Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

William McMahon, Nancy Davis, Robert Ward

Degree Program

Department of English

Degree Type

Master of Arts


This paper will draw on the work of leading feminist critics and the works of Dickinson, her biographers, and her critics. No effort is being made to trace the history of feminist criticism; that has been done numerous times by critic after critic. Nor does this paper attempt to provide a concordance to critical thought on Dickinson. That, too, is unnecessary. Rather, this paper looks at the relationship between self-identity in Dickinson's poetry and the fundamental need for such a pronounced sense of identity to serve as the cornerstone of feminist criticism. Dickinson's courage to be female and the implications of that courage on her world view are at the core of neofeminist or post-feminist criticism. Dickinson exhibited an independence of mind that broke out of the boxes of cultural constraints developing a strong sense of identity as a woman and as a poet. She expressed a strong moral view of the world solidly grounded in, but often critical of, the Christian tradition. With her strong sense of self, her overarching moral vision, and her disregard for the "oughts" and "shoulds" of her culture, Dickinson held her work to a high standard of significance. Feminist criticism is only now reaching such a standard of significance. As Dickinson achieved personal wholeness and creative integrity through the integration of (not the obliteration or repression of) opposing qualities, feminist criticism, too, must have that same courage to stand firm in the face of powerful opposition and defy social and political pressures to conform. Conforming to a mediocre, and consequently powerless but socially acceptable, integrated position within mainstream criticism places feminist criticism once again on the sidelines waiting for the next popular trend to relegate it even further from the intellectual center.


Arts and Humanities | Creative Writing | English Language and Literature | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Literature in English, North America | Poetry | Women's Studies