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A Girl Who Didn't Want To Belong

"I am going to tell you a story about a girl who didn't want to belong." -Cisneros (emphasis mine)

It's not usually useful to compare marginalized statuses. And I think that the way in which you compare the marginalizations of Dickinson and Cisneros assumes that socioeconomic status negates other marginalizations or in any event makes them *non*-defining experiences. You've got a hierarchy of marginalizations going, and I don't like it. You're suggesting that to be poor is to be utterly wretched, and that to have material comforts is to feel a lessening of all other hardships. By all means, let's correct for classist racist oblivious feminisms, but let's not overcorrect, because money doesn't buy happiness. Let's refine those oblivious feminisms, acknowledge the complexities which they don't see. But let's not substitute one simplicity for another.

Furthermore: choice. Dickinson didn't choose to be a female and a poet. And it wasn't easy to be a female poet then. And it's never easy to be different.

I don't know much about Cisneros, so I don't know quite what she means in the line from The House on Mango Street which I quote above. But to suggest that Dickinson had more choices than Cisneros ... too simple. Too either/or: either privileged or not. Dickinson was economically privileged, and perhaps privileged in her relationships, in that she did find some people with whom she cared to correspond, but in a way she was incredibly socially deprived: somewhere, sometime, there might have been a community for her, a female poet genius, where she would be recognized and lauded as a female poet genius, in her lifetime and in her presence and in public. Not there, not that time.

Some choices aren't choices at all: she had nowhere to go but her room. Maybe she wasn't as grateful for the space as her hypothetically genius Irish maid would have been. Maybe it never occurred to her to look for community in her Irish maid. But that doesn't change the factors which limited Dickinson, as surely as another set of factors limited Cisneros. The factors limiting Dickinson are more difficult to understand, perhaps, because of the particular varieties of marginalization which feminism is currently coming to grips with.

I suspect that Emily Dickinson would have written anyway, somehow, no matter what her socioeconomic status. She would have gotten enough of what she needed (time, space, paper, solitude), somehow. If she was never taught to write, she would have done something else. Been a mystic, I don't know. She would have done what she did anyway, just in a different form. I think the main thing about a) her literacy and b) her socioeconomic status is that that's why her work has *survived*. But those externalities didn't make the difference between her [I don't know what verb to use!] and her not doing so.


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