The observation and analysis of the connection between literature and the natural world is known as ecocriticism. It adopts an interdisciplinary stance by analysing writers’, researchers’, and poets’ works in relation to the natural world and environmental concerns. It is challenging to get all ecocritics to concur with this because the goal, area of application, and technique of this theory are a little hazy. However, several of them also suggest remedies for the pressing environmental problems.
Environmental criticism is a rapidly developing area of literary study that examines how humans interact with the environment. It is often referred to as ecocriticism and “green” criticism (particularly in England).
As As Cheryll Glotfelty noted in the Introduction to The Ecocriticism Reader, “Just as feminist criticism examines language and literature form a gender-conscious perspective, and Marxist criticism brings an awareness of modes of production and economic class to its reading of texts,” similarly, environmental critics investigate how literary writings depict nature and the natural world.
Similar to how gender perceptions are evolving, such literary representations are not only produced by specific cultures but also have a huge impact on those civilizations. Therefore, its literary past is a great place to start if we want to understand our attitude toward the environment now. Despite the fact that in this context writers like Thoreau and Wordsworth may come to mind first, literary answers to environmental difficulties are as old as the issues themselves. For hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of years, difficult topics related to deforestation, air pollution, endangered species, wetland loss, animal rights, and unbridled consumerism have been discussed in Western literature.
Definition of Ecocriticism
When compared to other forms of criticisms, this one has done a reasonably good job of avoiding moral and philosophical debates. Glotfelty’s scholarship and efforts were essential in persuading other academics to adopt this name to designate the previously established field of study known as green studies. Her contributions helped this area of criticism become a recognised and well-liked idea. As a result, academics credit her as a key factor in the development of this name as a theory with a wide scope.
It is particularly noteworthy that this idea has a significant influence on various domains of the physical world in addition to books and essays on nature, love poetry, and canonical literature. In addition to the variety of other literary forms, it has moved to other media like film, television, theatre, storytelling, and narratives about animal life, science, and architecture.
Ecocriticism as a literary theory
The traditional approach typically places languages, cultural background, and social background as significant factors; however eco-critics place nature as the major factor since they think that the forces of nature have a significant influence on how societies evolve. Because, in their view, linguistic and social components alone do not constitute the reality in which we live.
It is just one of many variables that have contributed to the evolution and existence of humanity. The influence that nature and environment have on life, including human life, makes nature the most crucial factor in this idea.
Following its transformation into theory, green criticism was divided into two branches, one of which became a branch devoted to rereading and evaluating the function of nature, representation, and natural elements in the literary works produced by scholars from all over the world. As they take into account the variations in nature in various locations, green studies are simply a form of regional literature. However, the authors and poets who are well-known and respected in the literary community will always be the main source of ideas, study, and discoveries in this area.
Ecocritical reading of “I wandered Lonely as a Cloud”
A fantastic illustration of ecocritical reading of the above poem is provided by Scott Hess’s article “John Clare, William Wordsworth, and the (Un)Framing of Nature.”
According to Hess, the daffodils are treated by Wordsworth like a picture on a postcard. Wordsworth avoids engaging with nature. Instead, he observes nature from a distance (like a cloud) and departs as soon as he is done. Wordsworth behaves similarly to a traveller who visits once and takes a brief photo before leaving. Wordsworth ultimately comes out as being more concerned with his own sentiments than with nature.
Hess accuses Wordsworth of manipulating nature to create his own personality, much like some early readers remarked that Wordsworth’s desire to experience the sublime looked a bit egotistical.
Hess comes to the conclusion that Wordsworth is being overly selective in his portrayal of the environment by presenting the image as a moment of nature at its best—beautiful, restorative, majestic. In fact, Hess likens Wordsworth’s outlook to how Americans hold their National Parks in high regard as ideal, pristine natural settings while showing less concern for the deterioration of nature elsewhere.
Is Hess being fair to Wordsworth?
There is always the possibility that we will misinterpret the text in order to achieve our own objectives when using any theoretical approach. In this instance, it might be noted that Wordsworth goes to great lengths to detail his communion with nature. He is not merely a remote observer acting in solitude. The flowers’ personification implies some sort of bond between people and nature. In Wordsworth’s writing, “the natural world” is always social, both in and of itself and in connection to man, as Ralph Pite notes. Therefore, nature expresses a different way of responding to people rather than providing an escape from them.
From this angle, Wordsworth views nature as a teacher, a companion, and a reflection of what it means to be human—yet he also respects nature’s independence, the distance between humans and their environment, and the differences that exist between the two.
Which perspective is correct is difficult to determine. Does Wordsworth exhibit selfishness? Even if we are unable to provide a conclusive response, the ecocritical viewpoints presented here show that Wordsworth’s poem is more important than ever.