Saturday, November 4th, 2017...4:00 pmhochheij

Esther Popel Shaw: Flag Salute

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In light of the current situation from Halloween weekend, I found it interesting to read how Esther Popel Shaw was displeased with how Dickinson handled racial circumstances when it came to her daughter living on campus. Although Esther did well in school and even lent some of her own work of poem to Dickinson after she graduated, the institution did not head to her wishes to let her daughter live on campus.

Her work as a black rights activist was particularly captivating in her poem titled Flag Salute, and its powerful language in memory of the lynching of a seventeen-year-old boy. Popel Shaw emphasizes her disappointment in her country by paralleling the incident with the pledge of allegiance. With each citation of the pledge at the beginning of each stanza, she continues the stanza with language that contradicts what the pledge vows for country morals with graphic images of the lynching.

The line “One Nation, Indivisible,” creates an image of a country that can live together in one harmonious group, and yet the lines below it convey something very different. Popel Shaw’s lines after read, “What matters that the stuff they burned/ Was flesh-and bine-and hair-/ And reeking of gasoline,” depicting gruesome acts of burning a body of a young boy, simply because of race. In this graphic image, Popel Shaw delivers a powerful message that the pledge of allegiance is not an accurate depiction of what America stands for during this time period.


  • It’s pretty interesting (and very upsetting) how decades later, we can see similarities in complaints of Dickinson. In addition to your response on parallels to today, I really like your in-depth look at “Flag Salute.” Your particular focus on the burning of a man after the line “One Nation, Indivisible” is a prominent juxtaposition to point the reader to because people have turned on the boy, dividing the nation between white and black.

  • I appreciate that you decided to focus on one of Esther Popel Shaw’s major pieces of literary work in this blog post. The collection of pieces by Esther Popel Shaw that the Archives and Special Collections owns seemed that it could have been overwhelming to write about in just one blog post, so picking one piece to focus on helped me to clearly see the connections you were able to make between Dickinson now and Dickinson then. You were then able to branch out to her views on the nation’s racial problems by using her “Flag Salute” poem.

  •   Professor Seiler
    November 7th, 2017 at 1:02 am

    Jackie–I’m with Becca and Phoebe in appreciating your mini-close reading of “Flag Salute.” What about Dickinson now do you think might make EPS proud?

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