Suzanne Juhasz: On 303 ("The Soul selects her own Society")

Poem 303 is a strong statement about the power of the self alone. The soul is shown living within a space defined by door, gate, and mat. The external world, with its nations and their rulers, is kept outside. . . .

Traditional ideas about power are reversed here. Not control over vast populations but the ability to construct a world for oneself comprises the greatest power, a god-like achievement, announces the opening stanza. Not only is the soul alone "divine," but it is also identified as "Society" and "Majority": the poem also challenges our ideas about what constitutes a social group. Consequently, the enclosed space of the soul's house is more than adequate for a queenly life, and ambassadors of the external world's glories, even emperors, can easily be scorned. Yet while the speaker claims her equality with those most powerful in the outer world--they may be emperors, but she is "divine Majority," at the same time she asserts her difference from them; for her domestic vocabulary of door, low gate, and mat establishes her dwelling as not a grand palace but rather a simple house.

While associating power with the enclosed space of the mind, the poem also implies how isolation is confinement, too. When the soul turns in upon her own concerns, she closes "the Valves of her attention-- /Like Stone--."

Valves permit the flow of whatever they regulate in one direction only: here, from outside to inside. Either of the halves of a double door or any of the leaves of a folding door are valves. Valves seen as doors reinforce the poem's house imagery, while their association with stone makes the walls separating soul from world so solid as to be, perhaps, prison-like.

Prison-like because they allow no escape from the kinds of conflict, the kinds of terror, even, that must occur within.

From The Undiscovered Continent: Emily Dickinson and the Space of the Mind. (Indiana University Press, 1983.) Copyright © 1983 by Suzanne Juhasz.

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Criticism Overview
Title Suzanne Juhasz: On 303 ("The Soul selects her own Society") Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Criticism Target Emily Dickinson
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 12 Sep 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication The Undiscovered Continent: Emily Dickinson and the Space of the Mind
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