In Emily Dickinson’s poem “Much Madness in Divinest Sense”, Dickinson intends to speak of individualism being viewed as madness. She says that those who fit in with the crowd are mad. Emily refers to “Much Madness” being those who stray from the common way of thinking, and they are the minority who “Demur”, “and handled with a chain. ” Emily speaks of those who have sense are actually the mad ones. Dickinson refers to the common way of thinking in that age as being madness.
Almost like those individuals that decided to be part of the common crowd did not think, they just follow the crowd and the common way of thinking. To relate this to the particular time and the meaning she vied, one must understand more about the time the poem was wrote. “Much Madness in Divinest Sense” is believed to have been wrote around eighteen sixty-two. In literature it was referred to as part of the gilded age. According to Perkins one thing that defined the gilded age as that was the rapid expansion of society. Within a decade, industrial production had tripled, and railroads spanning the continent had brought the shrinking frontiers into a national economy” (5). The social sentiment that Emily sets in this poem relates to the social sentiment of the time in the way that at the time the country was just starting to overcome slavery. In some places the hate for African Americans was still very strong. That was the common thing. Emily’s writing in this case says that racism is the common, but the common is madness, and those that who stray from the common and treat everyone equally is the sanest.
To relate Emily’s writing to the political sentiment of the time almost amounts to the same thing as social sentiment. The politics always change laws that benefit them, usually benefitting them in the form of re-election. The politics voted to start the Jim Crow laws in the south in this era, which were the beginning of racism laws after the civil war. This is proof of Emily’s poem. Now those laws are look at as madness. But at the time if someone was against those laws then they were looked at as being mad.
Finally, to compare Emily’s writing to the cultural movements of the time. The culture at that time, as was mentioned earlier, was shifting to an industrial culture. People were moving out west and putting their assorted products on trains and shipping them back to the east coast states to make their money. The country had also built and operated more factories in the eastern part of the country. Emily’s words relates to this movement as the sane thing the population saw to do was to stay in the eastern cities, where industrial smog and somewhat unsafe living conditions arose.
But Emily would place this in the madness block in her book. The sane thing that Emily speaks of, and is looked at by the majority as madness, is to move out west and sell your products to the east. Out west there was more space to live and fresh air to breath. In conclusion, the eight line poem “Much Madness in Divinest Sense” is short, and at first sight, seems relatively simple. But it is a very complex poem with multiple meanings. It is very insightful and a mix of the two writing styles of romanticism and realism.