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Kenny Carter | all galleries >> Galleries >> Brookgreen Gardens > "I'm nobody! Who are you?" by Emily Dickinson
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April 10, 2005 Kenny Carter

"I'm nobody! Who are you?" by Emily Dickinson

Murrell's Inlet, South Carolina

What Does It Mean?
The poem's first stanza tells how the speaker meets a fellow "nobody" a friend. Together, the two nobodies can enjoy each other's company and their shared anonymity.

Anne Shirley, the heroine of L. M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables book series, knows what it is like to be an outsider and to have a special friend. Her best friend and kindred spirit is Diana Barry.

As a pair, they aren't really nobodies anymore. That's why the speaker says, "Don't tell! / They 'd banish us, you know." She understands that once you have another "nobody" at your side, you aren't really a "nobody" anymore. And she doesn't want to be banished or kicked out from what she sees as a society of nobodies.

She's comfortable there.

In the second stanza, the tone of the poem changes. The speaker sounds confident. Perhaps it is her discovery that there are other people like her other "nobodies"-- that makes her feels strongly that being a "somebody" isn't such a great idea.

She realizes that having a friend who understands you and accepts you as you are is more important than being admired by a lot of people or being in the "in" crowd.

Bogged Down
In the poem's second stanza, the speaker also makes a strange comparison. She says that being a somebody is like being a frog. What does this simile mean? Aside from Kermit, there aren't many celebrity frogs around.

A lot of people -- kids and adults -- feel lonely sometimes. Emily Dickinson's poem "I'm nobody! Who are you?" expresses how being a loner can sometimes be a positive thing.

Why does the speaker choose that amphibian as her representative of a public creature?

It's because frogs make a lot of noise. The poem says that frogs, though they can croak and make themselves heard and be noticed, are noticed only by "an admiring bog." The bog is the frog's environment, not the frog's friend. So who cares what the bog thinks?

That's what the poem says about being a "somebody" who gets noticed by an admiring public. Frequently, the relationship is impersonal and distanced, not like a real friendship. Somebodies may have many admirers, but they might not be able to make those personal connections that real friendship offers.

This special connection between two people who consider themselves outsiders is mirrored in Jesse and Leslie's friendship in Bridge to Terebithia. Jess and Leslie are "nobodies" who realize that being just like everyone else would be boring and would diminish their individuality. In the words of Dickinson's poem, it might be said that Jess and Leslie learn that it would actually be quite "dreary to be a somebody!"

Being "nobodies" helps them find each other.

Dickinson's Life

When composing "I'm nobody! Who are you?" it is likely that Emily Dickinson was writing from the heart. She was one of American literature's most reclusive figures. Apart from one trip to Philadelphia, one trip to Washington D.C., and a few trips into Boston, Dickinson spent almost her entire 56 years in her hometown of Amherst, Massachusetts. After she turned 40, she never left the boundaries of her family's property in Amherst.

Famous Nobodies: Even the most accomplished somebodies felt like nobodies at one time in their lives.

This unusual life helped Dickinson to feel a bond with people who see themselves as being outsiders and unimportant. Yet, to think of her as a friendless hermit would be incorrect. In fact, the poet had a small number of intense and lasting friendships. These important relationships demonstrate the main idea expressed in "I'm Nobody": Companionship is the best remedy for a feeling of exclusion.

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comment | share 18-Jul-2010 00:36
Emily Dickinson is 1 of my favorite poets. Thank you for the photo and the explanations beneath.