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The Unbearable Heaviness of Being

She may seem a curious choice for teenage devotion. Many might think of Emily Dickinson as someone locked away from the world, a spinster living and writing in her bedroom as if she were in a self-made prison. In a way, though, many teens are reclusive just like this. Uncertain and a little afraid of the approaching world of adulthood, it seems safer to many to keep to oneself.

This is a movie to be read instead of just being watched, one whose meaning is difficult to grab, but will set you on top of the world with the utmost truth once you make it. It tells about a whole day’s experience of three different women, who encounter love, pain, weakness, anxiety, choice, evasion, and even death. They are on their own way of life, dealing with their existence differently, and present us with a touching symphony of the unbearable heaviness of being.


Key words:
hours life death being evasion suicide streams free suffer isolate responsibility pain love heavy

Except – it turns out that Emily Dickinson wasn’t quite like this. A new exhibition at the Morgan Library in New York is encouraging a different perspective on the poet. The curator of the show, Carolyn Vega, told the BBC that while it is true that Dickinson liked to keep herself to herself, she also took a great interest in life beyond the front door of her father’s house in Amherst, Massachusetts.

It is the start of an ordinary day, and the three heroines begin their run. The clock is striking, reminding everybody of the passing of the hours. They have to face it, just as they have to face the natural process of life and death. Virginia Wolfe, the writer in the 1920’s in Richmond, is suffering painfully from mental disorder as well as the daily trivialities, and yet she is conceiving her novel Mrs. Dalloway hardly. In 1951 in Los Angeles, a housewife by the name of Laura Brown, who feels life disinteresting and kind of panic towards it, finds resonance in Mrs. Dalloway and cannot avoid evasion. Claresa, with the same name as Mrs. Dalloway, lives in New York in 2001 as an editor, busy preparing a party for his former lover Richard, a Poetry Award winner, who happens to be Laura’s son and chooses death before the party after many years with AIDS. Claresa is seemingly relieved, while the hours still flow forward like the streams that carry Virginia far away.


I didn’t get into the movie until half an hour or so. At first, I thought it was much too abstract. I carried on with patience. With the help of the music, I gradually dissolved myself into the plot. The music is like the flowing of streams, high-sounding at a time and descending at another. Sometimes rapid, and sometimes meek. My feeling followed.

According to Vega, Dickinson was deeply connected to her world through family, friendships, and literary mentors and editors. She also read many books and was aware of the political realities that were going on around her, including the American Civil War.

Virginia hated living, because it was always against her will and even torturing. She couldn’t breathe freely, and the only person she felt responsible for was her husband Leonard. She lived for him. But her heart told herself, this wouldn’t last forever. So she finally broke away from the chains by drowning herself on that gloomy day in 1941. She was freed at last, but she will suffer still.

Another expert gives us a clue into the appeal of Dickinson’s poems to the young. Cassandra Atherton, an Australian academic, fell in love with the writer’s work as a teenager. “Emily Dickinson was my poster girl,” she told the BBC. Atherton took it so far as to model her teenage look on the only known photograph of Dickinson. She would arrive at school dressed in white and her hair tied in a tight bun. She identified with the poet as a fellow outsider.

Although the other two lived in different time and space, their fates were basically the same. They felt restrained with marriage, more or less suffered from an inclination of depression, and acted in a sensitive, self-examined and self-confined way. Laura should have been satisfied with her happy family, but the only outlet she found was staying away from the nasty corner. She firstly intended to commit suicide. The fear of death and the hope for the better pulled her back.


However, the ultimate action she took was no other than escaping. She left her man and kid, sobbing for some reasonable irrational sake. As for Claresa, she merely took Richard as a duty she was for. She lived with her lesbian girlfriend and even had a daughter by medical means. Everything seemed quite okay, and she put herself in the fake image of happiness. But Richard discovered it that they were existent for each other. “The poet will die, for the other would live better.” He jumped out of the window. Before he sunk to the ground, he made the last soundless poem in the intoxicating sunshine. Claresa was freed. The damned responsibility had gone to hell.

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