Annie Dillard: Nature’s Role in American Literature
Americas authors have used nature as a form of symbolism in literature. In literature, symbolism has been a very useful tool and has made the representation of the main characters and their prominent attributes easier to understand. In literature appealing and seemingly good nature is used to reflect some beneficial events that happen is a characters life. On the other hand, bad or unappealing nature is used to imitate the worst events that happen in a characters life. Everyone has different views on nature that can constantly be altered due to readings and time that affects perception.
In the 1840s authors came up with a transcendentalism thesis. Transcendentalism sparked the idea that man could compare oneself with the surroundings and nature. Authors of this time period considered nature to be an expression of God on man and life by and of itself. The belief that God uses nature to express himself made people believe that the most appropriate relationship with a supreme being would only be through nature. These beliefs resulted in a situation where transcendentalism grew to be popular in dispersion through American Literary writers. In the 1800s authors believed that the origin of planet earth, its calmness, rotation, and maturation were blended in a way that ensured its self-sufficiency.
Nature has been receiving attention from authors spanning more than a couple of centuries. Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek has phenomenal sections showing the importance and perception of nature. Annie stated that “There are seven or eight categories of phenomena in the world that are worth talking about, and one of them is the weather.” In this, she was tying the phenomena with the weather. The weather is something that is discussed when we don’t know what else to stir up conversation with. She also ties religion into the natural world as well, she exclaims that “maybe the ark of a covenant was just passing by,” when she sees the clouds in the reflection of the water, trying to discover the significance in them.
Dillard personifies the wind when she states that, “A wind like this does my breathing for me; it engenders something quick and kicking in my lungs.” She also shows the good and bad in nature, not just presenting a one-sided perception. Annie shows the universe as uncaring when she states that, “The universe that suckled us is a monster that does not care if we live or die.” Dillard thinks that we are nothing compared to Nature.
Nature may be covered in sunflowers and daisies in one section, while it’s full of mud, dirt, and messiness in another. Nature isn’t always perceived as only a good thing by these authors that have written about the natural world. They let us know that nothing is always good. This novel is based on the wandering thoughts of this author about God and the surrounding world, so it isn’t entirely based on nature, but it ties all of these different things together. She wonders how this God could make something so beautiful and brutal all at the same time.
¨The universe that suckled us in is a monster that doesn’t care if we live or die does not care if itself grinds to a halt. It is fixed and blind, a robot programmed to kill. We are free and seeing, We can only try to outwit it at every turn to save our own skins.¨ (pg.77) she infers here that the world we reside in is constantly trying to swallow us whole. This proves that we are not the first priority of nature. We´re more of objects in their game or just things that take up space. Her main dilemma is how can there be a loving, caring, and nurturing higher being that creates creatures that bring destruction to other living and breathing beings around them? Dillard desperately tries to find reasons to accept God with the way he has created the world.
Another writing that uses symbolism in nature, in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. She uses a pear tree, bees, the horizon, and the hurricane to represent different characteristics. The pear tree represents Janie’s sexuality and how she changes throughout the book. The bees are the men that she needs to keep her sexuality in check. The Horizon stands as hope that Janie needs and the Hurricane represents powerful forces throughout the book. Another symbol is a mule, Nanny had suggested that black women are mules due to their low class and how they’re often being used.
The “powerful forces” in the book could be human and not just the weather. Jody’s need for control and Tea Cake’s strength could be some examples. Jody had made an attempt to control Janie by forcing her to hide her hair due to his jealousy of other men touching it. Tea Cake was super sick but still managed to live until murdered, this is where his strength seems to be in play the most.
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