Study Guide

There's been a Death, in the Opposite House Society and Class

By Emily Dickinson

Society and Class

A poet is a natural outsider. That's all the more true if you happen to be Emily Dickinson, the daughter of a well-to-do and prominent member of Amherst society, and one who tended to hide upstairs, anyway. Which doesn't mean that Dickinson wasn't acutely aware of society (even if she tried to avoid it it), or its classes and divisions. "There's been a Death, in the Opposite House" acts as a kind of social register for the visitors and tradesman who entered the "opposite house," the house where a death has occurred—all through the eyes of the silently observing neighbor across the way.

Questions About Society and Class

  1. Why doesn't the speaker enter the house himself? Why be so nosy if he doesn't know these people? And if he does know these people, shouldn't he go offer his condolences or something?
  2. Why do you think Dickinson objects to the minister acting as though he owns everything?
  3. Of all the people mentioned in this poem, with whom do you think Dickinson most identifies? Why? What makes you say so? 
  4. What place in society did the dead person occupy? How do you know?

Chew on This

Death is a public affair.

This entire poem could be titled "The Dark Parade."

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