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Emily Dickinson’s poem, “My Life Had Stood – A Loaded Gun,” explores grim themes found behind the romanticized perception of love. In the beginning of the work, Dickinson shows the headstrong and volatile nature of the speaker. A man chooses this woman and accompanies her intimately throughout their lives. She affirms that she feels fully content with this man, and as a result, she states that she is prepared to protect their relationship via any means necessary. Despite the speaker’s apparent satisfaction, the last section of the piece reveals that she would rather die than live a lonely life without her partner. This poem illustrates that embracing love may beget traits of weakness such as dependency, jealousy, and obsession.
Dickinson’s work introduces the speaker as a woman with a great deal of explosive potential. In the first stanza, she describes herself as a loaded gun sitting in the corner, remaining idle until the day she is claimed: “The Owner passed – identified -/And carried Me away -” (3-4). With these depictive details, the speaker initially exudes an aura of fortitude. However, upon closer examination, it can be argued that this woman is the host to a range of weaknesses. Dependency is the trait of weakness that is most immediately exhibited in the poem. While likening herself to a firearm undeniably portrays the speaker as an intimidating being, one must not ignore her blatant hesitation. She does not attempt to independently realize her potential. Instead, the speaker willingly waits to be selected and swept away by a man. She sees an opportunity for growth and mobility, but feels her only chance to achieve this fulfillment is through a relationship. The release of her power depends solely on the incorporation of a powerful, masculine figure (Gelpi).
The woman’s dependency continues to be displayed, more aggressively, in the poem’s final stanza. Just as she refuses to properly begin her personal journey without the man, she feels equally unable to carry on after his death: “Though I than He – may longer live/ He longer must – than I -” (21-22). While the speaker may possess some degree of newfound power, the control rests only in the hands of her owner (“Commentary”). He is the driving force that fuels and enables the woman. In her mind, the extent of her progress reaches its limit on the day that she loses him. Dickinson’s work emphatically expresses the speaker’s dependence on the man who claims her.
With such heavy reliance on the man, it is natural that the speaker also presents signs of possessiveness. She clearly demonstrates this behavior in the poem’s fifth stanza: “To foe of His – I’m deadly foe -/ None stir the second time -/ On whom I lay a Yellow Eye -” (17-19). Her hostile words are delivered mercilessly, outlining the inevitable fate of her adversaries. Humans crave certainty and, as a result, can easily become jealous creatures. A jealous attitude often indicates the presence of insecurity (Pelusi). This logic seamlessly applies to the woman in Dickinson’s poem. Her jealous tendencies are irrefutable, and they likely originate from a shaky sense of self. In the beginning of the poem, she could do nothing more than sit inactively before the arrival of the man. She can barely function or produce even the slightest amount of self-confidence without her partner. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that she struggles with severe insecurity and feels the need to jealously ambush those who catch the eye of her companion.
As her unhealthy mindset shows, the speaker relies on extreme means to maintain her grip on the man. The woman’s helpless and protective nature reveals that her image of strength is merely an illusion. Beneath this facade lies great fragility. The combination of these factors results in an obsessive personality. The speaker is completely consumed with her feelings for her owner. As she perceives it, her function is simply an extension of the his power and will (Yukman). The man’s existence wholly dictates her actions, urges, and interests. Furthermore, she is willing to kill in the interest of preserving her relationship. Such intent goes well beyond the boundaries of normal, healthy concern. Just as the speaker’s low self-esteem may contribute to her possessive tendencies, it can also encourage her to obsess over the man. Jealousy and imagined threats can lead to obsession, as well (“Dealing”). Rather than practicing autonomy, the woman carries every facet of her relationship to an extreme.
Emily Dickinson’s poem, “My Life Had Stood- A Loaded Gun,” is centered around a woman who is described as hardened and powerful. Underneath that exterior, however, she possesses several significant weaknesses. While she does metaphorically relate herself to a gun, a weapon is only dangerous in the hands of its owner. In Dickinson’s work, this owner is a man who discovers the speaker and claims her. Naturally, her most distinct weakness is dependency. She relies entirely on the man to motivate and enable her. Because he is such a crucial element of her life, she must cope with intense feelings of insecurity and jealousy. She dispenses serious threats in order to protect their relationship. As these personality traits suggest, the woman’s nature is extreme and obsessive. Though she initially appears strong, at her core, the speaker is desperately weak.
“Commentary on ‘My Life had stood—a Loaded Gun’”. Columbia Granger’s World of Poetry Online. 2010. Columbia University Press. Web. 29 Mar. 2010.
“Dealing With an Obsessive Lover”. India Times. 1 Feb. 2010. Web. 2 Apr. 2010.
Dickinson, Emily. “My Life Had Stood- A Loaded Gun”. Backpack Literature,3rded. Longman, 2006. Print.
Gelpi, Albert. “Emily Dickinson and the Deerslayer: The Dilemma of the Woman Poet in America”. Shakespeare’s Sisters: Feminist Essays on Women Poets. Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar. 1979. Web. 29 Mar. 2010.
Pelusi, Nando. “Jealousy: A Voice of Possessiveness Past”. Psychology Today. 1 Jul. 2006. Web. 1 Apr. 2010.
Yukman, Claudia. “Breaking the Eschatological Frame: Dickinson’s Narrative Acts.” Emily Dickinson Journal. 1992. Web. 29 Mar. 2010.
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