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Fraser, Alison: "Dickinson’s Domestic Battlefront: “Rearrange a ‘Wife’s’ Affection” and the Civil War"

Dickinson’s Domestic Battlefront: “Rearrange a ‘Wife’s’ Affection” and the Civil War

Alison Fraser, University at Buffalo, SUNY

The Civil War and marriage inseparably converge in “Rearrange a ‘Wife’s’ Affection” (Fr267). I see this as a Civil War poem that insists the war is not something only fought on battlefields but also experienced in homes, however far from the front. The poem’s speaker, a wife, uses martial language to describe her marriage, pointing to domestic battlefronts not only in terms of domestic disputes but also in terms of domestic responses to the war. I argue that in this poem, Dickinson explores an alternative mode of belonging by demonstrating sympathy for the soldiers and their families. Dickinson positions the speaker in a home disrupted by the war, as a wife whose husband has left for the front. Empathetic with his purpose, the speaker of the poem becomes un-womanly, removing those crucial biological parts that mark her as a woman and scrambling her brain to be other than it was. For instance, physical markers of her womanliness, such as her “freckled Bosom,” are “Amputate[d],” while her face becomes “bearded like a man.” Given the large overlap between military age and marriageable age for white men, and the fact that approximately forty percent of these men served in the Civil War, it seems clear that Dickinson is responding to the domestic impact the war had on women of this era, many of whom had husbands in the war or could not marry because of so many men were participants in battle, and is attempting to construct a new sense of belonging in a society irrevocably altered by war.