The Main Idea and Goal of Ecocriticism

Categories: Environmental Issues

Ecocriticism is a rapidly emerging field of literary study that considers the relationship that human beings have to the environment. Ecocriticism is a term utilized for the perception and investigation of the connection between the literature and the earth’s environment. It takes an interdisciplinary point of view by analyzing the works of authors, researchers, and poets in the context of environmental issues and nature. This form of criticism has been relatively successful keeping itself away from the moral and philosophical disputes compared to the other forms of critics.

O.J Joycee and Evangeline Manickam in their essay “Ego- centered to Eco-centered Humanism: A Wilburian Perspective in The Atlantic Literary” points out that,
“Ecocriticism anticipates a response to the need for humanistic understanding with the natural world in an age of environmental destruction. The war- ravaged Twentieth Century catapulted attention to the environment and since then there has been no dearth of theories and movements. Our understanding of nature is at odds with another, and there is no definitive way to judge which one is better… Nature is, therefore, an idea that takes on different meanings in different cultural contexts” (Joycee and Evangeline Manickam 75)
The term \"Ecocriticism\" was coined by William Rueckert in a 1978 article which called for the formulation of \"an ecological poetics\".

Cheryll Glotfelty is the acknowledged founder of Ecocritics in the United States of America. The work and efforts of Cheryl Glotfelty played a significant role in convincing other scholars for using this term to refer to the line of studies known as ecocritical studies previously.

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As a pioneer in this field, she says: Simply put, “Ecocriticism is the study of the relationship between literature and the physical environment. Just as feminist criticism examines language and literature from a gender conscious perspective, and Marxist criticism brings an awareness of modes of production and economic class to its reading of texts, ecocriticism takes an earth-centered approach to literary studies” (Glotfelty 18) .
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 has 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. This peculiarity of ecocriticism was mentioned by Gerg Gerrad in his work “Ecocriticism”. “Environmental problems require analysis in cultural as well as in scientific terms, because they are the outcome of an interaction between ecological knowledge of nature and its cultural inflections. This will involve interdisciplinary scholarship that draws on literary and cultural theory, philosophy, sociology, psychology and environmental philosophy as well as ecology.” (Garrard 14) It has also made itself rich by adopting the proven methodologies approaches the fields of studies like literary, scientific and sociology. Lawrence Buell, Henry David Thoreau, Timothy Morton, Bruno Latour, Rachel Carson are some of the major pioneers of Ecocriticism.
Ecocriticism was the result of culmination of great environmental writing, seen over time and eventually propelled by landmark works such as Carson’s Silent Springs. Emergence of Ecocriticism: was not through arbitrarily or a radical cause; despite, Ecocriticism derived from a number of events or activities pertaining to humans interactions with and study of the environment. “how nature is presented, when it is represented, how the environmental crisis has influenced literature, and how the concepts of the environment have evolved through the centuries.” (Dreese 1). In other words according to Lawrence Buell’s argument, he posited that environmental change is possible through creative literary texts. Buell more notably suggested that Ecocriticism arrived in waves the, first wave was spearheaded by Lawrence Buell and second wave by Cheryl Glotfelty, ecognizing the first as taking place throughout the eighties and nineties.
The first wave is characterized by its emphasis on nature writing as an object of study and as a meaningful practice. Central to this wave and to the majority of ecocritics still today is the environmental crisis of our age, seeing it as the duty of both the humanities and the natural sciences to raise awareness and invent solutions for a problem that is both cultural and physical. a primary concern in first-wave ecocriticism was to speak for nature. This wave, in contrast to its successor, kept the social differentiation among human and nature, advancing the estimation of nature. The first-wave of Ecocriticism celebrated primarily non-fiction nature writing, such as that of Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Mary Austin, Edward Abbey, Wendell Berry and Annie Dillard.
Second-wave” ecocriticism is too diverse and diffuse to summarize but its connections with political environmentalism and ecological science are on the whole more complex. As Buell observes, for second-wave critics, “The discourses of science and literature must be read both with and against each other” (Buell 19). As contributions to this volume suggest, queer, deconstructionist, and postcolonial varieties of ecocriticism are at times, sharply critical of environmentalism: its metaphysics, its gender and racial politics, and its troubling relationship with colonial and neocolonial histories. The second wave is particularly modern in its breaking down of some of the long-standing distinctions between the human and the non-human questioning the boundaries between the human and the non-human, nature and non-nature are discussed as constructions, and ecocritics challenge these constructions. This wave carried with it a redefinition of the term environment extending its importance to incorporate both nature and the urban. The second wave focused more into committed to tracking scandalous inequalities that have disproportionately created human health hazards for the poor, minority, and other marginalized population groups.
Ecocriticism is an umbrella term and it has many branches to deal with different aspects of environment. 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. Since the expansion of Ecocriticsm as a theory form sixties there was a wide variety of constituted in the term ecocriticism. The theory of ecocriticsm grew apart into a literary movement which focused its concern about the exploration of nature as an object of learning and as a meaningful practice to debunking of some of the long-standing distinctions between the human and the man-made and questioning these very concepts the boundaries between the human and the non-human. Therefore ecocritics rallied through history of literature to find writers such as William Wordsworth, Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau to prove that nature has its own stand in our life and the very culture of human civilization is indeed interconnected with nature. The major features or tropes of ecocriticism are Ecofeminism, Pastoral, and Wilderness, each of these branches are the ultimate result of expansion of ecocrticism through a vast evolution and through considering the problems of environment on different levels. Each of the branches has its own attitude towards a particular issue and gives a versatile perspective on the various matters like pastoral element of ecocriticism precedes about the richness of nature in rural regions while ecofeminism concerns for commonality of nature and women and the primary objective of theory of wilderness in ecocriticism deals with exploration of wild and its cultural importance in literature.
The Pastoral theory of ecocriticism strongly states the differences between the rural and urban life and it is mainly originated from western culture. The pastoral theory argues that the lifestyle of people in rural areas is more in touch with nature and provides clairvoyance for understanding nature in a better way. This theme of ecocriticism has presented itself in different genres such as literature, art, and music which shows the rural life in such an idealized manner that can attract the attention of urban audiences. The complexity of pastoralism of the rural areas is put in simple way in the literature by using various techniques. According to famous ecocritic Greg Gerrad the focus these writings was to demonetize the urban life, the pastoral writings enraged people to draw back from city life and to enjoy the country life. The pastoral writings of ecocriticism are classified into three main branches, namely Classic pastoral, Romantic pastoral and American pastoral. The Classic pastoral writings can be traced back to early periods of Greek writings, specifically Hellenic period; during this period the works of literature such as Hesiod’s “Works and Days” demarks the golden age of human civilization was when they were living life that was in complete harmony with nature. And this era is still considered as the beginning of classic pastoral writings
The Romantic pastoral writings are considered to be response to the industrial revolution that flourished during late eighteenth century, thus the second form of pastoral writings were kick started by distinction between the countryside and the urban areas. The major forerunners of this period were William Wordsworth and John Clare. Both Wordsworth and Clare saw nature as a soothing place not a place that needed to stayed away from. The third branch of pastoral ecocriticism is American pastoral and it is mainly pioneered by Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman. During this period of writings the primary importance were derived from agrarian beliefs and saw pastoral as the frontier between wildernesses and urban.
Wilderness is considered as next phase of ecocriticism and it mainly focuses on the way that wild is represented in various literary writing in different cultures. An Ecocritic’s interpretation of wilderness can be said to be similar to psychologist’s analysis human mind and their relation to the wild. Ecocritics believe that wilderness have ability to make positive changes to human psyche and thus providing them a better understanding of life. Chellis Glendenning, a renowned eco-psychologist in her essay “Technology, Trauma, and the Wild” explains the effect of wilderness in the thought process of human being
“Nature-based people lived every day of their lives in the wilderness. We are only beginning to grasp how such a life served the inherent expectations of the human psyche for development to full maturation and health. In nature-based people who today Maintain some vestiges of their relationship to Earth and their Earth-based cultures, we can discern a decided sense of ease with daily life, marked sense of self and dignity, a wisdom that most of us can admire only from afar, and a lack of addiction and abuse that have become systemic in civilization” (Glendenning 16)
This approach of wilderness can classified as Old World wilderness and New World wilderness. Greg Gerrad in his book “Ecocriticism” points out difference between these distinctions, as “Old World wilderness displays wilderness as a place beyond the borders of civilization, wherein wilderness is treated as a “threat,” a place of “exile” (Gerrard 62). And “New World wilderness, seen in portrayals of wilderness in later American literature, applies the pastoral trope of the “retreat” to wilderness itself, seeing wilderness not as a place to fear, but as a place to find sanctuary. The New World wilderness trope has informed much of the “American identity,” and often constructs encounters with the wilderness that lead to a more “authentic existence” (Gerrard 71).
Ecofeminism is considered to be a branch of Ecocriticism which analysis the interconnection between the oppression of women and nature by men, this theory’s context is strictly based off the patriarchal exploitation of women. Ecofeminism was pioneered by French writer Françoise d’Eaubonne and the term Ecofeminism was first coined in her work “Le Féminisme ou la Mort”. Ecofeminism emerged as an activist movement expanded during 1980s to 1990s among women against nuclear destruction of environment. The ecofeminist movement developed through wrtings of famous ecofeminists such as Françoise d\'Eaubonne, Carol J. Adams, Carol P. Christ, Chris Cuomo, Mary Daly, Barbara Ehrenreich, Clarissa Pinkola Estes and Heather Jo Flores. The tries channel attention of readers to the commonality of women and nature as both property of man, therefore ecofeminists questions the hierarchical and social norms that promote the subjucation of women and nature. Ecofeminists believe that the notion of equating women and nature as something similar emerged because both women and nature because both are close to each other biologically, emotionally and spiritually. According to Mary Mellor a renowned ecofeminist crtic in her book “Feminism & Ecology” describes Ecofeminism thus "Ecofeminism is a movement that sees a connection between the exploitation and degradation of the natural world and the subordination and oppression of women. It emerged in the mid-1970s alongside second-wave feminism and the green movement. Ecofeminism brings together elements of the feminist and green movements, while at the same time offering a challenge to both. It takes from the green movement a concern about the impact of human activities on the non-human world and from feminism the view of humanity as gendered in ways that subordinate, exploit and oppress women” (Mellor 1).

The approach of ecofeminism can be distinguished into two sections, namely Radical Ecofeminism and Cutural Ecofeminism. Radical camp of ecocriticism is largely focused on reversing the domination of man over woman and uncontrolled use of nature. The primary concern of radical ecofeminists was to erode the patriarchal perception of nature and to deconstruct the social prejudices that created by men over years. Radical ecofeminism is literally a fight against oppression faced by women, and rejects the dominating patriarchal forces which seek to control and bring order to chaotic things such as psyche of women and the forest. Many ecofeminist even claim that animals are also facing similar problems like nature, being unfairly exploited for gains of men.
Cultural ecofeminism is more passive movement which can be considered as juxtaposing the radical thinkers of ecofeminism. Cultural ecofeminists encourages the interrelation between women and nature because of gender roles. Women due to their biological and psychological nature are inherently nurturing, intuitive, sensitive and in touch with emotions. The cultural ecofeminists believe by more exposure into nature they can become more sensitive towards nature and thus creating a strong interrelation leading to the ultimate revival female mindset and redemption from stereotypical portrayal of women.

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The Main Idea and Goal of Ecocriticism. (2021, Oct 31). Retrieved from

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