Started Early, Took My Dog Novel

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The poem ’I started out Early-Took my Dog’ would be interpreted as an expression of one’s lack of interaction thus loneliness hence in search of company. But the truth, however, is that the poem depicts no such thing; at least not in particular. From a structuralist’s point of view; Emily Dickinson’s ‘I Started Early-Took my Dog’ depicts the personas longing to explore some thing new and different presumably an interaction with a man and find out her sexuality. The first and second stanzas depict her need for attention and interaction. The 0.33 stanza further suggests her yearning for recognition via a man. The following stanzas expose her uncontrollable fear of the unknown. A Post-Structuralist’s stance, however, reveals that the poem is not rigid rather has parallel but different meanings. After analysis of the poem, it’s evident that the metaphorical language that unifies the opposing and disparing elements also allows for different interpretations that lead to elevation of the woman’s social status.

Using a Post-Structuralist’s view, meanings and counter meanings are encountered at each juncture of the poem; further seeks to argue that discovered meanings are prone to differ among individuals due to different interpretations. Meanings are never fixed and the poem is prone to different and diverse interpretations hence opening up the text to a wide scope of endless possibilities of opposing meanings. In the poem different binary oppositions are encountered -though some are subtle- such as man/woman, fear/courage, certainty/possibilities and many others.

But does this poem really depict her loneliness and desire? Surely the binary opposition set up between man and woman could as well mean nothing due to the variable meanings in different contexts. If the poem is interpreted in multiple ways rather than the singular manner inferred by Emily; if we assume that the meaning is completely different from the way she presents them, they could just mean something totally different from initially expected.

The woman is depicted as being of uncontrollable fear as implied (line 16)of Emily’s poem. But that doesn’t necessarily paint the whole picture since the persona tells of the mermaids from the basement that come out to watch her ; exposing themselves to danger but still do so out of their own will. The persona can also be referred to as the epitome of courage since despite feeling inferior; she waits for the sea tide- the personification of a man and the unknown.

Under circumstances of exploration and seeking to be desired, one is presumed to be open to all available choices presented and easily swayed. The woman despite the urge to be desired is seen to make sound decisions and is only vulnerable to the sea( line 7-8). These enjambing lines expose her wide array of choices but she doesn’t feel inclined towards them (Dickinson Emily line 6) rather she awaits man of her choice. This doesn’t imply that she wishes to be desired any less.

The sea is portrayed to lure the woman but later frightens her. The sea is depicted as sinister, a source of fear and illusions. The sea is actually an endless basket of nourishment and sustenance. Emily Dickinson illustrates the woman’s attire emphasizing on her apron. This is considered to represent the woman’s working garments. This shows that the woman is an income earner thus doesn’t depend on the man for sustenance.

The poem further illustrates that the tide moves past her attire and made as though to eat her up; this is easily assumed to be the disrespect of the sea towards the woman (Dickinson Emily lines 10-12) .But from the post-structuralist’s perspective this could simply mean that the man saw past her insecurities. The sea is seen to later bow to her (Dickinson Emily line 23) further contradicting previous assumptions .The poem ultimately doesn’t hold a singular meaning rather explores different interpretations.

The speaker states that the sea withdraws; suggesting the admiration of the sea to the woman. The sea-the personified man holds the woman’s decision in high regard. This further illustrates the superiority of the woman in the situation. Though presented with the limitless opportunities, she still holds her dignity in high regard. Thus prompting ultimate admiration from the sea.

The poem further illustrates that the woman feels prompted to return to solid town. This suggests that despite the wide scope of possibilities presented by the sea, she returns to land. The solid town symbolizes her certainty, her world. This proves that the woman is aware of the consequences of her actions and makes the undesirable but conscious decision to fulfill her responsibilities. This may illustrate the woman’s choices in the society that tend to be contrary to her will yet she sacrifices consciously.

When the poem is studied from a Structuralist view, it’s unified and tends to flow easily conveying a rather direct meaning. But from a Post -Structuralist’s view, different meanings are revealed showing that it lacks definition and tends to combine so many other theories.


(Dickinson Emily .’I Started Early-Took my Dog,’Using Critical Theory : How to Read and Write About Literatue, compiled by Lois Tyson, second edition, Routledge, 2011, pp. 302.)

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