“Making the green one red”: Dynamic Ecologies in Macbeth, Edward Barlow’s Journal, and Robinson Crusoe


We need a more colorful eco-palette. As ecological interpretations have become increasingly central to twenty-first-century literary studies, calls have emerged to move “beyond the green” toward a more variegated spectrum of environmental alternatives. What Jeffrey Jerome Cohen calls “ecology’s rainbow” refers to a current goal of the environmental humanities—to pluralize thinking about the relationship between human beings and nonhuman nature. My work in this area has flowed out of oceanic or “blue” ecologies, but the logic of dynamic ecological thinking cannot stop at the water’s edge. The need to multiply ecocritical models responds to an increasing recognition, which began in the ecological sciences and has emerged in the humanities and social sciences more recently, that natural systems are more dynamic and less stable than once believed. The logic that moves from stasis and sustainability to dynamic “post-equilibrium” models requires that we match the constant innovations of natural systems with flexible interpretive practices. With this pressure toward dynamism in mind, this essay reconsiders green—but not the old green. Remembering that green is an oceanic as well as terrestrial color, and using a famously opaque phrase from Macbeth as a linguistic cue to re-introduce complexity into our literary models of natural systems, this essay offers immersion in hostile waters as a structure within which to think about the human encounter with nonhuman nature. In this model, it is no longer a question of “being green,” but of enduring, with effort and difficulty, inside the “green one.” By analyzing a key line from Macbeth, an episode of near-shipwreck in a seventeenth-century sailor’s diary, and the moment when the hero washes ashore in Robinson Crusoe, this article discovers the myriad meanings of oceanic green.