Ashley WhitfieldProfessor BrusterEnglish 102, Section 5317 April 2000The Divinity of NonconformistsCrazy, lunatic, mad. . . . these are words that have become part of society’s everydayvocabulary.
Though they are psychological in nature, they are often applied to people andobjects that may not fit into the every day norm. In Emily Dickinson’s “Much Madness isdivinest Sense,” Dickinson criticizes society’s inability to accept non-conformist andexpresses the belief that it is the majority who should be labeled as, “mad. ”In the lyrical poem “Much Madness is divinest Sense,” Dickinson concentrates onsociety’s judgmental views of non-conformists. Dickinson utilizes iambic tetrameterthroughout the entire poem. There is, however, one exception; she uses two anapests inline 4: “ ‘Tis the Majority.Order now
” By changing the rhythm in this line, Dickinson emphasizesthat it is the majority who is truly mad, and not the minority who have been wronglylabeled so. Dickinson’s quick switch from iambic tetrameter to anapestic also emphasizesthe subject matter nonconformity because it interrupts the flow of the poem. She alsocoheres to the subject of nonconformity in the rhyme scheme. Although it appears to bewritten in free verse, “Much Madness is divinest Sense” does contain a small element ofrhyme. The poem has an A B A C D E A D rhyme.
For instance, the words “Sense,”“Madness,” and “dangerous” all rhyme, as well as the words “sane” and “Chain”(1,3,7,6,8). This unique rhyme scheme, once again, adheres to the subject matter ofnon-conformity. It is jagged and different like the individuals that society views as “mad. ”In “Much Madness is divinest Sense,” Dickinson distinguishes between madnessand sanity: the beliefs of the majority are sane, whereas those who dissent are consideredinsane. In the first two lines, Dickinson asserts, “Much Madness is divinest Sense – /To a Whitfield 2discerning Eye -/. ” In these lines she is declaring that it is the nonconformist who is trulyblessed with sensibility and logic to people with insight and understanding.
ThenDickinson goes on to say that “Much Sense – the starkest Madness -/ ‘Tis the Majority,”meaning that those who are viewed in society as having “much sense,” or conformists,have absolute “Madness” (3,4). In the last four lines of the octave, “In this, as all prevail- / Assent – and you are sane – / Demur – you’re straightway dangerous – / And handledwith a Chain -,” Dickinson goes on to say that one can be sure that if a person conforms tosociety, or “assents,” then they are viewed as sane, but if they hesitate to conform in theleast then they are viewed as dangerous and society would like nothing more than to lockthem away. The use of paradoxes in “Much Madness is divinest Sense” is another techniquewhich Dickinson takes advantage of. The whole poem compares “madness” and “sense”which are opposite in meaning. Though these words are opposites, Dickinson finds aconnection in meaning; while society views conformists as sane and nonconformists asmad, it is actually the nonconformist who is sane and the conformists who are mad,making the entire subject matter of the poem paradoxical.
Dickinson also utilizessynecdoche and metaphor; “To a discerning Eye-” (2). The “discerning Eye,” she isspeaking of is the vehicle and the tenor is simply a logical person (2). Dickinson alsometaphorically states, “Demur – you’re straightway dangerous – / and handled with aChain -” (7,8). The chain the hesitant person is handled with is the vehicle, while the tenoris society’s desire to get rid of nonconformists, or unique individuals. Another interestingpoetic device Dickinson employs is that of point of view. She utilizes third person limitedpoint of view throughout the poem, however in the last two lines she speaks of society’spoint of view calling those who “demur.
. . straightway dangerous. ” It is not Dickinson whofeels that those who hesitate to conform are dangerous, but society.
By expressing Whitfield 3society’s point of view in such sharp contrast with her own, Dickinson makes the readersee that “much madness” really is “divinest sense. ”The unity of “Much Madness is divinest Sense” is incredible. In just eight shortlines, Dickson covers and analyzes not only her own ideals, but also compares them tothose of society. Dickinson is able to do this in such a small amount of lines because of hercoherence to the subject matter throughout the poem. She unifies the subject matter ofnonconformity in rhythm, rhyme, and style.
Because madness and nonconformity arejagged and asperous, her style reflects that. The style and unification of the poem reflectthe subject matter as well as the content does. Dickinson also uses broken punctuation,piercing her sentences with dashes. Once again, her punctuation illustrates her subjectmatter; as society views the nonconformist as mad and jagged, her punctuation is jaggedas well. Just as a mad man would not be able to think in a fluent way, the poem is brokenand unsteady as his thoughts would be. Her unification of the poem brings the style,rhythm, and rhyme scheme together with the subject matter.
Dickinson’s ideals in this poem are very valuable because she forces the reader tocompare his thinking with that of society’s. She makes one self-evaluate if they arejudgmental towards unique individuals and if they themselves are losing their uniquenessby conforming to society which is embracing true madness. It is reason, that I feel “MuchMadness is divinest Sense” has incredible worth and literary merit. In just eight linesDickinson not only changes one’s perception, but forces a kind of self-evaluation. Notonly this, but Dickinson illustrates poetic skill in the unity of the poem. She makes herpoem unique and “mad,” so to speak, to reiterate her subject matter.
Because Dickinsonaccomplishes so much in only eight lines, it cannot be argued that the poem has literarymerit. Poetry