Ecocritical Analysis of “Transcendental Wild Oats”

The story conceptualizes nature as a pastoral utopia where farming and abstaining from all animal foods will bring you closer to God. The pilgrims considered their new farmhouse called “Fruitlands” as an Eden and is considered harmonious if everyone works at a job that most suits them in this new Eden. I find this idea they had about what a utopian way of life is to be contradictory to the concept of utopia itself because, in my opinion, in a utopian society, you wouldn’t have to work day in and day out just to survive. You would have time to spend with your friends and family instead of endlessly working. The pilgrims preached vegetarianism and considered eating meat to be akin to a brute or savage way of life because animals had to suffer in order for people to eat them. Timon was against eating animals so much that he publicly humiliated Jane by yelling at her about eating a fish tail, claiming she was “nourishing the wolf and tiger in your bosoms” by eating meat (39). The use of the terms “wolf” and “tiger” reinforces the concept of eating meat being akin to savagery.

Despite the characters working together to create the same utopia, several of their experiences with nature were different. The men and women played traditional European gender roles with men plowing and farming, and Hope as a housewife preparing the food in the kitchen. The solitary man who retreats to the wilderness for a “primeval” experience is seen through the character of Brother Pease. The children’s experiences with nature were limited to splashing in puddles and helping Sister Hope collect the food before a storm comes through. Timon Lion and Abel Lamb both imagine an idealized world they hope will be born through their hard work. Timon hopes to regenerate the world and have his name glorified, but from what I can tell from the text, he doesn’t put as much effort into his work as others. I came to this conclusion because Mrs. Lamb describes his work as “being, not doing,” and his “divine growth” as “both an expensive and unsatisfactory process” (34). Timon is called “Dictator Lion” as he tells everyone how the day’s work will be conducted. This name and his lack of work depicts Timon as a corrupt king of this new utopia. On the other hand, Abel Lamb is quite the opposite of Timon since he hopes for no glory to be bestowed upon his name, but rather wants to “plant a paradise, where Beauty, Virtue, Justice, and Love might live happily together” (31). Abel Lamb “worked with every muscle of his body” and had a “soul full of the purest aspirations, (and the) most unselfish purposes” (38). Timon and Abel’s last names set them up as the king and the peasant. Abel works day in and day out in hope for an idealized sense of a better future, he embodies the spirit of a worker, and his persona emanates the idea that if you work hard then you will be happy and closer to God.

I would argue that this story’s environmental message would be that a utopian society cannot be created through farming. At the end of the text, the crops are ruined by the first snowfall which leaves all the pilgrims to starve. Since they turned their back on the way everyone they know lives, no one is there to help them. The message of the story seems to be that utopia cannot be achieved in this manner. You cannot survive with only a small family, and living strictly off the land in a romanticized pastoral landscape is rather foolish. I would go so far as to say the text is depicting how an idealized sense of utopia, where no animal is hurt and we survive through farming in a very small community, is a myth. Even in this “utopia” there is social stratification and strict rules regarding animal products. There will always be suffering in one form or another, so to strive for such an idealized goal is rather absurd. To drive this point home, Hope says about “Fruitlands” at the end, “Don’t you think Apple Slump would be a better name for it, dear?” (45).

Alcott, Loisa May. Loisa May Alcott: An Intimate Anthology. Ch/Art: Transcendental Wild oats p. 28-45. pub. Doubleday Sept 1997


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by brightgirl04 on November 10, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    This analysis touches on but does not explicitly state that it is male arrogance such as Timon Lion’s as what also prevents the utopia from beings successful. Timon is a dictator who bosses everyone around but does little work himself it is attitudes like his and the exploitation of women that prevent the crops from surviving the first snowfall. Yribaf describes the ways in which Dictator Lion fails as a leader and a worker and how Abel Lamb is an excellent worker and generally good person, “the peasant.”

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