Dr Shamenaz, Associate Professor, Deptt of Applied Sciences & Humanities, AIET, Allahabad.
Ecocriticism is a new term in the field of English literature, which is believed to be the study of literature and environment from an interdisciplinary point of view where all sciences synthesizes themselves to analyze the environment and brainstorm possible solutions for the solution of the contemporary environmental situation. It is believed to be an intentionally comprehensive approach which is also famous by other names like: green (cultural) studies, ecopoetics and environmental literary criticism.
Hence it means that ecocritics try to investigate such thing which has the underlying ecological values and concern. They are more concern in finding the meaning of the word ‘nature’ in a precise way and whether the examination of “place” should be a distinctive category, much like class, gender or race. They try to examine human perception of wilderness in a more accurate way; their chief concern is that how it has changed throughout history. They believe in the depiction of environmental issues of the contemporary scenario in popular culture and modern literature. So for this they were very much concern and they consider other discipline such as history, philosophy, ethics, and psychology, to be possible contributors to ecocriticism.
Credit goes to William Rueckert, who was the first person to coin the term ‘ecocriticism’ and used it in an essay titled Literature and Ecology: An Experiment in Ecocriticism, which he published in 1978. He intended to stress on “the application of ecology and ecological concepts to the study of literature.” Since then there has been lot of works published by the people relating to ecotheory and criticism and it is still progressing. It is so because of the rise of environmentalism in the late 1960s and 1970s, which has been like an explosion and lots of literary writers contributed their writings focusing on the issues related to environment. But as such there was no organized movement to study the ecological/environmental side of literature, so these works relating to the awareness of environment were scattered and categorized under a litany of different subject headings such as pastoralism, human ecology, regionalism, American Studies etc.
The famous British Marxist critic Raymond William contributed a lot in this field and wrote a seminal critique of pastoral literature in 1973, The Country and the City, which is considered as a genius work reflecting the two decades of leftist suspicion of the ideological evasions of the genre and its habit of making the work of rural labour disappear. Although Williams himself observed that the losses lamented in pastoral might be genuine ones, and went on to profess a decidedly green socialism.
Joseph Meeker’s is a writer who is considered as another precursor of ecocritical writing. He wrote an ecocritical text, The Comedy of Survival (1974), which is also an early text in this field. In the book, he proposed a version of an argument that was later to dominate ecocriticism and environmental philosophy. He gave the argument that environmental crisis is caused primarily by a cultural tradition in the West of separation of culture from nature, and elevation of the former to moral predominance.
Meeker had tried to depict that a “comic mode” of muddling through and “making love not war” has superior ecological value. In the later, “second wave” ecocriticism, he has adopted an ecophilosophical position with apparent scientific sanction. It was used by him as a measure of literary value which has tended to prevail over Raymond Williams’s ideological and historical critique of the shifts in a literary genre’s representation of nature. As Cheryll Glotfelty noted in The Ecocriticism Reader:
“One indication of the disunity of the early efforts is that these
critics rarely cited one another’s work; they didn’t know that it
existed…Each was a single voice howling in the wilderness.”(430)
Ecocriticism is not like feminist and Marxist criticisms because it has failed to crystallize into a successful movement like the other movements in the late 1970s. But it became a coherent movement in the USA in the 1990s and after that in other parts of the world and especially in India also. But there was a transition in the mid1980s, and the scholars began to work collectively to establish ecocritism as a genre taking the help of Western Literature Association. It was done with the main motive to revaluate the writings based on nature to function as a non-fictional literary genre. With the collective help of many people, this attempt got success and Glotfelty became the first person to hold an academic position as a professor of Literature and the Environment. So the organization, UNR has retained the position it established at that time as the intellectual home of ecocriticism. Even the other organization, ASLE has burgeoned into an organization with many members in United States and other countries of the world. Since then, new branches of ASLE and affiliated organizations were started many countries of Europe and Asia like- UK, Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand (ASLEC-ANZ), India (OSLE-India}, Taiwan, Canada and Europe. Glotfelty’s defines ecocriticism as:
Ecocriticism is the study of the relationship between literature and the physical environment” (xviii), and one of the implicit goals of the approach is to recoup professional dignity for what Glotfelty calls the “undervalued genre of nature writing” (xxxi).
Lawrence Buell defines “‘ecocriticism’ … as:a study of the relationship between literature and the environment
conducted in a spirit of commitment to environmentalist praxis” (20).
So there are many writers who have contributed in this field and Michelle Cohen Corasanti is one such writer who has shown her concern for environment in her literary creation; The Almond Tree.
Michelle Cohen Corasanti is a Jewish American, Michelle has BA from Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a MA from Harvard University, both in Middle Eastern Studies. Gifted with intelligence, she also holds a law degree. She has lived in many countries like France, Spain, Egypt and England. She has spent seven years living in Israel, so she is a close witness of Israel- Palestinian issue. She herself has experienced the situation hence she is able to pen down it in a very realistic way. Currently she is living in New York with her family. Being a Jewish American writer, she has depicted the sufferings of Palestinians and the atrocities of the Jews in her novel, The Almond Tree.
Michelle is firm in her condemnation of exploitation of people as well as natural resources by the Jews in Palestine. She has reflected her views in the novel which is a fine example of her condemnation against ecological balance. The writer has given prominence to a pragmatic example of natural resource exploitation in many ways and construction of landmines is one of them. The author has tried to focus on the humanistic and emotional aspects of it. The Almond Tree is a creative genius by Michelle which is an outcome of what she herself had seen, heard and experienced, as she speaks:
The Almond Tree is based on what I witnessed with my own eyes, what I heard, and what I learned.
(2)The reality is that I’ve written a novel about a Palestinian family and what happens to them over the course of a number of decades that is informed by my personal experiences as well as years of study of Middle Eastern studies. (2)The title of the novel, The Almond Tree itself reflects the novelist love for environment. The novel can be considered as a moral novel because it is based upon the principle that each individual should consider it a moral duty to fight legitimately with the other, the oppressor and the oppressed. The protagonist of the novel is Ichmad Hamid and the story revolves around him and his family. Author has depicted his life, his struggle against a tyrannical rule, his patience, courage, determination, killing instinct and the ability to win against all odds and adverse situation in a very realistic way. His story is a source of inspiration for all those people who are let down by the problems and hardships of life.
In the novel, Jews exploits nature as well as all possible human resources, of mind, of science, as they want to posses Palestinian wealth as much as possible and want to keep them under their control. It is the story of Palestinian-Israeli conflict for a land which is spiritual for both the communities. So, actually the conflict is between the Oppressive power represented by the Jews who are a strong military power and a Creative Palestinian boy who struggle throughout his life for his family and people and gain power.
Throughout the novel, the novelist has tried to reflect a strong critique of the reductive use-oriented worldview experienced by the Jews. In the present scenario people are only concerned about making profit and they don’t bother about their moral and social duties and responsibilities. For making profit they can go to any extent.
So in the beginning of the novel, the story’s main ideological conflict is establishment: and that is the clash between the weak, hard-working, self-sufficient Palestinian family of Ichmad Hamid with that of mighty military power-based Jews. His life and that of his family is completely damaged by the powerful Jews.
The novel opens with a mischievous child playful act leading to her painful death because of landmine which affects the whole family. In this way the beginning of the novel has a very painful and pathetic scene. So here the main concern of the novelist is to highlight the harmful effect of landmines on families who have lost their loved ones because of it.
Ichmad had a happy life with his parents, brothers and sisters till the age of seven. They owned a big house with a beautiful garden where his mother has planted colourful flowers whose smells surrounded the atmosphere when wind blew. But one day more than dozen soldiers came and took away everything from them. They fenced their land and home with barbed wire and they were forced to leave their ancestral place. After the loss of their possession they started living in a mud-brick hut that was smaller than their chicken coop but it was their fate to live in there. The writer is trying to highlight this “general extravagance” throughout the novel by portraying the ill effect of the accumulation of land by the Jews in the region.
His father was once very rich and owned Oranges grove which was owned by his family from generations. He was able to sold his oranges in the entire Middle-East and Europe but after the invader came, he was not allowed to sell it outside the village and his market shrank to just some thousand villagers.
Through this novel Michelle has highlighted many problems of the Palestinian people as the people from Ichmad’s village were not allowed to dig deeper wells although they were the native people. And they complained that the new people diverted the water from their village by digging deeper wells. They had barely enough water to drink and the new people were swimming in it. There were lands filled with olive trees but they all have become barren because the Jews have planted landmines into them.
One special quality of the novel is that Corasanti has used an Almond tree as a witness to the whole story of Ichmad Hamid. And in this way she has tried to fulfil her moral responsibility towards environment.
John Crowe Ransom and Allen Tate, the New Critic have argued, it was through literature that we to come to fullest knowledge of reality, since in it language is used in a way that reflects all our human needs and resources, which are not only utilitarian. (170) So, Corasanti has shown a fine example of it in The Almond Tree by condemning those who would make an end out of the means of wealth accumulation or power. She is against those people who pursue wealth by devastating natural resources or accumulating those which has been owned by the marginalised groups.
She has highlighted the mis-use of natural resources by the Jews in the novel by the construction of mining, which is the most hazardous example by the human beings. She has highlighted the use of mining to demonstrate the ill-effects of resource exploitation by the human beings. She is a strong critique of natural exploitation and is more concern for moral consequences than material gains. This work shows the ecological thinking of the writer. Being a scholar of literature, she has tried to fulfil her moral & social responsibility towards the society by showing her concerns for humanity as well as the environment.
1) Barry, Peter. “Ecocriticism”. Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory. 3rd ed. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009.
2) Buell, Lawrence. The Environmental Imagination: Thoreau, Nature Writing, and the Formation of American Culture. Cambridge, MA and London, England: Harvard University Press, 1995.
3) Glotfelty, Cheryll and Harold Fromm (Eds). The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology. Athens and London: University of Georgia, 1996.
4) Jensen, Derrick. A Language Older Than Words. White River Junction: Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 2004.
5) Plumwood, Val. Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason. London: Routledge, 2002.
6) Weil, Simone. The Poem of Force. Translated by Mary McCarthy, Wallingford, PA: Pendle Hill, 1956.
7) Stephen Matterson. ‘The New Criticism’, Literary Theory and Criticism Ed by Patricia Waugh: An Oxford Guide. Oxford University Press; New Delhi, 2006.
8) Corasanti, Michelle Cohen. The Almond Tree, UK, Garnet Publishing, 2012.