3. How L H Sigourney Defines Home

L H Sigourney begins the text “Fallen Forests” by establishing the wilderness, and in particular trees, as symbols for the home.  Nature is characterized as a “sweet, gentle nurse / Who loveth us, and spreads a sheltering couch / When our brief task is o’er” (118), while human-constructed homes are defined as “stately mansions” that are lessened by how they stand “Unblessed by trees” (118).  The former definition of nature makes reference to nature as a sort of “final home” for all people as our bodies are lowered into the grave, a fact she elaborates on when she describes how dying elephants will “[move] slowly to seek the shadow of lofty trees” (120).  In addition, the characterization of nature as a “gentle nurse” implies a comparison to nature as the maternal.  Thus, for Sigourney, nature marks both the place from which all living creatures come, and the place where all living creatures return.  Sigourney’s definition of “home” becomes one of a place where people can only escape from briefly, and it is inevitable that they will return to it, and her argument becomes one against forsaking nature and embracing it as a great maternal essence.

This description contrasts with how she describes man-made structures later in the text.  Although she mentions private residences and estates she witnesses during her travels, there are two instances in the text where she goes into great detail about human structures, and neither instance is a traditional home.  First, she describes the State prison, which is characterized by how its inmates are a “mass of human misery” (124) which “had once a mother to whom their infancy was dear; who would have shuddered with agony, had the vision of a felon’s cell risen up between her and the cradle” (125).  Given how nature has been previously characterized as maternal, this passage indicates Sigourney’s view that artificial structures are not true homes, and serve only to separate one from the true mother figure, which is nature.  The second major description is that of the State Lunatic Asylum, which although describes as “sufficient for the comfortable and even luxurious accommodation of several hundred patients” (128), is also described as housing people who are afflicted by “one of the saddest forms of suffering humanity” (128-129).  It is therefore striking that Sigourney chooses to describe two places that house incredibly unhappy people.  Furthermore, she ends her text by depicting her travels by saying, “the chief end of her excursions abroad, might be to enjoy home better” (132).  Although this does not mention nature, her previous characterizations cause this passage to have deeper meaning: nature is home, and thus her “excursions” become a metaphor for life.  The travails of life serve to bring one closer to nature as one’s home, and this is inevitable as nature is the place where, according to Sigourney, everyone will one day return.

Sigourney, L.H. Scenes in My Native Land. Ch./Art: Excerpts p. 117-132. pub. James Munroe and Company 1845

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by lcmills on October 6, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    It occurred to me as well that Sigourney was trying to associate an idealized “nature” with an idealized “home”. She juxtaposes those dark and sterile images of the prison and the asylum with awe-inspired depictions of natural settings, thereby backing the immoral (or amoral?) aspects of society into human-made shadows and lifting the aspects infused with a Christian ethic of stewardship into the light. Her travels seem to have held the ultimate purpose of cementing Sigourney’s belief that so long as one maintains a moral responsibility toward care for home and family (as they are defined in Christianity), moderate use of the planet’s bounty is necessary and good. It’s like she has imagined a feminized nature, an earth-mother, that provides for humankind, but that is ultimately the creation of a humanized, male God, which allows for certain values to be projected onto it.

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