Posts Tagged ‘wilderness’

Berger’s Interesting Quote!

“A zoo is a place where many species and varieties of animal as possible are collected in order that they can be seen, observed, studied.  In principle, each cage is a frame round the animal inside it. Visitors visit the zoo to look at animals. They proceed from cage to cage, not unlike visitors in an art gallery who stop in front of one painting, and then move on to the next or the one after next. Yet in the zoo the view is always wrong. Like an image out of focus. One is so accustomed to this that one scarcely notices it any more; or, rather, the apology habitually anticipates the disappointment, so that the latter is not felt. And the apology runs like this: What do you expect? It’s not a dead object you have come to look at, it’s alive. It’s leading its own life. Why should this coincide with its being properly visible? Yet the reasoning of this apology is inadequate. The truth is more startling” (Berger 459).

I find this quote to be very interesting because the quote unmasks the deceitful nature of Zoo’s and reveals how superficial human beings have become. Zoo’s might have been established with the sole purpose of educating the public about wildlife, help endangered animals reproduce, or to learn more about animals in their “natural habitat.” However, these attractions as good as their initial intentions may have been established have turned the wild and its animals into robotic and sad institutions. Yes, the animals are given food, an artificial home, and medicine but have robbed the animals of their true wild side. Have you not noticed how excited children are to go to the zoo? They expect to find these exotic animals, such as the Lion go on an exciting hunt and instead stand 100 feet away from a lazy lion resting under the shade. I’m not saying these wild animals should never have a time to simply rest. What I am saying, however, is that the Zoos environment is basically a case of magic tricks. The homes in which the animals live by are nothing more than a tainted reality. I could imagine that if most of the animals in the zoo are released into the wilderness then most will die because they have become so accustomed to the wildlife. It is unjust that we partake in attending these institutions because we are giving our approval so that these animals can be exploited for financial gain. It has come to the point that these animals are unresponsive to outside stimuli. These animals have become so used to the attention that whenever a new person or persons come by the animals seems to just remain seated and calm. Where is their wild spirit? Where is their uncontrollable desire to conquer? Where is the savagery? This spirit might still be in them it just might be dormant. The next question is, when do these Zoo animals stop being wild animals and where does the domestication of animals begin?  In essence, the institutions of Zoos allow for the exploitation of animals and create a false concept of naturalness to wilderness.


Berger, John. About Looking. InternationalCH./Art: Why Look at Animals? p. 3-28. Pub. Vintage Sept 1991


Wilderness in “Circumstance”

Wilderness functions as a frightful aspect of nature in Harriet Prescott Spofford’s “Circumstance”. The Indian Devil is the apparition of the evils of the untamed forests in the story while the woman’s husband represents the safety and order of civilization. Spofford uses the mythical Indian Devil to show how unsettled land is dangerous and deadly. While the woman is walking through the forest, she is attacked by “that wild beast- the most savage and serpentine and subtle and fearless of our latitudes- known by hunters as the Indian Devil.” The only way the woman is able to survive the attack is to sing to the beast and calm it with the songs of civilization and the Church. Music represents the only piece of civilization the woman has to defend herself. By singing to the Indian Devil she is able to “tame” the beast and remove the wild, dangerous nature from it.
The scene at the end of the story where the family’s farm is burned to the ground by Native Americans shows the struggle between wilderness and settlement that the farmers of the area had to overcome. By leaving their home, the husband left it defenseless from nature and allowed it to be reclaimed by the wilderness.
This story also expresses the author’s view on the gender roles of the time. The woman is depicted as helpless to defend herself physically from the evils of the wilderness while the husband is able to ward off danger. This gives the story a “damsel-in-distress” feeling because the woman feels that her only hope of survival is the protection offered by her husband. She makes no move to escape the beast or to fight it off throughout the night and only when her husband arrives on the scene to save her does she feel safe from the wilderness.

Old World Wilderness and Self Discovery in “Circumstance”

Harriet Prescott Spoffard’s “Circumstance” could be marked off as just another reminder to both men and women that you should never walk alone at night! However, this bizarre short story of a woman who is attacked by an Indian Devil in the woods while walking home alone one night also has a deeper message. While reading I noticed a theme of self discovery that can accompany the Old World Wilderness trope. It is clear in this story that the wilderness is a place of terror and fear with the introduction of the “savage and serpentine” Indian Devil (Spafford 85). However, at what point can a full spiritual awakening stem from this terror and fear the woman comes in contact with.

Garrard states that the conception of Old World Wilderness “combines connotations of trial and danger with freedom, redemption, and purity” and this trope is seen with the woman in the story as she discovers religious harmony through her trials in the wilderness. It is interesting that in the beginning of her trials in the wilderness with the Indian Devil “she did not call upon God… [but her husband]” attempts to rely on her own voice to protect her (Spafford 86). However, when both her voice and husband “[fail her]” she turns to her faith and discovers a sense of redemption that can be attributed to her desolation in the terrifying forest (Spafford 90). The woman describes a “common dependence” that left her feeling not only “at one with Nature” but as though her “[soul was being sent] to God in her singing” leaving her at peace, almost welcoming death (Spafford 92). This aspect of Old World Wilderness is also seen in the Bible in what Garrard describes as the “Judae0-Christian conception of wilderness” such as when Moses led his people though the wilderness to  escape persecution and found a closer to connection to God. Interestingly, when her husband finally enters the picture and saves her life so she no longer needs to rely on spiritual faith, she is left surrounded by “desolation and death”  from a surprise attack that destroyed her home (Spafford 96).

Garrard, Greg. Ecocriticism.New York: Routledge, 2004.

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

Question 3: Wilderness as portrayed by Marsh and Muir

In both texts we read this week, wilderness is portrayed heavily. Interestingly, wilderness is presented in contrasting lights. In John Muir’s “The American Forests,” wilderness is seen as a religious experience, almost intertwining itself with the sublime trope we have seen earlier in the semester. George Marsh, on the other hand, uses pure logic and a scientific basis to present wilderness as a rapidly declining and unfairly treated commodity. Marsh’s rhetorical strategy presents wilderness through the light of contamination- the more humans impede upon our earth, the more wilderness is tainted, and, eventually, forever lost.

                John Muir’s presentation of nature follows Garrard’s discussion of “nature writing texts …as… “rhapsodic” celebration of natural beauty and wildness” (Garrard, 81) precisely.  Muir’s first sentence sums it up perfectly: “The forests of America, however slighted by man, must have been a great delight to God; for they were the best he ever planted” (Muir, 145). Muir goes on to describe trees as “lordly monarchs proclaiming the gospel of beauty like apostles” (Muir, 145). This intensely religious and rapturous discussion of nature in the first few paragraphs lulls the reader into a false sense that everything is “okay.” Although Muir later goes on to make a fervent argument advocating for the conservation and protection of our nation’s landscapes, it is seen as secondary to the celebration of the “lordly monarchs” (Muir, 145) discussed previously.

                Unlike Muir’s arguments, George Marsh discusses nature, and the almost ensured destruction of the earth, from a purely logical and scientific standpoint. After comparing the issues between human impact on the earth with that of lower animals, he begins to discuss the “partial reverse” (Marsh, 44) of earth’s destruction. Marsh states: “These achievements are more glorious than the proudest triumphs of war, but thus far they give but faint hope that we shall yet make full atonement for our spendthrift waste of the bounties of nature” (Marsh, 44). This discussion by Marsh, which basically says the way humans impact the earth means there is no possibility of saving wilderness, echoes discussion in Garrard’s book: “[A] construction of nature reinforces an idea of wilderness, in which any modification of the environment is a form of contamination… The ideal wilderness space is wholly pure by virtue of its independence from humans” (Garrard, 70-71). This idea brings to light the fact that Marsh is arguing the inevitability of earth’s downfall, in whole or in part, because of human’s destructiveness.

                Although both authors come from very different stand points, they both attempt to get the same idea across- that the way man is treating the earth has horribly negative implications for the future. The ways they go about this argument differ wildly, but their overall goal is the same: fight for our nation’s nature (what is left of it, at least) to be preserved for future generations.

Garrard, Greg. Ecocritism: The New Critical Idiom. Ch./Art: Wilderness p. 59-84. Pub. Routledge 2004

Marsh, George P. The Earth as Modified by Human Action. Ch./Art: Destructiveness of Man; Instability of American Life p. 33-55, 396-397. Pub. Arno Press 1970

Muir, John. He Atlantic Monthly. 70/178 Ch./Art: The American Forests p/ 145-157. Pub. Atlantic Monthly August 1897

Group 1’s 5th Blog Response

Nature preservationist John Muir with US Presi...

Nature preservationist John Muir with US President Theodore Roosevelt on Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park, 1906; Image via Wikipedia

For this blog response, you have a few different writing options. Choose only ONE of these topics to write your response. Be sure to make it clear which question you chose in the subject line of your post. Remember, this blog response is for Group 1 only!

  1. Write a response in which you consider how the apocalypse trope functions in either George Perkins Marsh’s The Earth as Modified by Human Action or John Muir’s “The American Forests.” Possible questions to address include: What type of apocalyptic rhetoric does the author use–tragic or comic? For what purpose? Do you find this rhetorical strategy successful or problematic and why?
  2. Write a rhetorical analysis of John Muir’s article “The American Forests.” What is Muir’s purpose in writing this article? What are his main arguments? What strategies does he use to appeal to the reader? How does Muir use the rhetorical triangle (logos, pathos, and/or ethos) to convince the reader of his position? How/where does Muir anticipate and rebut counter-arguments? Do you believe these writing strategies are successful? Why or why not?
  3. Discuss the portrayal of wilderness in both Muir and Marsh’s texts. Think about the various meanings of wilderness that Garrard describes–do you see any of these definitions at work in Muir and Marsh’s texts? How do each of these authors conceive of wilderness, and what role do humans play in it? What views do they share and where do they diverge?
  4. Find a contemporary newspaper or magazine article that relates to an idea in Muir or Marsh’s text OR illustrates how the apocalypse trope functions in relation to environmental issues today. In your response, explain the connection between the article and the readings, making sure to quote from each to showcase the connection. Besides giving a BRIEF summary of the article and thoroughly explaining the connection to the readings, be sure to also address the significance of the connection. You are also required to include a link to the article in your post.

Remember, your posts should follow these requirements and guidelines:

  • Posts must be at least 300 words.
  • Posts must include at least one quote from the text. If you are writing about more than one text, then you’ll need at least one quote from each as support. If the question you chose asks for more than one quote in the instructions above, then be sure to follow those instructions.
  • Stay focused on answering the prompt question above. Avoid repeating the question and be as specific as possible in your answer.
  • Please note that you do not need to answer every “thinking question” I have posted (the questions after the bold directive). These are just options, so you could focus on one or a few. Avoid writing a response that looks like a Q & A or laundry list of answers to these smaller questions; make sure your response flows smoothly and has unity.
  • Your response should make an argument, not summarize the text. If some summary is asked for in the prompt you chose, keep that summary brief and concise.
  • Use specific moments from the text(s) to support and illustrate your argument.
  • Be sure to introduce, quote, cite, and comment on all quotes.
  • Don’t forget to tag your posts! Before adding a new tag, check the “choose from the most used tabs” menu to make sure it is not already listed.
  • Don’t forget your Works Cited!

Group 1, your blog response is due by class time on Tuesday, November 1.

Group 2, blog comments are due by class time on Thursday, November 3.

Paper Proposal Topic Apocalypse and Wilderness inGeorge Caitlin’ Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs and Conditions of the North American Indians

For my paper, essentially I would like to explore the apocalypse trope within George Caitlin’ Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs and Conditions of the North American Indians. His basic notion of the clash between an avaricious and decadent culture of “civilization” in comparison to “nature” and the depletion of both buffalo and Native American’s has implications of an impending cataclysm. The fact that culture and nature are at odds makes apocalypse seem not only imminent but also inevitable. His use of Native Americans could serve as an actual and explicit example of extermination. To supplement the notions of “civilized” culture, I would include some references to Thoreau and Washington Irving, also, so as to supplement the ethical, cultural notions of a culture’s trajectory or movement towards apocalypse, especially American culture during that century, as well as similar examples of prairie narrative and its relation to Eastern urban culture.

I find this particularly interesting because of its relevance to contemporary culture, where there is much more rhetorical apocalypticism dealing with the environment now more than ever. I find it interesting that people in an earlier time tended to enjoy the Judeo-Christian idea of a sinful earth, flagellated by a fearsome god, and how also advocates of apocalypse tend to find what the want. Exploring the apocalypse trope in its early American forms can potentially be enlightening as what the current state of apocalypse in our culture.

In an analytical sense, I would like investigate and potentially qualify what type of apocalypse Caitlin subscribes to, either a tragic Millenarian or a comic Augustinian, secular eschatologist or somewhere in between or neither. Also, Caitlin essentially proposes a wilderness or wildness “quarantine” from ‘civil’ culture because of its hunger to impose its will and sustain its material comforts, and thus, depleting the resources of nature.


  1. How much does Caitlin’s apocalypse depend on the elegiac pastoral model? How do they relate?
  2. What kind of authoritative element is prevalent in Caitlin’s desire to “quarantine” wilderness, i.e. why is preserving wilderness important to him?
  3. Although Caitlin relies on the stereotypical Nobel Savage imagery, what type of society does he expect or imply will remain, if any at all? (Future primitivism, total destitution or reduced society after cataclysm)
  4. Can Deep Ecologists be accused of using the apocalypse trope to influence birth rates, or discourage reproduction?
  5. Finally, what solution is there, if human culture inherently uses “nature” will there be any form of living that is not apocalyptic?