Analysis Pages

Themes in Much Madness Is Divinest Sense

Themes Examples in Much Madness Is Divinest Sense:

Text of the Poem

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"handled..."   (Text of the Poem)

“Handled” is a verb that means “to exert authority or control over,” or “to manage.” If something needs to be “handled,” it is presumably a problem. In turn, that which handles it has the authority to “right” the wrong. This verb choice reinforces the power and control that the majority has.

"Chain..."   (Text of the Poem)

Because the poem ends on this idea of the violence that comes with dissenting from the majority, one could read the initial claim of the poem as “sanity” being the real madness. If “sanity” is conform to the majority or be severely punished, then this “sanity” is not normal or healthy: it is in fact the “starkest madness.”

"Chain..."   (Text of the Poem)

“Chain” creates an image that implies restriction or harsh punishment. One can be detained or beaten by a chain. This final line once again invokes the violence that occurs when one does not conform to the majority.

"Demur..."   (Text of the Poem)

The verb demur has several meanings: “to linger or dwell upon”; “to pause in uncertainty”; “to raise objection.” Which meaning in particular the speaker uses is uncertain; however, we can understand it based on its contrastive relationship to “assent”: any doubt, hesitation, or protest against the majority has negative results.

"Assent..."   (Text of the Poem)

This line could express a more universal claim about human society as well. To “assent” to the majority is to be perceived as normal and therefore live in relative peace within one’s community. However, this conformity comes at the sacrifice of the individual who must yield to a dominant mentality.

"is..."   (Text of the Poem)

While intuited by many readers, this form of the verb “to be” conveys a relationship of equality. That is, according to the speaker, “Much Madness” equates to “divinest Sense.” The speaker therefore makes a bold, stark claim at the beginning of this sentence with a paradox.

"Madness..."   (Text of the Poem)

The noun “madness” actually has multiple nuanced definitions, all of which may pertain to the reading of this short poem. First, “madness” could refer to literal insanity or mental impairment, likely of a severe kind. Second, it could refer to a delusion, or a wild foolishness resembling insanity. Third, it could mean wild excitement or enthusiasm, or an exuberant lack of restraint. Finally, “madness” could mean uncontrollable anger, fury, or rage. Regardless of the definition, the idea conveyed suggests that madness is behavior outside of what is considered normal.

"you’re straightway dangerous..."   (Text of the Poem)

According to Dickinson's speaker, to disagree with the majority is to guarantee yourself some form of restriction—either metaphorical (perhaps being ignored) or literal (in an institution for the mentally ill). The poem's theme—one of Dickinson's ongoing fascinations—is that one either thinks conventionally or pays a heavy price for being unconventional.

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