Born in 1830 into a well-established family in Amherst, Massachusetts, Emily has been one of the most enigmatic and studied literary figures in the English language. As a poet, she is found to be lyrical, innovative for her time and demonstrated a strong sense of knowledge based on her education and readings.
The seeds of Emily’s discomfort with social interaction may have been sown early in her life where she spent a lonely childhood at an emotional distance from her parents. This is also reflected in her early poetry where she refers to herself as “the slightest in her house”, “starved like a gnat” and “locked up in prose” (Leiter 4). Emily’s father, Edward Dickinson, was a noted political figure in Massachusetts. Though popular in the community, he was a strict father and family man (Pollak and Noble 27-28). She had an unusual relationship with her father. Though she admired him, she did not feel close to him and felt that her liveliness was suppressed in his presence (Pollak and Noble 28). Emily could also not relate to her mother, Emily Norcross. Emily never felt she could speak to her mother when troubled and later scholars have characterized Norcross as an emotionally unbalanced person, not lucid in her communication and of average intelligence (Leiter 4). A positive angle to this situation, however, was that Emily became more independent in her thinking and analysis of life (Leiter 6) which appeared as a hallmark of her poetry in later years. Her personal reclusiveness, as she grew up into an adult, was not a barrier to her expression which she found by writing a large collection of letters and close to 1800 poems (“Emily Dickinson”). Her separation from the external world possibly heightened her sense of observation and sensitivity to her surroundings (Pollak and Noble 109). She wrote on diverse topics such as money, religion, and individuality in her work which reflected the developing ethos and values of the American society of her time. In addition, her viewpoint as a woman also provided a feminist dimension to this reflection (Pollak and Noble 108-109).