A Prison Gets to be a Friend: Emily Dickinson, Agoraphobia and Introspection

Lauren Vanderhurst


As a poet, Emily Dickinson is famously defined by her deeply personal subject matter involving abstract themes of fear, mortality and the mind woven into complex metaphor through concrete images and the innovative dash. In this distressing letter, Emily Dickinson not only reveals her distinctive poetic style, but also the nature of her character through a disturbing personal confession. She speaks of herself in a moment of immense fear, which is represented as a Phantom that haunts and diminishes her strength. Through this fear, her life was made a victim, suggesting an exploitation of her existence. She has been forced into a state of submission from which she cannot escape. Dickinsons fear alters her perception of her surroundings as they become full and huge roaring and seeking to devour her. This state of emotional fervor is illustrated through Dickinsons signature use of the dash, which act as harsh, violent lines slashing across the page, breaking up the rhythm of her language into staccato fragments. Dickinson presents herself as defeated and impoverished through the bleak representation of phrases such as doubtful result and vainly endeavoring to fly. This fear is all-consuming as she becomes too much exhausted to make any further resistance. Dickinson seems to have lost the battle against this Phantom until the entrance of her sole salvation, the home. This letter written to a lifelong friend and future sister-in-law vividly illustrates Emily Dickinsons shear panic and terror as she quaked walked and ran from the haunting Phantom of fear, and it is in this state of distress that Dickinson represents the symptoms of an agoraphobic panic attack. ...

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