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Emily Dickinson. 83 I gave myself to him …. I gave myself to him, And took himself for pay. The solemn contract of a life Was ratified this way. The wealth might disappoint, Myself a poorer prove Than this great purchaser suspect, The daily own of love

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emily dickinson

Emily Dickinson

83 I gave myself to him …

slide2

I gave myself to him,

  • And took himself for pay.
  • The solemn contract of a life
  • Was ratified this way.
  • The wealth might disappoint,
  • Myself a poorer prove
  • Than this great purchaser suspect,
  • The daily own of love
  • Depreciate the vision;
  • But, till the merchant buy,
  • Still fable in the Isles of Spice,
  • The subtle cargoes lie.
  • At least ’tis mutual risk,
  • Some found it mutual gain,
  • Sweet debt of life each night to owe,
  • Insolvent every noon.
slide3

Extended metaphor of legal and financial (fiscal) terms to suggest the nature of

      • Marriage and ’love’
      • as well as slavery
      • and religion
social context
Social context…
  • It was not uncommon for middle class and upper class women of the time to be forced into arranged marriages with sometimes domineering husbands.
  • She rose to His Requirement -- droptThe Playthings of Her LifeTo take the honorable WorkOf Woman, and of Wife --
political context
Political context …

American Civil War 1861-1865

Fought over right of all men – all people – to be equal

Thomas Jefferson : Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

religious context
Religious context …
  • Echo of solemn contract between Christians and God.
  • The Commandments = was effectively a contract of behaviour, adherence to which enabled the Jews to inherit the ‘wealth’ of heaven.
  • The sacrifice of Jesus, as Messiah, brought in a new contract for Jews and Heathens. This new covenant required a personal relationship with Christ – the ‘bridegroom’ awaiting his bride, the church.
i gave myself to him and took himself for pay the solemn contract of a life was ratified this way
I gave myself to him, And took himself for pay. The solemn contract of a life Was ratified this way

L1-2: Immediate link between sacrifice of woman in marriage AND idea of ownership –slavery.

Contract – legally binding, ownership ‘of a life’

Ratified - approved

Use of formal legal terminology devalues the notion of a ‘love’ marriage.

I persona

‘took himself’ – 2-way agreement– she took him.

‘a life’ = a new life as a wife – as property

Legal terms = patriarchal society. Men in charge

Air of resignation. Tone clipped and final.

Ongoing satire of legal and fiscal references.

slide8
The wealth might disappoint, Myself a poorer prove Than this great purchaser suspect,The daily own of love

‘The wealth’ = purchased item. Suggestion of loss of identity – no longer a person, but a ‘chattel’.

Myself – literally, my identity, who I am

‘Poorer’ – contrast with idea of value. Idea of being a disappointment – not having the potential to meet expectations of ‘the ‘great purchaser’ (cynicism here?). Emphasised by ‘Poorer prove’ – alliteration

‘Daily own’ – expectation / obligation.

Jarring of ‘own’ and ‘love’ juxtaposed.

slide9
Depreciate the vision; But, till the merchant buy, Still fable in the Isles of Spice, The subtle cargoes lie.

‘Depreciate’ - diminish in value,

‘Merchant’ – husband, slave owner, God??

Because, before the ‘merchant’ purchases the goods, the true value/potential is still ‘fable’ unknown.

‘Cargoes’ – suggests woman symbolically as ship, a trading/traded vessel. Her ‘value’ like a ship carrying exotic spices from the Orient etc.

Could the woman be ‘all at sea’ literally? At the mercy of the sea? Jettisoned as unwanted cargo??

slide10
At least ’tis mutual risk, Some found it mutual gain, Sweet debt of life each night to owe, Insolvent every noon
  • L1 – tonal shift. conversational and philosophical. Sibilant ‘s’
  • ‘some found’ – past tense. It can work out.
  • ‘debt’ recurrence of idea of obligation – marital expectations?
  • But also expectations of slave, theological?
  • Contrasted by ‘insolvent’ – unable to pay one’s debts.
  • ‘n’ echo in ‘night’ and ‘noon’
slide11
.

Overview:

  • Despair of women marrying, knowing their value is that of a possession, a servant.
  • Married women smothered under expectations of raising children and being a housekeeper.
  • Moral bankruptcy of slavery, whether actual or through marriage.
ideas about belonging
Ideas about Belonging
  • The marriage contract absorbs individual identity, particularly the woman’s.
  • The imbalance in power and/or expectations in a relationship can lead to tension.
  • Relationships may not always be equal and can involve the subjugation of one party.