Jane Donahue Eberwein: On 508 ("I'm ceded--I've stopped being Theirs")

. . . the speaker disavows her infant baptism and the identity conferred with it and then asserts another baptism enacted by and for herself. Baptism in New England Puritan churches and their successors served as a child's introduction to the community and as the seal of God's covenant with the saints. Although not conferring full church membership (dependent upon conversion and certified by eucharistic participation), it indicated the community's expectation that God intended the child's salvation. The baptized child and young adult could pursue salvation hopefully. Yet full grace was wanting. This speaker has experienced a narrow "Crescent" or empty "Arc" rather than a complete circle of faith. Now, as an adult, she rejects the identity imposed on her by other people's choices. Perhaps she senses the frustration of those earlier covenantal hopes and thinks of the sacramental ritual as simply another empty game by which as a child she experimented with roles she never got to play as an adult. The dolls that she mentions were given, after all, in anticipation of eventual mothering responsibility; yet Dickinson never raised a child. And the string of spools prepared little hands either for manual labor like that performed by women in New England factories (and that Dickinson never for a moment considered) or for the fancy needlework she apparently despised. She has simply not matured into the stereotyped woman she assumes her family had anticipated, and she rejects her baptismal identity as a sign of those false expectations. But ritual confirmation of the sacredness of her new identity still captures her imagination, so she conducts her own adult baptism to seal a different sort of election--her own choice of self-image and its symbol. Not surprisingly, the symbol she chooses is a circular one indicative of status and plenitude. Instead of the skimpy arc or crescent, she will have a diadem--a crown. No longer a potential part of someone else's circle, she draws her own circumference.

From Dickinson: Strategies of Limitation. (University of Massachusetts Press, 1985.) Copyright © 1985 by The University of Massachusetts Press.


Title Jane Donahue Eberwein: On 508 ("I'm ceded--I've stopped being Theirs") Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Jane Donahue Eberwein Criticism Target Emily Dickinson
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 12 Sep 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Dickinson: Strategies of Limitation
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