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Environmental Evasion

The Literary, Critical, and Cultural Politics of "Nature's Nation"

Lloyd Willis

Publication Year: 2011

Brings ecocriticism into conversation with critical American studies approaches to literary canon formation. How do we reconcile the abstract reverence for the natural world central to American literary history, beginning with Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Nature,” with over a century and a half of widespread environmental destruction? Environmental Evasion examines the environmental implications of literary and cultural productions by writers from James Femimore Cooper and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to Willa Cather, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, and Zora Neale Hurston. Lloyd Willis provocatively argues that the environmentalist outlooks by Cooper and Longfellow were eclipsed by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s abstract, imperialist vision of nature. He demonstrates how many 20th century American writers have taken the Emersonian approach, participating in a silent but extremely powerful form of evasive environmental politics in the ways in which they write about the natural world. Attentive to the inherent political dimensions of all texts, Environmental Evasion insists on the relevance of environmental history and politics to New Americanist approaches to the literary canon.

Published by: State University of New York Press


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Title Page

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pp. ix-x

Environmental Evasion would not be what it is without the tremendous efforts of the friends and colleagues who have supported me along the way. Stephanie Smith has tirelessly supported this project from the beginning, as have Sid Dobrin and Phil Wegner, and Jack Davis deserves credit for most of what I know about environmental history. I owe a debt of ...

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Introduction: American Literature and Environmental Politics

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pp. 1-18

I became interested in American literature’s environmental politics when I noticed what seemed like environmental sentiments in Willa Cather’s O Pioneers! and My Ántonia. I was struck by the way Cather punctured the tale of Alexandra Bergson’s triumph over the prairie that killed her father with Carl Linstrum’s blunt claim that he preferred the old, wild prairie. I ...

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Chapter 1. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and the Formation of American Literature’s Core Environmental Values

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pp. 19-36

There may be no figure in American literature who worked harder and had more success at cultivating a public image than Ralph Waldo Emerson.1 In 1882, the year of Emerson’s death, Bronson Alcott published a panegyric—originally presented to Emerson on his birthday in 1865—that describes him as the most influential American thinker of his ...

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Chapter 2. James Fenimore Cooper, American Canon Formation, and American Literature’s Erasure of Environmental Anxiety

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pp. 37-54

During the early 1840s, Horace Greeley was one of Emerson’s most important supporters. He made sure that positive reviews of Emerson’s work appeared regularly in his New Yorker and New York Tribune, effectively keeping Emerson’s name in circulation even before he seemed to deserve the publicity. During the same period, though, Greeley was at odds with ...

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Chapter 3. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, United States National Literature, and the American Canon’s Erasure of Material Nature

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pp. 55-74

In his Leatherstocking series, James Fenimore Cooper deconstructs the myth of virgin land and the rhetoric of manifest destiny by insisting that North America has a history prior to the arrival of Europeans and by suggesting that European expansion is and always has been a bloody imperial project even when clothed in the unassuming garb of natural sci-...

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Chapter 4. Willa Cather and John Steinbeck, Environmental Schizophrenia, and Monstrous Ecology

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pp. 75-102

As the twentieth century dawned on the United States, the nation was seriously confronting the fact that its nature was neither unlimited, nor virginal, nor indestructible, and the Progressive Era’s focus on conservation, preservation, and pollution remediation served as hedges against the material, cultural, and spiritual threats posed by the possibility of ...

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Chapter 5. Zora Neale Hurston, the Power of Harlem, and the Promise of Florida

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pp. 103-124

Willa Cather and John Steinbeck were hardly the only authors to register environmental loss in the early twentieth century, but their canonically modulated methods of repressing environmental anxiety are largely representative. William Faulkner, for instance, was equally aware of widespread environmental destruction, and a range of scholars have ...

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Afterword: Ernest Hemingway and American Literature’s Legacy of Environmental Disengagement

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pp. 125-134

This project has allowed me to realize two things about the relationship the United States shares with the natural world. The first is that it took (or has taken, depending upon how one views the current status of environmental politics) far too long for a coherent, sustained, and effective environmental movement to develop in the United States. As this book ...


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pp. 135-166

Works Cited

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pp. 167-184


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pp. 185-189

E-ISBN-13: 9781438432830
E-ISBN-10: 1438432836
Print-ISBN-13: 9781438432816
Print-ISBN-10: 143843281X

Page Count: 199
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 794698972
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Environmental Evasion

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • American literature -- History and criticism.
  • Environmentalism in literature.
  • Human ecology in literature.
  • Environmental policy in literature.
  • Environmental literature -- History and criticism.
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