A Theme Of Identity In Emily Dickinson’s And Taylor Mali’s Poems

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Identity is a state of mind in which someone identifies their character traits that leads to finding out who they are and what they do and not that of someone else. It is useful in helping readers understand that a person’s state of mind is full of arduous thoughts about who they are and what they want to be. Emily Dickinson, ‘Because I could not stop for Death’ and Taylor Mali, ‘What Teachers Make’ share the theme of ‘identity.’ The theme of ‘identity’ is evident through each poem’s use of tone and figurative language so that the reader can intrigue themselves and relate to the characters and their emotions. Both poems have to deal with people that have an identity that they have tried to alter in order to become more at ease in the society they belong to.

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In Emily Dickinson’s poem Because I could not stop for Death, depicts a close encounter with death and immortality. She uses personification to portray death and immortality as characters. Her familiarity with death and immortality at the beginning of the poem causes the reader to feel at ease with the idea of death. However, as the poem progresses, a sudden shift in tone causes readers to see death for what it really is, cruel and evil. The author personifies death, portraying him as a close friend, or perhaps even a gentleman suitor. In the first stanza, she reveals that she welcomes death when she says, “he kindly stopped for me”. The pleasant tone of the poem further suggests that the author is quite comfortable with death.

In Taylor Mali’s poem What Teachers Make, he shares some of his teaching memories shortly in such a sincere way that the readers all relate to it. He creates images and situations in our minds by using techniques like imagery like he does when he states, “why won’t I let you go to the bathroom? Because you’re bored. And you don’t really have to go to the bathroom, do you?”. These specific examples and dialogues help readers to understand what is told more clearly. We can easily imagine a situation where a student asks for permission to go to the bathroom and spend more time there because he or she is bored in class. Seeing this situation from the perspective of teachers. In chapter nine of Beyond Feelings A Guide To Critical Thinking by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero, in the chapter titled Errors of Perspective he states “When you share your perception with others and they challenge them, you are surprised at first, puzzled at their inability to see the world as clearly as you do. Eventually you either stop communicating with others or become more assertive, hoping by the sheer force of your expression to solve what you are convinced is their problem”. This is exhibited by Mali when he shows his frustration and restrains his anger towards the other dinner guests when the lawyer asks him to “be honest”. Mali’s tone changes to being more demanding and powerful when he states “Teachers make a goddamn difference! Now what about you?”. He repeats the phrase “I make..” followed by different words to show that he as an educator does have a significant difference in what students do, as well as how hard an educator can really motivate a studeent to do their absolute best. He uses reputation to draw attention to “what he makes” people or things to do as a teacher which is the main theme of the poem along with identity. Identity towards wanting his readers to understand that teachers do have a significant impact towards educating and inspiring students to be better than they can be. His usage of his voice’s tone is very important as he uses an authoritative tone to get his message across that teachers are more valuable than what people make them seem to be and how unappreciated and understated teachers and their jobs are.

The tone of a poem is the style or manner or expression of its writing. Tone often times may be conveyed and expressed in a variety of ways, it is generally either through the attitude of the narrator or writer, subject matter, characters or events. The tone of a poem may be described by using a variety of words such as serious, playful, humorous, formal, informal, angry, or sad. The tone at the beginning of the poem by Emily Dickinson seems relaxed and graceful. this is mainly part because the poem is narrated in the past tense, which meaning that there is now the distance between the speaker and the events she describes, which allows her to describe those events with a degree of detached objectivity. Words like “kindly” and “civility” describing “death” also lend to the tone of the poem a suggestion of gratitude. By the fourth stanza, vocabulary like “quivering” and “chill” connotes a more sinister tone. At this point in the poem, the reader may be aware that death is taking the speaker towards her own death, and this knowledge will affect the tone of the reader’s voice and compound the change to a darker, more sinister tone. The tone of What Teachers Make is slightly angry, Mali shows his anger when he says “And I wish he hadn’t done that, asked me to be honest, because, you see, i have this policy about honesty and ass kicking, if you ask for it then i have to let you have it”. This means that he obviously is angry at the lawyer and wants to verbally attack him. The speaker also repeats the phrase, “you want to know what i make?” twice throughout the poem. Showing that when people are angry, they tend to repeat themselves because they are indignant about it, as if they could not believe that something was said in the first place.

Figurative language is used throughout both poems to illustrate the use of words to intentionally move away from their standard meaning. The most common and important form of figurative language comes when poems compare one thing to another. The big three types of comparisons are metaphors, similes, and personification. One example of a metaphor can be found in the first stanza in Emily Dickinson’s poem with respect to the carriage. The carriage passes scenes the speaker identified with life. These include children playing in a schoolyard and fields of “gazing” grain. The carriage also passes the setting sun, a symbol of death, perhaps suggesting that the dying speaker is moving into death. Finally the carriage arrives at the speaker’s new home described as a “swelling” in the ground with a “scarcely visible” roof in other words, a grave in a graveyard. Dickinson makes the concept of dying memorable by giving it a physical and spatial, conceptualizing it as a ride in a moving carriage. In Taylor Mali’s poem, he uses figurative language when he states, “I decide to bite my tongue instead of his”. Which means Taylor had much more to say but refrains from saying something that will annoy or hurt the listener which in this case he is speaking about the lawyer. In chapter nineteen of Beyond Feelings, the chapter titled “persuading others”, Ruggiero states “If you believe the people you are trying to persuade are doltish or intellectually dishonest, you are bound to betray that belief, if not directly then indirectly in your tone or choice of words”. Taylor uses a particular tone when speaking with his dinner guest to get his message across that teachers are more than just educators, his choice of words suggests that his anger towards the lawyer on believing that teachers do not make a difference is false. Another example of the use of figurative language is when Taylor states, “I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional Medal of Honor and an A- feel like a slap in the face”. This line helps readers to visualize how Taylor teaches to his students’ individual needs and helps them better understand how to grow and learn.

Emily Dickinson, ‘Because I could not stop for Death’ and Taylor Mali, ‘What Teachers Make’ share the theme of ‘identity.’ The theme of ‘identity’ is evident through each poem’s use of tone and figurative language so that the reader can intrigue themselves and relate to the characters and their emotions. Authors set a tone in literature by conveying emotions and feelings through words. Often times the way a person feels about an idea, event, or another person can be quickly determined through facial expressions, gestures, and the tone of the writer. An author sets the tone through words, using imagery in a poem to help develop the poems tone, which helps in conveying human emotions.

16 August 2021

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