The Examination of Characters in Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
Prodigal summer by Barbara Kingsolver, uses the wilderness to reflect the spirit of humans and celebrates the wilderness spirit itself. Each chapter deals with different characters lives set in the mountains and farms of southern Appalachia summer time. Wilderness in this text is constructed in a new world sense where in American literature, the wilderness is a place where one can feel parotic, usually new world wilderness is composed in literature as a retreat and a place of ease. But in this text the wilderness is not treated as retreat but as the home for these characters and the city is treated as an opposition to home. The truth of a text is argued as universal that certain principles are repeatedly shown because they are universal truths but other perspectives argue that the truth of text requires one to understand the many contexts of that piece, in this case the essay will analyze the text through an eco-analysis lens on what the book comments about nature and society. This essay will argue that this book fits into biocentric thought by using personification and the type of activism shown is the care-taking model of biocentrism. But this essay will also argue the strand of environmental ethics displayed are place’ ethics and nativism are problematic through a post-colonial lens.
Personification is the device used to give human-like attributes to non-human things, this selection would be used in writings where the author is appealing to the reader using emotion. The heavy use of personification makes prodigal summer a pathos text which serves the purpose of two things, shaping the characters and showing the interconnections of humans and the wilderness.
The first character introduced is Dena, a forest ranger. while inspecting and investagting the track prints of possible coyotes, what captures the reader’s attention is how enamored she is with her environment and how she describes it with attributes of human traits shown here in this passage : “she set her eyes into the trees, where a fresh hatch of lacewings seemed to be filling up the air between branches. Probably they’d molted out after the rain. They were everywhere suddenly, dancing on sunbeams in the upper story, trembling with the brief, grave duty of their adulthood: to live for a day on sunlight and coitus”(16.Kingsolver),interpreting the regular survival tasks of the lacewing insects as dancing is personifying non-humans and creates a bond between her and the insects, and animals od the wilderness.
Another example of personification is shown with the character Lusa and her troubled relationship with her husband Cole. his lack of emotional intelligence and indifferent attitude towards the vast amount of knowledge Lusa possesses on her field of study( insect biology ),even more he and her sister in laws negatively calling her bug lady. All of this combined created many issues within their marriage. their love as moth love. In this passage moth love’ is described as: “Lusa sat still and marveled: This is how moths speak to each other. They tell their love across the fields by scent. There is no mouth, the wrong words are impossible, either a mate is there or he’s not, and if so, the pair will find each other in the dark. For several more minutes her hands lay motionless on her book while she considered a language that could carry nothing but love and simple truth.” (63. Kingsolver) Her personifying moths mating with romanticism shows that she finds the ideal love she wishes for in nature yet doesn’t have with humans, this aspect shows love in nature is uncomplicated and straight forward. These are the few moments of the book that depict a difference between civilization and the wilderness but spoken in a sentimental manner to the reader that it is enough to show a difference but not furthering dichotomies of humans and nature. Additionally, it is worth to note that the last chapter he point of view is of the
Through the characters of prodigal summer, the novel exhibits environmental activism and various environmental ethics. But shows where the problematic issues arise such as xenophobic attitudes from the character Dena, we get an insight into her personal environmental this which lead into environmentalism, while the environmental ethics of zeblon county community is harmful by refencing to the two neighbors fight over pesticide.
To start I will analyze the character of Dena first examining her ‘activism’. In a general sense environmental activism encompasses a “broad array of individuals and organizations working in scientific, social, conservational, and political fields that address the concerns of environmentalism. These individuals and organizations are known collectively as part of the environmental movement or green movement.” (11.Jardins) then environmental ethics is the” account of moral relations between humans and their natural environment” furthermore how these alludes dictate human actions onto the natural world.(Jardins).
While not explicating labelling herself as an activist, Dena’s job as a wildlife biologist is a form of activism especially behind her purpose of becoming one. This job tittle at first was non-existent until her trip to a zoo at was about to display a lone coyote, this display of displaying a coyote by itself is inaccurate to their lifestyles, coyotes live as a pack since they are social creatures but then t curator told her she should go up to the south to see more of them that they populated the area much that they are roadkill, this meant that coyotes were being killed so often leading to extinction thus an unbalanced ecosystem. Dena created this proposal, defended her thesis to skeptics and got the approval to be placed in the national forest of southern Aplacha and made it her mission within two years to make it an “intact” ecosystem again.
The text fits itself into the environmental activism, though and ethics but further analyzation shows the problematic issues of certain environmental thought and ethics that are seen through a post-colonial lens. We see the issue of nativity and the various spectrum of environmental protection via Nannie Rawley and Garnett. In a post-colonial lens in regards to environmentalism there is a problem with the associating the environment as pure and only unpure by unbelonging species or sometimes refereed as “alien species” that are tainting it making it unintact. This mode of thinking historically and socially have brought in xenophobia and racism, Rob Nixson describes in his work environmentalism and postcolonialism that the ethics of place prompts away from the postcolonial movement and creates a division between social struggles.
The ethics of ‘place’ has been historically traced from the discourse of purity, the “virgin wilderness” and the last of uncorrupted places, this strand of environmentalism becomes nativism ethics, nativism here becomes the fight to protect the native which in literature is typically the American habitat. The nativist perspective comes with the ‘fear’ of invasive species that disrupt the habitat native purity. The evidence of this is seen with Garnett walker and the American chestnut tree that is in his family’s legacy, he makes the comparison of the tree to the Chinese chestnut tree but with negativity, he describes the Chinese chestnut tree as “less impressive” and goes on to state that “the nuts far less satisfactory, and of course the tree itself had none of the American chestnut’s graceful stature or its lumber qualities.”(1), this framework of thinking by Garnett attaches the American tree with positive qualities such as graceful and the Chinese chestnut tree with negative ones by stating it was “less satisfactory” and shows that some people value of nature is based on nativity rather globally. Garnett uses religious comparison to argue his point by comparing the Chinese chestnut tree to the “inferior animals on Noah’s arc(130)”.Garnett is shaped by having anthropocentric environmental ethics because his ‘feud’ with miss Rawley is due to him her rejecting his use of herbicide on grass that crosses into her apple tree which will kill them and her other environmental conscious farming practices. His care towards the environment is only based on nativity and his comments how the ‘otherness’ attitude that is found in nativity perspective. Nativity attitudes have been warned on it leads to creation of hostility towards ‘otherness’ of the native land.
While not explicitly labelling herself as an activist, Dena’s job as a wildlife biologist is a form of activism especially behind her purpose of becoming one. This job tittle at first was non-existent until her trip to a zoo at was about to display a lone coyote, this display of displaying a coyote by itself is inaccurate to their lifestyles, coyotes live as a pack since they are social creatures but then t curator told her she should go up to the south to see more of them that they populated the area much that they are roadkill, this meant that coyotes were being killed so often leading to extinction thus an unbalanced ecosystem. Dena created this proposal, defended her thesis to skeptics and got the approval to be placed in the national forest of Southern Aplacha and made it her mission within two years to make it an “intact” ecosystem again. Yet she holds some nativity environmental ethics.
When discussing about a hypothetical potential of a stray cat entering the zeboln forest her answer was aggressive towards it, she said she would drown the cat “because cats like that don’t belong here. They’re fake animals, introduced, like the chestnut blight. And just about that destructive. […] they don’t belong here” (177). This rhetoric comes from the framework of nativism ideas, she holds the preference of only maintaining and supporting species and the systems that exist within the forest and intensely opposes anything “other” in the habitat of zeblon county forests. Nannie Rawle, another character that is shown to be protective of the environment, also engages in nativism models of thinking, this proven by the type of arguments she uses. In a letter she wrote to her neighbor, Garnett trying to show human connection to the environment, she wrote that god “God did not intend for humans to be “transporting everything we can think of to places it doesn’t belong.”(216) she uses the Japanese beetle and the kudzu honey suckle as a reference to support her arguments as these things are invasive species that have created negative effects on the American landscape. the problem of this framework as we seen with Dena is the hostility that is developed to things ‘that don’t belong’ as much scientific proof can support keeping an ecosystem in this manner, the hostility can socially manifest into xenophobic attitudes.
Alongside the problematic nature of ‘place’ ethics not only does it create nativism, we can also see how it creates issues when it comes to environmental protection disagreements. Not everyone views the environment as a pure problem-free place, it can hold different earning to various people, for example for black slaves the forest could be a place of escape but at the same time a place of fear because even if they escaped sometimes they would take again or be found. In Ride out Wilderness by Melvin Dixon he writes” African Americans have associated wilderness with the travail of exile: it is more a place of eviction and historical hauntings than of ”(238.Dixon). In prodigal summer this aspect of race is not present but the differences in environmental protection is set by who supports of ‘place’ environmentalism and those who do not and are affected by environmental policies that can be analyzed in a post-colonial lens.
One case f this is the disagreement between organic markets between Garnett and Nannie Rawley. When Garnett entered the Amish market he became annoyed that the store has become organic, part of his annoyance is that he associates the store being organic the fault of Nannie ( aside from environmental differences he has a unnecessary border misogynistic hostility towards her) but mostly his annoyance is geared it because he associates organic with elitism. This sentiment is not inaccurate, organic goods are usually expensive and often inaccessible to poor communities thus wealthy individuals are typically the only consumers. This perspective is missed out on individuals such as Nannie who praises it environmental and health benefit. This type of division connects to the differences of postcolonialism and environmentalism, post-colonial critics sometimes show little interest towards environmental concerns they similarly to Garnett regard them as elitist and reason that some environmental concerns intentions are about maintaining “resorts and idyllic wilderness settings as opposed to real issues facing communities across the world.”(Callahan).
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