A Simple Guide into Ecocriticism

Ecocriticism is a term used for the observation and study of the relationship between the literature and the earth’s environment. It takes an interdisciplinary point of view by analysing the works of authors, researchers, and poets in the context of environmental issues and nature. Since the purpose, scope, and methodology of this theory are a bit confusing, it is difficult to have all ecocritics agreed to this. However, some of them also propose the solutions to the current environmental issues.

In the context of scope, the critics call this term as a broad approach that is also by several other names, i.e. Environmental literary criticism, green studies, and ecopoetics. It is also referred to by some other fields such as ecology, social ecology, biopolitics, sustainable design, environmental history, environmentalism, and others.

Ecocriticism was first defined by Cheryll Glotfelty in simple words making it clear for the other critics and writers. Considering the definition, it can be called an “increasingly heterogeneous movement” that takes an entirely earth-centered approach. It is mainly about the literature on the environment. So, it is mostly seen in association with the “Association for the Study of Literature and Environment” this is also referred to as ASLE and it holds biennial meetings for the scholars writing about the environmental issues in their literature.

Definition of Ecocriticism

This form of criticism has been relatively successful keeping itself away from the moral and philosophical disputes compared to the other forms of criticism. The work and efforts of Glotfelty played a significant role in convincing other scholars for using this term to refer to the line of studies known as green studies previously. Due to her efforts, this field of criticism gained a recognition and popularity as a theory. Therefore, scholars acknowledge her as a major contributor to the emergence of this name as a theory with a broad scope.

It is especially notable that the scope of this theory is not limited to the books and essays on nature, romantic poetry or canonical literature and have a great impact on the other areas of the physical world. It has spread in the other mediums like film, television, and theatre, stories, and narratives of animal life, science, and architecture in addition to the range of other literary forms. It has also made itself rich by adopting the proven methodologies approaches the fields of studies like literary, scientific and sociology.

Ecocriticism as a literary theory

Generally, the traditional theory considers the linguistics or the cultural background or the social background as an important factor, eco-critics takes nature as a dominant factor as they believe that our evolution as a society is largely dependent on the forces of nature. Because, according to them, the world in which we live is not made only with the language and social elements.

It is only one of the many factors responsible for the existence and development of humans. Life including the human life is heavily affected by the role nature and environment plays and thus nature is the most important consideration of this theory.

After converting into the field of theory, the green criticism was split into parts and one part developed itself as a branch dedicated to rereading and analyzing the role of nature, representation and the natural elements in the literary works produced by the scholars from the worldwide. Green studies are merely the regional literature as it takes into consideration the differences of nature in different places. But the central source of thoughts, research, and findings in this field will always be the authors and poets well-known and established in the world of literature.

Approaches and tropes of literature

There are several approaches and literary tropes proposed by the scholars to understand the theory and works of ecocritics and the relationship between nature and literature created by many famous writers and thinkers. Some of them are discussed in detail below.

Definition of Ecofeminism

This approach combines the ecology and feminism and explains the feminist nature to help understand the ecology. Feminists have given the concept of gender theory to analyze the relationship between the human and nature. So, it can be considered a branch of ecocriticism and is the field of studying the interconnection between the oppression of women and nature.

The land is often considered as a feminine in nature because of its fertility that nurtures the life and is owned by the man as a property. So, the feminists draw the lines of comparison to understand the similarity of dominant nature of man over women and the domination of land in the context of gender relationships.

The term was originally coined in the book Le Féminisme ou la Mort (1974) written by the French author Françoise d’Eaubonne. But the term is being used in different ways and meanings in the modern time, they are ecofeminist theory, ecofeminist art, social and political philosophy, social justice, religion, poetry and contemporary feminism. Because of different types and beliefs of feminism among the feminists, different versions of ecofeminism is available in the current literature.

There are two sections of this approach where first is referred to as a radical camp which is largely focused on reversing the domination of man over woman and uncontrolled use of nature. This is because nature and women are close to each other biologically, emotionally and spiritually. The second section of the field follows the first which refuses to accept the concept of feminine essence that is considered responsible for the assumption that women and nature are connected to a great extent.

Modern science is evaluated in the book by Vandana Shiva and Maria Mies in their book Ecofeminism. According to them, the modern science is largely dominated by men and this has, to a great extent, affected the natural childbirth process by the use of birth control medicines.

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It has made the birth process and ultimately the health and life of women dependent on the specialized medical technologies that are controlled by men. This can be seen as one of many ecofeminism examples in the literature that are created as an effort to contributing towards improving the situations of women in a natural context.

Pastoral

This is basically a lifestyle of shepherds and strongly states the duality of urban and rural life and is deep-rooted in the western culture. This trope has presented itself in the genres of literature, art, and music which shows the rural life in such an idealized manner that can attract the attention of urban audiences. The author displays the complex life or pastoralism of the rural areas in a simple way in the literature by using various techniques.

Since the pastoral literature maintains a firm view towards nature, authors like Paul Alpers describes it as a mode instead of a genre. It is apparent in different types of literature like poetry, drama as a mode and pastoral elegy as a genre.

Well-known literary theorist Terry Gifford in his book Pastoral has defined the pastoral in three ways. The first way is the historical literary perspective which recognizes the lifestyle of shepherds and discusses their hardship. The second way is about the literature that explains the country life in an opposite context to the urban life explicitly or implicitly. The third way is about the way of classification of the country life that can be said as that of derogative manner.

Greg Gerrard, a best seller author of ecocriticism, has divided the pastoral theory into three branches. The first branch is Classic Pastoral which takes into consideration nature as a place where human gets peace of mind and identifies the self. The second branch is Romantic Pastoral that describes the post-industrial revolution period that signifies the importance of rural independence which is more desirable instead of the urbanization.

And the third is American Pastoral which explains the farmland as a boundary between the wilderness and urban area. This considers the land as a resource which can be used for farming. Many authors including Greg has worked to define pastoral in literature that is very helpful for the aspiring students of ecology and nature.

Wilderness

Wilderness is the environment naturally existing around us on the Earth that is not affected by the human activities yet. In a more comprehensive meaning, they are the areas which humans does not control and where they have not created any disturbance by making roads and installing pipelines or developing infrastructures for the industries and are still intact as there were. In recent times, the marine wilderness has also gained attention as its area is continuously being affected by human activities.

However, efforts are also being done to maintain them and protect from the intervention, and some governments have already started paying attention to them. Governments and global organizations are actively working to restrict the motorized activities of human on the lands that are not yet modified for the use of cultivation or transportation or industrial production.

Literature has paid enough attention to develop and define trope to understand the wilderness. How the wilderness is developed and plays a valuable role in nature and life on the Earth is the subject of examination in this approach. This has also successfully attracted the attention of ecocritics.

However, it is also seen with two different beliefs in the American and the British cultures. According to the first belief, wilderness is considered as a threat. This is evident in the early British culture and Biblical tales of creation. According to the early American pieces of literature, wild-land is mentioned as the place for demonic activities.

But in the modern literature, it is seen as a sanctuary where animals can be kept safe and in their natural way of life. People of the modern world has documented the encounters with the wilderness to help understand it from a more positive perspective. Many novels have described the life in the wild which has changed the way the world used to see the wild-land and its environment.

We have tried here to describe and discuss the ecocriticism as an approach to seeing and interpreting the cultural attitude towards nature and environment in the literature. We hope this article will be useful for those curious about this theory and the students of the literature covering ecology and green studies.