Date Approved


Graduate Degree Type


Degree Name

English (M.A.)

Degree Program


First Advisor

Brian Deyo

Second Advisor

Jo Miller

Third Advisor

Jim Persoon

Fourth Advisor

Sherry Johnson

Academic Year



This thesis argues that art, for Dickinson, was an alternative system of salvation which her society could not provide her. Unwilling to surrender herself to the mold of her society, the institutional practice of Christianity and gender expectations, Dickinson chose to take ownership of her life through art, which allowed her to develop a personal language to combat the oppressive forces of the world around her. As a conscious “revolutionist of the word” Dickinson embarked on a path of self-discovery that enabled her to conduct a life in self-imposed exile as a means to emancipate herself from the constraints of conventional living (Howe xi). As Gelpi explains, "the normal man can follow the general trend without injury.... but the man who takes to the backstreets and alleys because he cannot endure the broad highway will be the first to discover the psychic elements that are waiting to play their part." (Gelpi 83)

Because Dickinson refused to struggle or integrate herself into her society, she enabled herself to fiercely explore her imagination and question the tyranny of institutionalized Christianity, patriarchy, and gender expectations. The commitment she would make to art was not for the sake of an elusive promise of redemption and transcendence of the ‘earthly,’ but rather a temporal goal which sought to uncover the full potential of her humanity as intensely as possible no matter the consequence. As a woman who harnessed and manifested an unnameable gift of language that defied and challenged the people and concepts of her time, Dickinson’s work depicts the struggle between succumbing to the expectations of society and the will to live by the dictates of her imagination.