Analysis of "I'm Nobody! Who Are You?" by Emily Dickinson

Updated on January 8, 2020
chef-de-jour profile image

Andrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. His poems are published online and in print.

Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson | Source

Emily Dickinson And A Summary of I'm Nobody! Who Are You?

I'm Nobody! Who Are You? is one of Emily Dickinson's short poems, being only two stanzas, eight lines, in length. It has the classic hallmarks of a Dickinson poem, namely lots of dashes, unorthodox punctuation and exquisite use of words.

  • The main theme is self-identity and all that goes with it. As individuals, are we content with our identities? What about privacy and the inner life? What about our role in society, our public persona?

The first line has become one of the most popular of quotes and is often cited as the title of the poem, but in reality none of Emily Dickinson's poems are titled. She didn't give her poems a title, she simply wrote the lines down.

There are many books written about this most reclusive of poets, who lived most of her adult life in the confines of her family home in Amherst, Massachusetts, seeing few people but writing hundreds of poems, only a handful being published during her lifetime.

I'm Nobody! Who Are You? is rare in that the first stanza is directly aimed at the reader in a most informal, child-like style. A sort of secret pact is being made, a pact between nobodies; a them and us mindset being proposed.

At least this is the initial impression the poem gives. The Nobody is a decent thing to be, private and selfless, with no need of recognition from the vulgar mob. Contrast that with the Somebody, a loud, repetitive egotistical thing who sits with other like-minded drearies, craving the worship of the masses.

So there is a rough dialogue of the self going on in this little poem as the poet reaches out to others of a similar disposition, to set up in opposition to those who love to broadcast their own name.

  • As in many of her poems, Emily Dickinson conjures up an unexpected surprise with the use of one little word - frog. She likens the Somebody to a frog, sat croaking all the time in the Bog.

Frogs are one of the creatures that ranked high in the consciousness of the poet, as can be seen in this letter she wrote to her friend Mary Bowles:

'The frogs sing sweet - today - they have such pretty - lazy - times - how nice, to be a Frog!'

So how come she made the frog a major player in her poem? And why use it in a simile? Could it be that the poet associated them with a public yet vulgar display of 'name calling'? After all, the loudest frogs are usually male and they sing to attract a female or declare their territorial boundaries.

Numbered 260 by Franklin

I’m Nobody! Who are you?

Are you – Nobody – too?

Then there’s a pair of us!

Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!

How public – like a Frog –

To tell one’s name – the livelong June –

To an admiring Bog!

Further Analysis of I'm Nobody! Who Are You?

I'm Nobody! Who Are You? packs a lot into only two stanzas. With no regular meter (metre in UK) to create a steady rhythm, each line is a special case due mainly to the way Emily Dickinson frames the syntax with her use of dashes - . Punctuation plays a role too.

So it's a stop-start kind of conversational poem where iamb and anapaest combine with tetrameter and trimeter.

First Stanza

The first line contains a declaration, the speaker boldly claiming that she is a nobody, a nonentity, which is a paradox in itself. How can a nobody end up in a poem, on show for all to see?

The exclamation mark only adds to the puzzle. Is the speaker excited to be a nobody? Or has she shocked herself by revealing that, yes, it's true, she confesses at last. Being a Nobody is preferable to being a Somebody.

And then the extraordinary reaching out to the reader in a child-like playful fashion. The speaker wants a secretive liaison, a private relationship which is a tongue-in-cheek partnership. And it must be kept quiet because if they get to know they'll broadcast it to the whole world! This is a comical take on the world of fame and celebrity.

In an earlier revised version of the poem (Johnson) the fourth line reads:

They'd banish us, you know.

But a later and more accurate published collection by R.W. Franklin in 1998, based on the actual written manuscripts, returns the true fourth line:

Don't tell! they'd advertise - you know!

Second Stanza

What makes this poem so powerful is the fact that it resonates with a modern audience today. The cult of celebrity dominates the popular press and media; cultivating the right public persona is everything, the pressure to be a somebody, a perfect social being, is enormous.

Emily Dickinson chose to contrast her Nobody of the first stanza with a Somebody, a frog, in the second, and used the adjective dreary to describe what it is to be a Somebody.

Frogs go public at mating time when the males gather to find a partner and establish territory, so whilst the action is instinctive it is still, to the speaker, dull and boring and vulgar.

The tone is mocking - to be a Somebody, with a bloated ego, self-important, needing the admiration of the masses, is to be a bit of a loser. Ironically, this Nobody of the first stanza, in cahouts with the reader, is poking fun at the false pretence of those who parade their egos in open view, those who seek fame in a name.

In some respects this poem reflects nothing but the naive thoughts of an introverted child locked up in an adult persona, having to come to terms with the outside world, where the extroverts live.

Being a Nobody is to shun the fifteen minutes of fame, to be wary of the negative influence of public opinion and to remain humble and not to rely on the masses for self-worth.

A good idea?


Norton Anthology, Norton, 2005

© 2017 Andrew Spacey


Submit a Comment

No comments yet.


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)