed of three quatrain stanzas. Besides this, an obvious difference between the two is the diction choice. While Dickinson prefers to use abstract, non-tangible words such as “madness” (line 1), “sense” (line 1), “majority” (line 4) and “dangerous” (line 7) to build organic imagery, Rich uses more definitive concrete verbs and nouns to build up visual imagery. In Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers she writes, “Bright topaz denizens of a world of green.” (line 2) and “The tigers in the panel that she made” (line 11). This is reasonable as Dickinson wrote most of her work in the tail of the Romantic era, which was characterized by its emphasis on emotional input. On the other hand, Rich wrote a majority of her work in the feminist literary movement during the postmodern era. The postmodern era although hard to characterize with specific elements always share the same idea of challenging implicitly modern ideas.

Although coming from an equally oppressive environment towards women and sharing advocacy through their art, Emily Dickinson and Adrienne Rich have a different composition of elements as a result of their respective literary eras and movements.

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