Race and Colors in the Writings of Emily Dickinson
My paper tries to relate the works of Emily Dickinson to the issue of race. There hasn’t been much study on that relationship and Dickinson’s poetic renovation is often considered to have nothing to do with her larger political contexts. I find that her use of the color white and its correlates is quite in line with what is aimed at by the dominant racial discourse of (at least) her time. That is, she often makes the color white stand for an imaginary wholeness and puts the non-white in the position of the obstacles she meets on the way she has chosen. In giving a high value to what she can identify herself with, she asserts the privileges given to her (and people like her) by her society. However, using Lacan’s theory of the feminine and masculine structures, I want to see whether there is another Dickinson besides the conservative one I have portrayed. The Lacanian masculine subject is like the usual raced subject while the feminine subject can both obey the dominant order and produce something unexpected in relation to it. For example, though Dickinson projects what she doesn’t want unto the non-white, she also often makes it clear that the non-white is part of herself, thus manifesting her split status under the racial structure. Furthermore, I suggest that she derived her major style from her friend Higginson’s characterization of the first name of the black rebel leader Nat Turner as an “abrupt monosyllable.” That name can only mean terror and murderous retribution to Higginson, but Dickinson sometimes uses an abrupt monosyllable to form the basis of a flexible community.
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