Published:  12:00 AM, 29 December 2016

Literature addressing ecological countenance


Natural environment and climatic issues have been highlighted by a large number of authors, poets and playwrights belonging to previous as well as current eras in both metaphoric and literal ways.

At present, ecological awareness among litterateurs is becoming more and more widespread through their essays, novels, poetry, plays and stories. Interrelations between ecological circumference and fictional characters are being assertively as well as allegorically stressed in a broad spectrum of literary endeavors.

A literary work becomes all the more moving and emphatic when it interlinks ecological phenomena and environmental resources with its plot, characters and thematic streams. Keeping this in view, we can refer to Amitav Ghosh's The Hungry Tide, Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness as ideal works of fiction to be appraised in light of ecocriticism.

Literature in the present world has become a multidisciplinary arena. The rise and popularization of widespread trends to examine literature from the angles of different theories have augmented literature's parameters. Now literature is a pervasive integration of geopolitics, economics, philosophy, anthropology and so on.

It goes without saying that ecology or environmental science has been a highly compatible platform to evaluate literature since the outset of 21st century. Approaching literature from an ecological perspective is known as 'ecocriticism.'

Ecocriticism is the study of literature and environment from an interdisciplinary point of view. It refers to the environmental aspects that a literary work involves. Environmental surroundings influence, attract, overawe or even aid the characters of different literary creations. In Peter Barry's Beginning Theory, it has also been referred to as "green studies".

In Victorian fiction, Thomas Hardy's novels profoundly depicted how natural atmosphere impacts human psychology and how a queer reciprocity prevails between human beings and trees, meadows, rivers and the revolving of day and night.

Poetry by English romantic poets of 19th century placed a great deal of importance on rejuvenating the ties between humans and natural resources.

They all believed in the healing power of nature to cure the psychosomatic ailments of mankind. English Romantic Movement confronted the onslaught of Industrial Revolution across the towns and countryside of Europe from the platform of literature and thus idealized the preponderance of natural environment in human life.



Anton Chekhov's play The Cherry Orchard illustrates the socio-economic and socio-individual phenomena that prevailed in Russia during late 19th century while industrialization was fast expanding across Russia as a result of which environmental resources came under the threat of termination and endangerment. In broad terms, this play portrays how expansion of industries in Russia and in other parts of Europe gradually obliterated orchards, forests and farmlands to build up factories.

 In terms of the plot and characterization of the play, it was a pathetic experience for some families in Russia to sell out their ancestral landscapes to industrialists and the destruction of the cherry trees at the end of the play movingly sketches the agony it caused to the characters who had owned the cherry estate for several decades.

Henry David Thoreau was one of the phenomenal figures that ushered in the American Age of Enlightenment during 19th century. Walden is Thoreau's best-known book that exquisitely mirrors his idealistic approach to natural environment.

In Walden Thoreau gave details of the joyous and blithe experience that he gathered while living in the middle of a forest for more than two years, far from urban din and bustle.

Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden "Glorify God and enjoy him forever". By these words he spoke of admiring God loftily and gratifying one's body and mind with God's peerless creations that relentlessly beautify and enrich the natural circumference around us and through these environmental boons, God is omnipresent and is always dwelling very close to humans to liberate them from pains and perils.

 The same view is reflected through Robinson Crusoe's allusion to a Biblical verse that says: "Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver, and thou shall glorify me."

We may look into some dramas by Eugene O'Neill from an ecocritical point of view as well. Eugene O'Neill was a globally acclaimed American dramatist of last century.

O'Neill in his celebrated play Desire Under the Elms described two enormous elm trees on each side of a mansion called Cabot Farmhouse and those two tall trees with their branches and leaves spread over the house resembled two fatigued female figures in the eyes of the playwright. Eugene O'Neill personified the appearance of those two elm trees in the following words:

"They are like exhausted women resting their sagging breasts and hands and hair on its roof, and when it rains, their tears trickle down monotonously and rot on the shingles." The unusual similarity found by O'Neill between those two tall, huge trees and the physical features of women is a striking example of the inherent bonds between humans and ecological entities.

Beside literature, ecology has influenced language too. Therefore, for last couple of decades linguistic scholars have been addressing the links between language and environment with a special term called 'ecolinguistics'. In this regard we need to recall a research paper titled New Ways of Meaning: The Challenge to Applied Linguistics by Michael Halliday, an English scholar who exhibited the ecological context of language and vice versa through some of his linguistic proceedings several years ago.

Words like 'global warming', 'green house effects', 'ozone layer' 'pollution' are now often cited in discussions at academic levels and beyond. In this way the idea of looking into language through the lenses of ecology is a very relevant issue in the current world. An online council of language experts with the name of Language and Ecology Research Forum examines the influence of ecology and language on one another and the interrelations existing between these two fields.


                                                                   Anton Chekhov




                                                                      Eugene O'Neill



                                                                       Joseph Conrad

The writer is a columnist for The Asian Age






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