Reflections of a Self-Titled “Nobody”

XXVII

“I’M nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us — don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!”

–Emily Dickinson

What, and who, is a “nobody”?  We have always been told that the secret to success is becoming “somebody” – that our goal should be to seek fame, fortune, and, subsequently, happiness.  And what good are fame and fortune without the ability to share (show them off) with others?  To be a somebody is to be in the public’s eye, and a slave to the opinions of others.  The word “nobody” has always had a more negative connotation – a “nobody” is without friends, without success, and without a future.  A “nobody” is always alone.

I, on the other hand, like to interpret the word “nobody” as being a synonym for the words “unique” or “individual”.  “Somebodies” surround themselves with like-minded people – the polar opposite of being unique.  A “nobody” is an individual, capable of speaking and thinking for themselves.  Of course, according to Emily Dickinson, you are never really alone.  Every time I read this poem, I always picture her asking the questions “who are you”, and “are you nobody, too” of her image in the mirror.  As her reflection is as much a “nobody” as she is, the two of them would make quite the “pair”.  Now, as for her fear of being “banished”: a mirror was often one of the instruments used in banishing spells, according to urban lore.  The reflection would not be the only thing “banished” if the “they”, or “somebodies”, of the poem were successful in doing away with all of the “nobodies”.

In the second part of the poem, a negative slant is placed on the term “somebody” rather than the word “nobody”.  Being a “somebody” is to be “dreary” and a member of the “public” – to be a small part of a group instead of an individual.  You are like a “frog”, a small creature most known for its flashy coloring and loud vocals (much like a jester, or a class clown).  The only way you are able to bring attention to yourself is in what you wear and how loudly you speak – not with what you say.  The image of the “public” is juxtaposed with that of a “bog” (swamp), the natural home for the noisy “frog”.  The “somebody” spends their “livelong days” “telling their name” to this “admiring bog” in hopes of garnering the most attention and popularity – earning a place in the spotlight.

While there is nothing wrong with being a “somebody” (or a “frog”), I am far more content remaining a “nobody”.  I am an individual, with my own thoughts, my own opinions, and my own mind.  I am proud to be a “nobody”, are you?

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