Studying and Teaching the Ethical Dilemma of Emily Dickinson

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Montana State University Billings


This essay focuses on the ethical dilemma of studying and teaching the work of American poet Emily Dickinson. Because her work was found and published after her death, studying Dickinson’s works can be viewed as an intrusion of privacy. This essay examines Dickinson’s Envelope Poems–lyrics written on envelopes, wrappers, and loose scraps of paper–to seehow Dickinson herself worked through many of the ethical issues that confront readers today. This essay also explores questions about power structures in our society, specifically within academia. Research for this essay consisted of close reading many ofDickinson’s poems, including her envelope poems and fascicles, and extensive discussion of the lyrics and the ethical questions the work raises. Due to the nature of the subject of this essay, the research process provoked ethical questions of its own. The aim of this essay is to make clear the importance of teaching Emily Dickinson’s work alongside her biography, and the importance of reading her work with the intention of studying the ethical dilemma that her work generates.




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