Posts Tagged ‘nature’

“The Outlook’s” Effective Nature Faker Argument

Many of the arguments made during the “Nature Faker Controversy” offer conflicting perspectives with the author simply refuting an argument but providing no real examples or substantial evidence for their argument. The controversy is mainly centered on the egotistical opinions of authors who do not write with enough credibility to adequately quell the questions and retorts of their colleagues in nature writing. The continuous back and forth slew of vicious and ill-supported arguments makes it difficult to pinpoint which argument is not only the most convincing but also the most successful.

Ultimately it is the argument made by the editors of The Outlook that is the most well-supported and the most compelling, “Our own careful observation and experience lead us to believe that his [Long] books have, on the whole, done much more good than harm, by interesting the children of this country in the life and welfare of animals…Mr. Burroughs appeals to the adult mind, Mr. Long to the imagination and curiosity of the child” (Mazel 145). While this excerpt may not necessarily be a part of the “Nature Faker Controversy” it effectively sums up the argument without using any belittling or impudent remarks toward either author. With the final sentence, the editors at The Outlook characterize the value of both Long and Burroughs, identifying that each author occupies an important place in the literary world of natural history. What makes this argument so effective is that the editors take no stand on whether they find Long to be an overly imaginative author or Burroughs to be a condescending critic. The editors make a successful critique because they are able to separate their personal biases and implications and focus solely on the words of Burroughs and Long.

Though it can be argued that personality and imagination is what makes or breaks a piece of literature that is not what the “Nature Faker Controversy” was about. This controversy was a result of authors publicly critiquing the work of their colleagues based on opinions and assumptions and while the arguments are numerous for both sides there are too many questions left unanswered by both perspectives to consider any of the arguments truly convincing. Neither side is willing or able to provide concrete evidence to support their argument and for that the credibility of the critique is lost.

Mazel, David (ed). A Century of Early Ecocriticism. Ch./Art: Excerpts p. 26-47, 87-100, 113-147, 154-162. pub. University of Georgia Press 2001

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Spofford: Hide Yo Kids, Hide Yo Wife, The Indian Devil is Coming

Harriet Prescott Spofford’s “Circumstance” tells the tale of a woman walking through nature who is then attacked by a vicious and unnamed animal. The “Indian Devil” as the beast is called connotes a sense of something that is native to the land just as the Indians were. The “devil” shows a deep-seated fear and betrays the settlers fear of nature. The legendary aspect of the creature shows the settlers do not understand nature and resort to myths to explain alien concepts of their new land. At first, the narrator is peacefully walking through the fields near her home. She witnesses a strange apparition flying through the sky covered in a white sheet with four hands, delivering a warning. In reaction to this “She might have been a little frightened by such an apparition, if she had led a life of less reality than frontier settlers are apt to lead” (Spofford, 85).  It is clear she and her family have gone through many struggles in order to make a life for themselves on the frontier. It is mentioned several times throughout the work that she lived in a log home, her husband plays a “homely fiddle made by himself from birch and cherrywood,” and the “patter of wooden clogs and the rustle of homespun petticoat” (Spofford, 87).  The author is making is obvious to the reader that the narrator and her husband live off the land and are harmonious with nature. She walks through “the little copse” and lingers to “imbibe the sense of shelter” (Spofford, 84). There is a very positive relationship created between the narrator and nature, and she speaks of it as a warm and comforting friend and place of peace. After she is attacked by the animal this relationship shifts, “The green depths were utterly cold and silent and stern. These beautiful haunts that all the summer were hears and rejoinced to share with her their bounty, these heavens that had yielded their largess, these stems that had thrust their blossoms into her hands, all these friends of three moons ago forgot her now and knew her no longer” (Spofford, 89). This quote communicates the utter feeling of betrayal the narrator experiences. She once thought of the self-same woods as a safe haven and a source to live off of. I think the creature is a representation of warning to the couple to not underestimate nature. The wife had a false sense of security within nature and had no qualms of using it to her advantage, to make a home, clogs, fiddle, etc. The creature first attacks the woman because she was more emotionally attached to the land and therefore more vulnerable. It is significant that her singing keeps the beast from eating her because singing is soothing and non-violent and demonstrates how if we are kind to the forest and treat it gently it will not eventually come to betray us. The husband, however, demonstrates how people are attempting to conquer and dominate nature. He does not attempt any pacifying tactics and opts to violently bludgeon the beast instead. His actions are indicative of the settlers as a whole, destroying nature instead of finding ways to co-exist peacefully.

Spofford, Harriet Prescott. The Amber Gods and Other Stories. Ch./Art: Circumstance p. 84-96. pub. Rutgers University Press 1989

Gender Roles in “Circumstance”

In Harriet Prescott Spofford’s “Circumstance” there is essentially only one character. The female protagonist is attacked in the wilderness by a savage beast and is eventually saved by her husband. At first glance “Circumstance” perpetuates the damsel in distress stereotype but in actuality it is the woman’s own actions that keep her alive and inadvertently her family as well. The protagonist and her husband both experience nature in an entirely different way, while they both conquer nature they do it in entirely different ways. The protagonist first falls victim to the perils of the wilderness at the hands of a vicious beast; however, rather than succumb to the hopelessness of her situation she acts in the only way she knows how, she sings. Through song the protagonist pacifies the beast, “while the beast listened he would not gnaw” (86) and buys saves herself from death. While the protagonist’s actions cast doubt upon her as a damsel in distress they exemplify the idea of a woman as nurturing and gentle. On the other end of the spectrum is the strong, cold man who brutishly subdues nature. The protagonist’s husband searches for her and upon finding her, kills the beast to save his wife. The husband experiences nature as a conqueror, one that gives little heed to his actions and their consequences. The ramifications of an outlook like this are seen in the end of the story upon the discovery of their ravaged home and murdered neighbors. While this devastates both the protagonist and her husband, there is some clarity and opportunity in their circumstance, “For the rest, —the world was all before them, where to choose” (96). Ultimately it is the method in which men and women view and react to nature that defines the characters of this story. The man represents society as a whole and its blatant disregard for wilderness. The woman symbolizes the unity that humans can have with nature. Though she was unable to definitively save herself there was the ability to exist for a short time with wilderness. Ultimately Spofford comments on the ways in which gender roles affect the society’s reaction to nature. There are many ways to react and there is no argument for which is right, simply a story that demonstrates the differences.

 

Spofford, Harriet Prescott. The Amber Gods and Other Stories. Ch./Art: Circumstance p. 84-96. pub. Rutgers University Press 1989

The Relationship between Civilization and Nature in Thoreau’s “Walking” and E. M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops”

I chose this topic since the question of civilization versus nature is one that has interested me the most in our class discussions.  “The Machine Stops” (1909) is a science fiction short story that had a great impact on me when I first read it due to its predictive accuracy in describing a future society that lives completely separate from nature.  I felt that in Thoreau’s “Walking” (1862) essay, Thoreau voices, in a more straightforward fashion, many of the same concerns that Forster deals with in his short story.

 

I first read “The Machine Stops” for a class on science fiction literature, and in that class we discussed the way nature is represented in this and other science fiction literature.  In general, sci fi lit (particularly dystopian works like this) present a world that is so dependent on technology that it has ceased caring for nature; themes such as environmental degradation and conformity to rigid societal codes are common in such stories.  Both of these themes are key in both texts: Thoreau disapproves of societal codes in his text, while the character of Kuno in Forster’s text becomes ostracized for his refusal to conform to a technology-dependent society.  Also, Thoreau discusses the problems of building development in his text and how over-development can ruin nature, while in Forster’s text all human beings live in underground bunkers because of the massive environmental degradation.  Another major theme is spirituality: Thoreau discusses the spiritual value inherent in wilderness, while in Forster’s text, a religion that worships technology develops, and its deity is The Machine, a massive conglomeration of technology that supports life in the underground bunkers.

 

Questions:

 

  1. How does each text address human society?  How does each is mindless conformity criticized in both?
  2. How is spirituality used in each text?  How is organized religion treated in each?
  3. How does each text deal with environmental degradation?  How does each use the “apocalypse trope?”
  4. Thoreau and Forster were writing approximately 50 years apart from each other.  How does each text’s intended audience influence their respective arguments?

Spirituality of nature in Emerson’s “Nature” and Thoreau’s “Walking

I chose this topic for my final paper because I found Emerson and Thoreau to be the most interesting authors we have read this semester. I found their writings on the religious aspects of nature to be the most interesting because they incorporated aspects of Christianity into their transcendental ideals. They also seemed to have a more open interpretation of religious morals and where those can be found. Nature served as the incarnation of God on Earth as well as a place of worship in their writings. I want to focus mainly on the “Spirit” chapter in Emerson’s “Nature” and the beginning of Thoreau’s “Walking”. Emerson explains his thoughts on the spirituality of nature in his chapter titled “Spirit” which would be my main focus. Thoreau likens nature to God and Heaven in the beginning of “Walking” which would be another focus of my paper.

Questions:
1. How do the authors combine aspects of Christianity with their perspective of nature?
2. Do the authors see nature as the incarnation of God, a place of worship, or both?
3. How does “human nature” play a role in the authors’ interpretation of morality?

Question 3: Burroughs’ criticism on Thoreau

After reading “A Critical Glance into Thoreau” by John Burroughs, Burroughs views Thoreau as “a dreamer, an idealist, a fervid ethical teacher, seeking inspiration in the fields and woods” (Burroughs 487). That quote simply establishes a general ground for all of those people who label themselves nature writers. Generally speaking, every Nature-writer escapes into nature and away from civilization to find a deeper connection to Nature or connect things that occur in Nature to human emotions. At the same time, Burroughs see’s Thoreau as “not a great philosopher, he was not a great naturalist, he was not a great poet, but as a nature- writer and an original character, he is unique in our literature” (Burroughs 488). This is where I disagree with Burroughs. A person who raises moral questions or proposes a new theory can be classified as a philosopher. Thoreau addresses the busy lifestyle. People can get consumed with the idea of getting rich, or always trying to have more but Thoreau says we should live a simple lifestyle. “I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand, instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb nail” (Thoreau 293). Thoreau may not have been a great naturalist but Thoreau did call to attention economy, the value of money in the lives of human beings and true knowledge. In essence, “Thoreau was in no sense an interpreter of Nature… but if he sees anything unusual in Nature, like galls on trees and plants, he must need to draw some moral from it and indulge his passion for striking expression and fantastic comparison, usually at the expense of the truth” (Burroughs 489). Thoreau simply does not criticize an issue but offers a solution. In Walking, Henry David Thoreau says “I rejoice that horses and steers have to be broken before they can be made the slaves of men, and that men themselves have some wild oats left to sow before they become submissive members of society” (Thoreau 306). If a person simply nods in agreement with what Thoreau said then they might not understand the subliminal message. Horses are naturally wild animals but in order to be tamed and domesticated they first must be broken by the owner. One technique some use to tame a horse is they usually tie the leg of a horse until the horse is tired and then the owner gently stokes a horse so that the horse knows it is safe. Similarly in society, we have norms. If a person does not “fit” the norm then society as a whole will make sure he or she becomes like everyone else. Thoreau’s message is simple. Everyone has a natural wild spirit to them. Society sets the norms of how to act. We should not be easily submissive to what others expect of us but just be individuals. Therefore, Burroughs is correct to criticize Thoreau for not incorporating so much Nature and human emotions but Burroughs should reevaluate his criticism for Thoreau not being a philosopher or an interpreter of Nature. Thoreau’s examples do incorporate Nature and human beings as well as offer insight about how to live a better life.

 

Thoreau, Henry D. Walden Civil Disobedience and Other Writings. 3Ch/Art: Walden; Walking p. 5-70, 260-287. pub. WW Norton 2008

Mazel, David (ed). A Century of Early Ecocriticism. Ch./Art Excerpt p. 26-47. pub. University of Georgia Press 2001

Excessively Simple: Thoreau’s Argument For Self-Reliance in the Wilderness

In Henry David Thoreau’s Walden he treats nature as a sanctuary and as a sort of Eden. Although his focus is mainly on economic follies, the subtext is a calling for a return to nature, with an emphasis on simplicity and self-reliance.  He talks about actual farmlands being a burden to man because the men become slaves to them. He calls his townsmen’s “misfortune…to have inherited farms, houses, barns, cattle and farming tools; for these are more easily required than got rid of” (Thoreau, 6).  Thoreau’s excerpt focused on society’s need to give up excess and luxury and accept the basic gifts of nature. He narrows down “the necessities of life for man…Food, Shelter, Clothing, and Fuel” (Thoreau, 11). These four essential items are the what man are able to live off of, but he argues that man has taken advantage of them and are consuming an excessive amount and living in luxury.

Man is capable of surviving on the four essentials and only need turn to nature to find easily find them. In this sense, the wilderness is like Eden. Man does not need anything above what has already been bestowed upon the earth in resources. Thoreau calls for a return to a primitive living versus the “superfluously course labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them” (Thoreau, 7). As long as we are striving for anything beyond fundamental sustenance, we will be able to fully appreciate nature and form a true sense of identity. The endless toil because of our greediness causes that innate identity to be confused and lost amidst the struggle.

Thoreau also sees the permanent house as a negative separation between man and nature. Instead of our once primitive and nomadic lifestyle, we have “settled down on earth and forgotten heaven” (Thoreau, 29).  Although one would consider adequate shelter with creature comforts a type of heaven, Thoreau condemns it as a barrier from the Eden of nature. Thoreau treats civilization with a very negative attitude, preferring the solitude of self-reliance in the wilderness. I think his argument is very important in that it highlights some very valid issues of our lifestyles. I cannot personally say I would be willing to strip my life down to the four essentials and only live off of what is absolutely necessary for survival, but I do agree with his arguments for identity. The more our civilization grows, and consequently to higher our needs and wants become, I believe we are becoming disconnected from nature. A relationship with the wilderness is vital because being alone in the wild can teach someone what they are capable of living with, and without. This helps us define ourselves with relation to the earth achieve a greater sense of balance of Thoreau’s simplicity and our excess.

 

Thoreau, Henry D. Walden Civil Disobedience and Other Writings. 3Ch./Art: Walden; Walking p. 5-70. pub. WW Norton 2008