Paper Proposal: Deep Ecology in “The Pioneers” and “East of Eden”

Deep ecology, the inherent worth of the Earth and its independence from the usefulness humans get out of it interests me. East of Eden by John Steinbeck is one of my favorite novels and nature and its usefulness is prominent throughout the novel. One of the characters (Samuel Hamilton) has an understanding of nature and does not attempt to dominate it and is very successful on his small plot of land while another character (Adam Trask) has a large plot of land that wastes away because he is more concerned with material wealth than sustenance. The Pioneers by James Fenimore Cooper also has two characters who differ in their appreciation of the land. The deep ecology section of Ecocriticism is what I know of the topic but I will do more research. I haven’t read East of Eden in a while so re-reading both texts will help me come up with more questions as well as what to focus on more.

Questions I would like to answer

1. In what ways has the land been exploited in these works?

2. What is the importance of valuing the land aesthetically?

3. Are these works effective at helping the reader develop a deep ecology perspective?

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14 responses to this post.

  1. East of Eden sounds like a great book to compare to The Pioneers by James Fenimore Cooper. You might want to add Walden to the selection because he makes mention of how to live on a land.
    Question 4 could be how does eco Marxism play into the East of Eden? Analyze and explain.

  2. Posted by rebsheppard on October 27, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    I like that you chose a Steinbeck novel as the basis of your research–his works are generally rife with environmental themes/material that begs to be examined through an ecocritical lens. However, I think your questions could benefit from some expansion and increased specificity.

    For example, in question 1 you asked “In what ways has the land been exploited in these works?” You could add a second part, e.g. “How does the exploitation of land serve to benefit or detract from text’s environmental message?”

    Your thinking demonstrates that you’re on the right track, just try to be as specific as possible. Good luck!

  3. Posted by thelorist on October 27, 2011 at 4:43 pm

    This sounds like a good pair of literary works to bring together into a single paper. Your questions are headed in a good direction, but the three questions you’ve posed may be somewhat broad. Since someone has already mentioned that, I’ll offer up something new for the sake of being helpful lol. Remember to not only consider the similarities between The Pioneers and East of Eden, but also their differences. Do the books and their characters take slightly different angles on the same argument? How do the juxtaposed character types, such as Naty and the pigeon hunters, communicate more specific environmental sentiments? For example:

    Q: “In both Fenimore’s ‘The Pioneers’ and Steinbeck’s ‘East of Eden’, individuals who exploit natural resources and those who live by simpler means are highly contrasted. What does each author suggest is a healthy means of living off of the land? To what extent do the deep ecological characters refrain from utilizing nature? To what extent do the exploiters use nature? How do Fenimore and Steinbeck feel about the use of natural resources and does one or the other allow for some material use? None at all? etc”

  4. Good topic but I think (like somebody said above me) you might want to narrow the scope of you paper because right now it is seems a bit broad. I think the Pigeon scene from Oh Pioneers will work really well with this though as far as people not living a sustaining lifestyle and wasting the resources of the land.

    I thought this was an interesting question:

    What is the importance of valuing the land aesthetically?

    and I would add on to this other things we can value in the land. (ie What is the importance of valuing the land spiritually/inherently/ect)

  5. This is a broad topic but i think it has the potential to be very good. I would maybe use deep ecology as my comparitive measure and focus on the two texts you mentioned, analyzing the examples of deep ecology within them. I think question 2 is interesting because my understanding of deep ecology is that it has little to do with aesthetics, so it would be interesting to see how aesthetics fit in. I would also think about
    4. What is the environmental issue being addressed in this texts, if there is one, how does it fit in with the deep ecology perspective?

  6. Posted by kwalley on October 28, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    I think this sounds like a very interesting topic but agree that you might want to narrow your scope just a bit. I find your last question intriguing because it is the fundamental question of literature, does the author shape the reader’s view?

    Another question I might consider is:

    5. What is the author trying to achieve through his contrast of materialism and naturalism? Is this deep ecology or a more politically motivated point of view?

  7. Posted by al002 on October 28, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    Very interesting topic. I think the question “2. What is the importance of valuing the land aesthetically?” was most important because this is a major element to the deep ecology ideology. I think an important question to ask is whether the writer is trying to get the audience to sympathize with a particular character in both texts. Also I am curious if there was a target audience that the authors where trying to either please or change their opinion?

  8. In what ways has the land been exploited in these works?

    Question number one is very important because deep ecology is centered around perserving nature, so the land being exploited gives this perspective something to be concerned about and argue against.
    A question you could add is: What should people have done instead of exploiting the land in your texts? What healthier habits should they have incorporated instead of misusing it.

  9. Posted by teagueoreagan on October 28, 2011 at 6:08 pm

    Question number one is fairly solid in terms of the quantity of analysis it could produce yet, to be mr. johnny come lately, it could use a bit more of a focused approach which I feel could possibly be attained by the incorporation of Thoreau’s land use philosophies in Walden. He emphasizes that subsistence is natural yet exploitation of the land for profit is robbery. The characters for analysis that you put forth seem to be based on different situations involving disparate philosophies yet using an outside ideology, like the suggestion of Walden (or easily some other source) could tie these characters together into two cohesive opposing viewpoints.

    8.) Another possible relevant question could be–How are these texts shaped by the prevailing ideologies of land use or the rejection of them by the characters? (Agrarianism, etc.)

  10. Question #8 is my favorite so far, as I think it is one that helps you to address the larger significance of your literary analysis. Here’s a question I’d like to add that also addresses significance, and it’s a tough but necessary one:

    9. Why should we read Cooper and Steinbeck together? Lots of American novels contain characters with differing views of the land, so why Steinbeck? What links these two authors and/or texts more specifically, and what do we learn/gain by reading (aka analyzing) them alongside each other?

  11. The question about valuing the aesthetic value of the land is my favorite.
    10) Another aspect to explore would maybe be if the work is pastoral in any way? How does this affect the deep ecology aspect and do these views work together or conflict with eachother?

  12. Posted by etrotta on October 28, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    I think you chose two great writings to draw from. Both show aspects of deep ecology and the value of nature. I think your first question is the best because over-exploitation of resources vs. sustainability is a very interesting topic to explore. Another question you could ask is whether the authors would advocate preserving nature as it appears before human contact or integrating civilization into new areas of wilderness with low impact on the environment.

  13. Posted by michaelmichaelsmith on October 28, 2011 at 10:44 pm

    I think question one has a lot of potential material to cover. One of the first things I thought when I read the question how stewardship of the land factors into exploitation conversation.

    Q11 – In what ways do the text suggest or disparage stewardship of the land? What human actions would be counter to this type of guardianship?

  14. First off, it is difficult to read ‘the pioneers’ through a deep ecology lens because that perspective came about much later. However, there are some similarities between Cooper’s supposed appreciation of nature as intrinsically valuable and deep ecology. What should be mentioned, or asked I guess, is what Cooper’s other motives could have been aside from what is espoused by deep ecology? For example, the pioneers could be a political allegory essentially criticizing agrarianism.

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