Posts Tagged ‘class differences’

2. Analysis of the function of wilderness in “Walking”

In “Walking,” Henry David Thoreau uses the wilderness as a place in which he emphatically encourages people to seek refuge from their daily woes. Thoreau consistently describes the wilderness as an escape, somewhere a person can go to and simply be free. Thoreau highlights the wonder of the wilderness through “the art of Walking” (260) which he insists is an activity that one should partake in for a good four or more hours a day. For Thoreau it seems that the wilderness is merely a refuge, it offers to him no commercial value nor does he see it in that respect. This view of the wilderness as a haven from the every day is a very idealistic image as well as one that cannot hope to be adopted by people from all social classes.

Through his admiration of the wilderness and his countless hours spent walking through it, Thoreau forgets that many people do not have the luxury of time nor the financial ability to appreciate nature only for its intrinsic value. While Thoreau is content to spend his time “sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements” (262) others in lower social classes are forced to work, many of them plowing the fields that Thoreau does not appreciate. This whimsical approach to wilderness could simply be overlooked were it not for the audacity of Thoreau to belittle the livelihoods of the people who make their living off the commercial value of nature, “Hope and the future for me are not in lawns and cultivated fields, not in towns and cities, but in the impervious and quaking swamps” (174).

This delusion of nature and its tangible qualities and values begs the question of whether Thoreau is credible in his view of the wilderness. He views it romantically, “the jewel which dazzled me” (174) but seems to forget that where it not for the exploitation of this jewel he would not have the roof over his head, the paper he is writing on, or the other luxuries in his life that nature affords him. Thoreau’s acclaim for wilderness is essentially useless in that it is merely the idea that nature is to be enjoyed and rarely to be used, an idea that has never nor will ever substantiate society.

Thoreau, Henry D. Walden Civil Disobedience and Other Writings. 3Ch./Art: Walking p. 260-287. pub. WW Norton 2008

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An Ecocritical Perspective on Catlin

George Catlin’s excerpt from “Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Condition of the North American Indians” had the tone of a “Save the Whales” campaign – only in this case, the “Indian” is the endangered animal.

Garrard calls the idea of the Ecological Indian a “seductive myth” and Catlin seems to be seduced by this myth. Garrard says that “‘We’ apparently cannot dwell in working harmony with nature, but perhaps other cultures are able to do so” (120). Please note how Garrard put the ‘we’ in quotation marks – almost demarcating that any person reading his words must be of a civilized nature, out of touch with working in harmony with nature.

Catlin takes on a similar tone – the “we” in his text are the civilized people. He contrasts that the “civilized” world has words and systems to overrule the laws of nature, but then states, “I say that we can prove such things; but an Indian cannot” (40). I gasped when I read that sentence the first time. I thought he was joking. But the italics are from the original text (!) and give a terrific air of condescension.

Catlin’s nation’s park for the “Ecological Indian” (as ‘we’ would call them) was the most spectacular demonstration of a man who has been seduced by the “myth.” Catlin gushes that Indians are beautiful in their ancient, preserved state and insists that this admirable, exotic beauty should be showcased to the rest of the world. He says, “What a beautiful and thrilling specimen for America to preserve and hold up to the view of her refined citizens and the world, in future ages!” Please note the word “specimen” in this passage in reference to the Indian, which contrasts quite jarringly with “refined citizens.” Indians are specimens of a lost world that can live in harmony with nature, but at the end of the day, I believe Catlin would rather be a “refined citizen” than a “specimen.”

Catlin goes on to sketch out his idea: “A nation’s Park, containing man and beast, in all the wild and freshness of their nature’s beauty!” (42)  I sincerely believed that Catlin was joking. A Park to showcase the Indian as a specimen?? But when he later states that he wants to be known – after he dies – for establishing such a park, I understood that Catlin was romanticizing the Indian as an ecological wonder.

Let’s get a show of hands, shall we? Would you, my dear reader, visit such a park – or, shall I say, zoo? Does the idea delight or disgust you?

 

Hunting and Animal Deaths in “The Pioneers”

Characters’ identities with “The Pioneer,” particularly their sex and class, are very important in relation to the hunting and animal deaths within the story.

Cooper incorporates stereotypical views of women to indicate how a young woman would react during a hunt. The first buck that is hunted shows the sexist depiction of women as emotional, passive creatures as opposed to strong, independent men. When the buck gets away unharmed, Elizabeth’s view of the scene is completely different from that of her father. The narrator states that “the whole scene had passed with a rapidity that confused the female, who was unconsciously rejoicing in the escape of the buck” (Cooper 7), yet her father remained calm and unfazed by shooting at the deer. In this, the idea that women are closer to nature and more empathetic, not only to other people but also to other creatures, is seen. In each other hunting scene, the men and boys who are killing the animals have no qualms about the death, even to the point of killing them in excess for fun.

More obviously within this text is the juxtaposition of the views of the rich and poor when it comes to the deaths of animals. Hunting is depicted as a necessity for the poor and as a sport for the wealthy. The sole exception to the men being uncaring about the excess killing of animals for sport is the character or Leather Stocking, though this is due not to his sex but to his class. He is offended by all the boys killing large amounts of pigeons while “none pretended to collect the game, which lay scattered over the fields in such profusion as to cover the very ground with the fluttering victims” (Cooper 250). Yet all of the richer characters within the story see hunting as primarily a sport, and only secondarily a source of food. Like women, the poor are depicted as being closer to nature and less brutal. While this plays on a sexist stereotype for women, it actually serves to show the poor of this story in a positive light as opposed to the brutish behaviors or the richer men.

Sex and class are both represented as being relevant factors in the characters’ views of animal deaths as well as nature as a whole.

 

References

Cooper, James Fenimore. The Pioneers. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1958. 1-255. Print.

 

Killing of animals in “The Pioneers”

In John Fenimore Cooper’s “The Pioneers”, the act of killing animals is used to show the difference between hunters and those who kill for the show of it. It also shows the difference between classes as well because the people mentioned in his story are from two different walks of life, and both have different views on the killing of animals. In the beginning there is a disagreement about who was the one to actually kill the buck, Judge Temple or Natty. Both of the men believe that they are the ones that had the kill shot but it is not the fact they killed the buck but what they killed it for. Judge Temple was more concerned with claiming the buck as his own then getting the meat off the actually animal. Natty on the other hand would only shoot an animal for the pure fact that he was going to use the meat for personal use. Judge Temple wants to be able to feel that he is powerful because he was a good enough hunter to kill the buck. Natty believes this is unethical and that killing for no intention of using the meat is wrong.

The contrasting views in Cooper’s story show how some people are more ethical when it comes to hunting animals and others believe if they can kill an animal then they should, since they have more power over them. The line that stood out was the hunter to Judge Temple right after the buck fell to the earth; “…you burnt your powder only to warm your nose this cold evening.”(8). It was said to mean that the Judge only hunted the buck because it would make him feel better about his skill to do so. Since the very beginning of the story, the Judge is made to look like he is more elegant and has more power than the hunters do, so his attitude on killing the deer for the pure pleasure of it shows how his character is more into proving strength instead of doing it because he needs the meat to survive. Later on even he tells Natty “A few dollars will pay for the venison; but what will requite me for the lost honor of buck’s tail in my cap?”(9). Since the two characters are vastly different, the readers get an understanding of two different ways of life as well as having a character they can relate to because they have different views on aspects of life. Cooper doesn’t want you to side with one character over the other but instead presents them as equal and allows the reader to decide whose actions are more likeable than the other.

Cooper, James Fenimore. The Pioneers. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1958. 1-255. Print.