Posts Tagged ‘social gaps’

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

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?

 

What is an American?

Joselyn Garcia
September 6, 2011

Defining and American Identity

In the letter, “What is an American,” J Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur uses imagery and simile to compare nature to the ideal American identity. For example, Crèvecoeur says “Men are like plants; the goodness and flavor of the fruit proceeds from the peculiar soil and exposition in which they grow. We are nothing but what we derive from the government we obey and the nature of our employment.” (Pg 5) Plants will not flourish gracefully if the soil they are planted is rotten. Similarly, Americans do not have the same opportunity to flourish in Europe. Most settlers, Crèvecoeur points out, come to America because of the opportunities, freedom, and equality all men seem to possess. People may start from nothing in America but surely with hard work and perseverance they are able to live a decent lifestyle. From the beginning to the end of his letter, Crèvecoeur seems to compare the American to the European. Crèvecoeur’s definition of an American is the person who “leaves behind him all of his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the mode of life he embraces, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he hold.” (pg 4) Therefore, we can see that because an American does not follow the rules of the English king but follows what the American Alma Matter says, is hard working, and submits to the American customs then that is what distinguishes him from the European. Compared the European Nature, Europeans have huge social gaps, follow unrighteous laws, and is not free. Nature is free and so man deserves the same right! Unlike Europe, there were “so many useless plants, wanting vegetative mould, and refreshing showers; they withered, and were mowed down but want, hunger, and war.” (pg4) Americans lay their roots, their foundation in America and will not wither away because we have good soil, we have fertile ground. In essence, our foundation is viewing your fellow American with equal eyes, working hard on your land and following a new system.

St. John de Crèvecoeur, J. Hector. “What is an American?” Letters from an American Farmer. New York: Dutton, 1877. 39-68. Print.