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Themes in I'm Nobody! Who Are You?

Themes Examples in I'm Nobody! Who Are You?:

Text of the Poem

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"admiring..."   (Text of the Poem)

Dickinson’s use of “admiring” is clever, for the word carries a secondary meaning. “Admire” comes from the Latin “mirari”—“to wonder.” Admire also contains “mire,” from the germanic “myr,” meaning “bog.” In its verb form, “to mire” is to ensnare someone, to involve someone in difficulties or misdoings the way a bog might physically trap someone. We can then read the “admiring bog” as also the “miring bog.” To want to be “somebody,” to show oneself off to the world, is to become mired.

"the livelong day..."   (Text of the Poem)

The phrase “livelong day” dates back to as early as the 15th century. It is a metaphorical expression which indicates a day that feels as long as a lifetime. On one level, Dickinson uses the phrase for its playful, musical tone, in keeping with the rest of the poem. On another level, Dickinson uses the phrase’s two temporal registers. While a frog might croak to a bog for a day, the deeper meaning of the poem—the desire for popularity and recognition—is a theme that plays out over the course of a life.

"Who are you?..."   (Text of the Poem)

The question “Who are you?” grabs us at the outset, implicating us in the process of self-definition. Though the speaker is “nobody,” the speaker has a definition through such negation. We, the readers, have no definition. “I’m nobody! Who are you?” is a moral poem in the sense that Dickinson’s speaker has a clear position on the question of self-definition and self-aggrandisement, and challenges the reader to take a position as well.

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