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Exploring Literature through Ecocriticism in Secondary Texts

Some useful historical background

Early origins of one aspect of Ecocriticism – the origin of animal rights can be traced to Jeremy Bentham’s book Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation first printed in 1780 but not published until 1789. In it he wrote about utilitarianism where cruelty to animals was analogous to slavery. To him the capacity to feel pain, not the power of reason entitled animals to moral consideration.

To the Utilitarians, actions are not right or wrong based on whether they bring happiness or cause pain. This is the key to comprehending animal liberation. Animal liberationists generally draw the line of moral consideration at the boundary of sentience or feelings.

Animal liberation aside, another aspect of nature prominent in the ecocriticism is the physical landscape – the mountains, rivers, streams and the weather to name a few.  Environmentalism can be traced to another ideology, Romanticism in European literature which placed great emphasis on nature, exhorting people to appreciate the natural environment, the woods with its streams, hills, flora and fauna for its beauty, and to seek refuge in it – nature became a sanctuary for the weariness of life and its attendant concerns. With the advent of the industrial revolution, environmentalism took on the aspect of protecting the wilderness. Early conservation groups started popping up in late 19th century, examples in Englang include conservation groups, like ‘the Society for the Protection of Birds (1889)’ and the National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty (1894).

Definition of Ecocriticism
Although simply described as the study of the relationship between Literature and the physical environment by its founder, Cheryll Glotfelty (“The Ecocriticism Reader” 1996), I would modestly offer a narrower definition  –  ecocriticism is the study of the relationship between Literature and the natural environment. Ecocritics read major literary works with attention to the representation of the natural world, turning away from the social constructivism and linguistic determinism of dominant literary theories and instead” emphasise ecocentric values of meticulous observation, collective ethical responsibility, and the claims of the world beyond ourselves”(Peter Barry, 255).

O level and N level Literature Texts through Ecocriticism

In secondary Literature texts, we read the portrayal of the natural environment – the landscape and the its inhabitant. No current texts are clearer examples than the two O level and N level Literature texts  – “Fiela’s Child” and “Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard”. In Fiela’s Child, nature’s manifestations and presence include the forest, the mountains, the sea and its treacherous but beautiful shores, the magnificent elephants and the ostriches; in Hullabaloo, it is the monkeys, the guava tree and the fruits, the park and the mountains. Elements of the weather – the monsoon rain, the scorching sun, etc, play an equally important role in shaping the plot and the characters and their lives. “Fiela’s Child” is extremely ahead of its time given its insights about the nature (the book was published in 1985), portraying the dangers it posed to  human characters and the sublime traits and its duality – both destructive and beneficient and the environmental message in its chapters about the need to respect nature. “Hullabaloo” is magic realism  – the monkeys and its protagonist forming an alliance to fight off  human intrusion and attempts to control nature.

Conclusion

In the final analysis, ecocriticism as a literary lens is timely and will only gain increasing resonance with reades given the increasingly serious environmental crisis. Hopefully Literary texts become another avenue to promote environmental awareness and the need to protect the environment.