Ecocriticism, Principles and Practices
Mehdi Hassanian esfahani (GS22456)
Literary Theory (BBL5201) – Final Examination
Coined by William Rueckert in 1978, Ecocriticism attempts to examine the relationship
between human beings and nature. It investigates the common areas related to sociology,
environment and ecology. It is focused on “writings about the natural world” (Mikics, 97) and
evaluates literary texts in terms of “their environmentally harmful or helpful effects” (Waugh,
530). Waugh explains furthermore that there is an effort in it to understand the development
of culture, and the environmental damages it had caused. Ecocriticism, unlike other literary
theories, discards linguistic and [to some extent] historical and cultural aspects of a text. It
embodies human and non-human context and considerations, and may also be considered a
In late 1970s, when the news of contaminated water and soil, threaten of nuclear
destruction, extinction of species, global warming and high rate of population became
widespread and worldwide issues, according to Love, interests in green reading increased. But
the study of physical world can be rooted to ancient times, because nature has always been a
part of literature, especially trough pastoral tradition, romantic and transcendental periods.
In late 1980s, according to Barry, Ecocriticism was academically established in the
United States, and in early 1990s it was discussed in the UK, although they called it ‘green
studies’. Cheryll Glotfelty in the USA is among the pioneers; she is also the co-founder of ASLE
(Association for the Study of Literature and Environment) which was established in 1992 and is
the main community of practitioners of Ecocriticism. Other 19th century American writers are
Emerson, Fuller and Thoreau, whose works present the nature and wilderness of America.
When they all followed traditions of Transcendentalism of 1840s, green studies in UK went
after British Romanticism of 1790s, and people like Jonathan Bate and Raymond Williams are
among the founders. Romanticism was the peak of environmental concerns for that time, as it
was politically an objection against urban life and socially a demand to return back to the
outside nature, natural beauty and rural lifestyle.
Defining Nature, and districting it from culture, Barry suggests four categories for
nature and natural scenes: area one is ‘the wilderness’ and includes deserts and oceans; area
two is ‘the scenic sublime’ for example forests and lakes; area three is ‘the countryside’ and
area four is ‘domestic picturesque’ like parks and gardens. Then he claims that British Romantic
writers were more interested in area two (Wordsworth’s Prelude is famous in this case) but
American Transcendentalists were concerned about area one. In another division, first two
areas are preferred settings for epic and saga while the last two ones are more proper for
domestic fiction and lyric poetry.
An example in Ecocriticism may be Silent Spring by Rachel Carson in which she
condemns extreme usage of pesticide and environmental pollution. Or the new BBC
documentary series, called Planet Earth, in which they convict human being for interfering in
nature and endangering lives of thousands of species. Beside pollution (and industrialization),
according to Garrard, Pastoral tradition is another related topic which opposes to
industrialization. In Silent Spring, again, the story starts by narrating the pastoral setting of the
past, and moves to the polluted environment of present. Wilderness and animals are other
issues of Ecocriticism.
Sixteen years academic studies in Ecocriticism, ASLE has conducted different streams of
attention toward nature in history, and also observed and involved other related areas and
tools, such as cinema, TV, weblogs and the like, and made Ecocriticism not a literary criticism,
but a interdisciplinary approach regarding nature and natural environment. Pollution and most
of activities performed by human being threatens the environment we live in. As the danger
becomes strong and stronger, need for solution becomes obvious. Ecocriticism provides the
study and analysis of social and cultural activities that endangers our world. Its popularity,
therefore, is due to our need. Whitaker believes that global environmental crisis is the main
reasons that Ecocriticism continues to grow. We need a solution, and Ecocriticism attempts to
provide us the required information to find the solution. It investigates the presented
environment in literary works to find if they are in the same boat with ecological concerns, and
if they can help to find a solution.
According to Waugh, related areas of study are Ecofeminism, which seeks to end any
dominant / subordinate relationship, especially subordination of women by men, and nature
by culture; Naturalist Environmentalism, which believes that global warming and other
environmental problems are because of artificial products and modern lifestyle, that oppose to
natural life; and Anthropocentrism, which roots to Bible and subordinates nature by placing
humanity at the center of everything and giving it the right to use nature and natural resources
as a tool to satisfy itself. There are also two genres or styles related to Ecocriticism; pastoral
which depicts ideal nature and environment, away from modernity and urban life; and
Romanticism which was once “a reaction against philosophical and industrial rationality that
had separated humanity from nature” (Waugh, 540). Literary works written in these genres can
be discussed in Ecocriticism as well.
Barry, Peter. Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory. UK: Manchester
University Press, 2002.
Garrard, Greg. Ecocriticism. USA: Routledge, 2004.
Love, Glen A. Practical Ecocriticism: Literature, Biology, and the Environment. USA: University of
Virginia Press, 2003
Mikics, David. A New Handbook of Literary Terms. USA: Yale University Press, 2007.
Waugh, Patricia. Literary Theory and Criticism. USA: Oxford University Press, 2006.
Whitaker, Russel, Marie C. Toft. Nineteenth Century Literature Criticism. USA: Gale, 2004.