“I’m Nobody! Who are You? ” is a poem written by Emily Dickinson. The poem conveys the main idea of being alone, isolated from the society – or being “nobody”. This is partly influenced by the social gender status of Dickinson’s time – 19th century featured the inequality of sexes, where females were expected to stay at home and serve their husbands, thus disconnected from the society. As a result Dickinson had adapted and perhaps taken pleasure into being an outsider, whilst she found it boring to be part of the society – or to be a “somebody”.
These are all various ideas reflected through Emily Dickinson’s poem. The poem has 2 stanzas – very typical of Emily Dickinson’s style. Her choice of language in this poem is also very simple and succinct – but at the same time meaningful and pithy. The first line, “I’m nobody! ”, shows how Dickinson admits to be a “nobody” willingly.
Being a “nobody” can mean an outsider – a person who is isolated, alienated from the rest of the world and society. The second phrase of the line – “Who are you? ” shows that the poem is directly written to a target.
This person – shown on the second line of the first stanza, is a “nobody” too – perhaps even a friend of Dickinson. The poet also realizes the fact that being a “nobody” is to be loathed by the society. This is shown in line 3, when she advises the other “nobody” not to tell, as she states in line 4 “They’d banish us”. The word “They” in the beginning of lines 3 and 4 suggests the rest of the society – people who are “somebody”, as opposed to Dickinson’s “nobody’. The use of dash in line 3 shows the furtiveness of the phrase “don’t tell! ”, emphasizing the hatred or dislike they face from the society.
The same effect is achieved by the use of exclamation mark in line 3. Lines 3 and 4 can also be interpreted as that after she finds another “nobody”, they are a pair – not longer belong to a group of “nobodies”. She does not want to be banished from the status of being “nobodies”. A conclusion can be drawn that she feels more secure to be a “nobody”; she feels comfortable to be treated as a “nobody” by the rest of the society. The second stanza sees a noticeable change in Dickinson’s tone. The repetitions of “How” and “To” in the beginning of each line give a more secure and commanding tone.
This can be explained by the “discovery” of another “nobody” stated by the poet in the first stanza – she feels more assured that to be a “nobody” is not too unacceptable as she is not the only one. Also perhaps because she feels more secure to be with a person who feels the same as she does and understands her, she is more willing and daring to express her more inner feelings. The poet states that it is “dreary to be somebody” in line 5 of the second stanza. “Dreary” refers to being boring or dull; and “to be somebody” suggests to be recognized by the society and belong to it.
Hence Dickinson is suggesting that to be part of a society is tedious and meaningless to her, which can also implies being a “nobody” is the contrary – interesting and meaningful. A further implication may be that being “nobody” allows her to write poetry – as it is not part of the “traditional role” of women at her time to write poetry, and instead women were expected to serve only their husbands. However, being a “nobody” in the society helps her to escape her role of being a “women”, granting her freedom instead. Hence we can see that poetry is meaningful to her.
She also compares that to be “somebody” is like to be “public”, another indication that Dickinson likes isolation – which is proven correctly as one would learn that she locked herself in her house for the majority of her life. Dickinson uses a simile to compare “somebody” to a “frog” in line 6. This can be explained by the fact that “frogs” are considered noisy with the sound they generate. Combining with line 8, “To an admiring bog! ”, it suggests the idea that frogs create noise to be noticed – but only by “an admiring bog”.
A bog is the environment in which a frog dwells – this creates an irony. Emily Dickinson is suggesting that although being a “somebody” means being noticed by the public, but the public to “somebody” is like a bog to a frog – it is not really a relationship, or friendship, as no one would say that a bog is the friend of a frog. Also the word “admiring” creates a whole sense of sarcasm to the idea – and the technique of personification is used to describe the “bog” as well, perhaps to emphasize the sarcasm of the simile.
Overall the poet suggests that to be “somebody” might mean to be well-known, accepted by the society; however the relationships are often shallow, distanced or impersonal. The rhyming of the words “frog” and “bog” also suggests a congenial relationship between “Somebody” and her targeted audience – conveying the idea that the poem is a direct criticism against the “somebody” – the general public. Through the use of contrast and irony between “Nobody” and “Somebody”, her strong will to be a “nobody” is shown, as well as her despise towards “somebody”.
This poem reflects Emily Dickinson’s life and perhaps her more inner and cryptic feelings – it was probably written from the heart. She imprisoned herself for the most of her life, completely isolated from the rest of the world. This may contribute to the reason why she thinks being an “outsider” is better than being “somebody”, and that she does not value “friendship” in the same way as normal people do. However at the same time it was also proven in the poem – for instance she found another “nobody” in the first stanza – that she is not totally a recluse, and that she treasures the very few friendships she had.