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Religious Influences on Emily Dickinson:
Puritanism and Transcendentalism in Her Poetry
Jennifer Gage Edison
Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, in 1830. Her father, Edward Dickinson, was a prominent lawyer in Amherst and a well respected trustee of Amherst College (Blankenship 576). Emily Dickinson was educated at Amherst Academy and, for only a single year, at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (now Mount Holyoke College) under Mary Lyon (Hart 224). Emily Dickinson was considered to be a high-spirited and energetic young woman until her withdrawal from society in 1850. After her withdrawal, virtually all of her contact with friends and family existed through her letters and poems. The traditional reason given for her seclusion was that she suffered a broken heart by "the one true [male] love" of her life, Reverend Charles Wadsworth of Philadelphia (McIntosh and Hart 2872-2873). She spent the majority of her days alone in her house until the year 1861 when she completely secluded herself and her poetry from the rest of the world. The two types of religions present in Emily Dickinson's life, Puritanism and Transcendentalism, had great influence over her poetry. Puritanism allowed Dickinson to remain grounded in her faith of God, while Transcendentalism permitted her to release herself from limiting conceptions of humanity which enabled her to view herself as an individual with an identity. To understand the complexities of Dickinson's works, her relation to religion must be examined.
One of the major religious influences of Emily Dickinson's life was Puritanism. While Puritanism emphasized human goodness because of a belief that something of God exists in everyone, it also recognized the presence of evil in humans. During the 1820's and 1830's, the Second Great Awakening was in full force attempting to rejuvenate Puritan zeal through a series of religious revivals. The two focuses of the Second Great Awakening were the relationship...
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