The poem is about a human person who is actively and willingly used as a hunter. The person is like a loaded gun that is condemned to remain inactive until the owner takes possession of it. The gun has in it energy that is capable of stirring echoes in the mountains and energy capable of lighting up valleys. Despite all these, it is deadly and that is why the owner uses it against his foes. The hunter also uses the gun to speak for him. When reading the poem there is a sense of power based on rage. The speaker compares her life to that of unused loaded gun that fulfills its purpose to kill and finds joy in performing the purpose.
The conventional understanding of the metaphor of the poem lies in the idea that the “Master” is God. The speaker is thus picked up by God and becomes his marksman. The speaker after being picked becomes a staunch defender and fulfils its role of being powerful. She acts only at the master’s bidding, shares his voice and in someway becomes immortal (Emily and Vendler, 101). Serving God therefore makes the speaker further the power of her existence.Dickinson uses implicit criticism to portray God as a murderous hunter of man. He describes that he uses death to gleefully execute people. She portrays God as aloof, vindictive, insensitive and invasive to man.
From the beginning, the poet stood at the corner without purpose. She was then found by a hunter who knew her purpose because he was her “Master.” The master therefore used her to express this purpose. Like a gun (used symbolically) she is used for shooting the. The female deer (doe) is presumably killed by the hunter during his hunting spree. Picking a feminist point of view, this represents how female writers are forced to suppress or kill part of themselves to write. The speaker has power, control and a destructive purpose that creates joy and satisfaction in her personality. The speaker says that she (the gun) will live longer than the master i.e. “Though I than He – may longer live” (Emily and Vendler, 101) but it may not be true living because it is stated that she has no power to die. This is so because in the context of life, death defines life. The poet writes, “He longer must – than I –” this means that the speaker will last longer than the master and the master in the true meaning of the world will outlive the speaker.
Hunting in the woods helps reestablish a close relationship with nature and establishes a sense of control. This is expressed by the words “the woods are sovereign.” The speaker prefers to stand guard over the master than share his soft downy pillow. We realize that she refuses the softer life and prefers the homelier alternative (Emily and Vendler, 102). The central dilemma of the poem becomes that of the fusion of force and the agent, violence and the perpetrator and the gun and the owner. This is clearly highlighted in the second stanza where the speaker uses the word “we” to fuse together their acting as one. The gun symbolizes power, rage and violence. Guns are always dangerous since they have the power to take away life by a single shot. Introducing the reader to the gun enables us to edge and be attentive when reading the rest of the poem. The gun therefore becomes an extended metaphor in the poem since it represents the speaker’s power to kill. When loaded, it can be used for hunting since it is deadly.
The poet writes “every time I speak for Him …. “ -taking on his voice” (Emily and Vendler, 101) to indicate that every time the gun goes off it communicates something for the master. In the fifth stanza, the two are indistinguishable. The usage of the statement “Yellow Eye..” refers to the gun explosion picked from the sentence ‘on whom I lay…an emphatic Thumb.’ The thumb clearly means that the owner cocking the gun making it ready for action. The last stanza also fuses the entities together by tying their lives and deaths together (Emily and Vendler, 105). The stanza makes this interdependence complicated making it impossible to distinguish one from the other. The speaker has deliberately shed the self protective layer of protective feminine personality as symbolized by the use of ‘doe’ and ‘deep pillow of masochistic eider duck’ to uncover the true self within. It depicts a kind of hardness, rage and the desire for revenge and aggression.
Like Dickinson’s other poems, the theme of death and supremacy is evident here. Death is not powerful in the poem but the ability to die is highlighted as the most powerful act. It clearly shows how intricate life and death are tied such that one cannot exist without death. Thus the explanation that the gun “may longer live” that the master, means that the gun does not really live at all since it has no power to die (Emily and Vendler, 105). Despite the dangers expressed by the personality and the recognition of the apparent dehumanization personality, the poet takes a great risk of being murderous. She portrays herself as a gun with rage becoming part of her being. Rage defines her inhuman and unwomanly thought making her a master of herself. Finally, the poem’s depth of thought, ambiguity, style, concise language and simultaneous definitions combine to make the poem a master piece.