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Ecocriticism

Ecocriticism is a new theory that examines the relationship between the physical environment and literature. It branches off into a four main categories, namely eco feminism, ecopsychology, deep ecology and social ecology.

Ecofeminism says that women and nature are marginalized by patriarchy. Deep ecology focuses on the inherent value.ArnesNaess a philosopher and mountaineer introduced the phrase ‘deep ecology’ Deep ecology poised outright questions- the how’s and why’s. The fundamental causes of why we behave the way we do and questioned the purpose of our life. It explored the purpose of our life, our values and morals that started at the grassroots. Shallow ecology is concerned with the consumption and production habits. It believes that industrial and technological is essential for human survival. It promotes capitalism and consumerism whilst simultaneously arguing for preservation and conversation.Deep Ecology revolves around change redesigning our values and purpose and system o flifepreserving the cultural and special diversity of eco systems.  Eco Psychology is the search for identity by going into nature. Social ecology supports how the system of hierarchy is replaced by a more egalitarian society.

Eco criticism is of 2 types-British or Green studies and American ecocriticism. Green studies focuses on the causes and effects of ecological problems. American eco criticism on the other hand is celebratory. It celebrates the ‘return to nature.’It sees nature as a healer, mentor and source of comfort and joy.

What is the definition of environment? It is the physical surroundings that are essential for the sustenance of an individual. There are two types of environmental problems-micro and macro. Micro affect the citizens directly, e.g. slums, traffic jams, unsafe water. Macro are those that have an indirect effect on citizens such as draughts, famines, earthquakes, and other natural disasters.

There is a difference between the terms nature and culture. Culture describes nature as being separate with man rather than one in nexus. Nature is not dependent on man. Rather man needs nature for his sustenance. The term nature is a cultural construct. For example, the cover of the bible is made from animal skin and there are words written in it to connect nature to culture.

Wilderness is area that is not inhabited by human existence. The Wilderness Protection Act leads to the growth of industries such as tents, tinned food, camping, etc. This adversely affects nature. Consequently what follows is that humans and nature cannot live in communion with one another. However, wilderness exists for the spiritual and aesthetic needs of humans.

‘Pastoral’ is described as a retreat into the idyllic past, the life of the shepherd. According to Leo Marx, “No shepherd, no pastoral.”  Eco-criticism is developed as a complex theory that takes into account cultural, economic, environmental problems. According to Peter Reed, pastoral is of three types. The historical context, reference to idyllic past a form of idealized country life, second form of pastoral, direct or indirect contrast of the country with the urban landscape. If trees in the town are the focus of a text is essentially pastoral. It is celebratory. The third form is of pollution and threats to natural environment.There are five elements in pastoral-refuge, reflection, rescue, requiem, reconstruction, refuge into the past, reflection on past country life, old values rescued by text and reconstruction into a more complex reality.

Noor a south Asian fictive text written by Soraya Khan has been explored from nearly all angles such as a feminist text, cultural poetics, new historicism, etc but not from an ecological perspective.

At the center are female characters of Nanijaan, Sajida and Noor. Noor suffers from the down syndrome. However she has an extra ordinary gift- the talent to paint. Through this skill she is able to bring back the past for the protagonist Sajida and her father Ali.

The novel is set in the background of the Bhola cyclone and the civil war of 1971 that resulted in the separation of East and West Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh. Sajida, Husseins wife faces the consequences of the patriarchal setup. However, she does not crumble. Rather she withholds the test of time.

It  was around this time his time back in history that a young west Pakistani soldier Ali, finds a girl of 5 or 6 wandering in the streets of Dhaka. Her name is Sajida and she lost her family in the cyclone. Ali adopts her and calls her his ‘beti.’ In an attempt to atone for the crimes he committed during war, Ali satisfies his guilt conscience by taking home the homeless child, Sajida. Even Nanijaan Ali’s mother is not allowed to question Ali.  Ali has tightly packed away the war memories in a corked bottle but through Noor he is forced to face and come to terms with his terrible past.

Ali’s relationship to his mother is very distant and remote. Nanijaan often caresses him. Ali pretends to be asleep but is patient thinking he owes this much to his mother.

Nanijaan rightly articulates “war is an animal gone mad.” But nanijaan is a woman. What would she know of war? Khan rightly analyzes that Nanijaan’s desire to stay close to her son and ali’s love for freedom is what makes a soldier out of him. Ali wants to escape all responsibilities such as marriage, children, etc. Ali committed heinous crimes during war. He killed, raped and abused. In an effort to erase all memories of the past he builds a huge mansion with “senseless architecture”, fortified by rooms on all sides and a courtyard in the center. The house has its back on the Margalla hills and is in the remote sector of Islamabad. It is symbolic of a patriarchal setup as nature is not allowed to enter it. Ali is like a worm in a cocoon waiting to burst open. The more Ali tries to forget his past, the more Noor brings it back for him through her drawings.

The military weapons made from nature(wood, steel) are being used against bigger nature (man and natural world). Man doesn’t realize that he is dependent upon nature for his survival. Eco psychology argues that the more we interact with the Other, the more we expand the search for the self.

The relationship of nature with patriarchy and women will be analyzed. The stiff italian shoes, worn by Hussein are symbolic of patriarchy. They represent culture. The foot is entrapped in culture and cannot reach out to the earth.

Sajida on the other hand has been in a one to one relationship with nature. She has been through the cyclone full of mud, slime, rain and thunder. She is unlike the cocooned, shelled, suited booted Hussein.Hussein is as refined as the culture. He is alienated from nature. The avaricious nature does not allow us to admire the wilderness and beauty of nature around us.

Nanijaans relationship to her husband is tyrannical. He is loud and abusive. He beats her and calls her a nagging and demanding woman. Nanijaan quietly puts up with him. Another example of male dominance and female strength is when nanijaans husband dies and ali blames her for his death. However, the power of silence and gaze, a womans power is piited against male verbosity.Silence  can kill but words only cause harm.

Another example of Nnijaans perseverance in the face of the threats of patriarchy is how she stands up for Sajida. She criticizes Hussein and  makes him feel guilty about having forsaken his wife.

Sajida, Ali’s daughter is married to Hussein. She knew the exact moment Noor was conceived. Noor suffered from down syndrome. However she was gifted with a special talent-the ability to paint the past. Sajida and Ali are able to confront the past via Noor. Noor paints the fish boat, fishing net, cyclone and oil barrels which bring back memories of war and cyclone. Khan is skillfully able to combine the historical and personal. Through Noor, a supernatural element, she is able to weave a story that is real and true. Hussein symbolic of patriarchy or male domination over women and nature. As Sajida, opens  the window to escape from the stifling heat in Hussein’s room she feels an air of fresh wind lash across her face from the patio, a symbol of man-made environment. The margalla hills are representative of wild nature whilst the patio is urban landscape. This also points to the socio economic conditions of the time-load shedding is affecting the environment of the country adversely.

The cyclone , ‘the wall of water’, the ‘alive’ nature will take away from  Sajida her loved ones. However, when nature destroys it creates something in its place. The various aspects of nature-its benevolence providence, destructive and cruel aspects as well as its beauty and ugliness will be viewed. .Nature can simultaneously take revenge whilst at the same time being merciful in giving second chances.   For example, the void created by the death of her brother Mukhtiaris  filled by the birth of her son Adel. Similarly the coming of the cyclone, destroys the innocent and guilty alike. However, nature creates a balance by giving Sajida a home and a father in the shape of Ali. Nature gives second chances. As much as he took from her he gave much more love, laughter, children especially, second chances. She believed  that her big healthy son was gods gift of giving her another chance.

Hussein a typical patriarch cannot understand noor’s deformity. Hussein cannot destroy the future of his boys because of Noor. His decisions are based around reason and logic. Sajida on the other hand takes decisions from the heart. She finds a remedy to soothe Noor. Running water pacifies the screams of Noor. Sajidaconstantly perseveres for her child unlike Hussein, who is devoid of all emotion and feelings.

Language is a social construct that males take for granted. The’ ammi’ repeated by the boys becomes  meaningless. Noor s a woman who wants to break free from the dictatorship of patriarchy.‘

Sajida shares a secret with nature-the moment of Noor’s birth. She finds comfort and solace in the arms of nature. Nature is given precedence over  male qualities of rationality and reason.However, Sajida ‘cannot summon the gentle shade ever again.’The realm of human imagination and mind has its limitations too. But nature is omnipotent and omniscient. Although Sajida knew the exact moment noor was to be conceived yet she had no idea what Noor had in store for her. Noor had otherworldly features.

Nature also plays the role of a benefactoress, providing Sajida with warmth in the cold environment of the bathroom. The presence of Noor in her belly warms her as if she has  draped a shawl over herself.

Turtles Nest by ChandniLokuge is a novel that centers around the themes of diaspora, tourism and culture. Aruni the central character is caught between two opposing identities-Srilankan and Australian.

Born to Neela and Mohan, Sri lankan parents who had migrated to Australia, Aruni returns to her homeland in quest of her identity. She meets Simon and Priya, her mother’s uncle and friend, who help her put the pieces of the puzzle together.

Mala ( Arunis mother) dreams big but dreams cost money. She belongs to a poor fishing family and is exploited by tourists. Fate does not side her and she becomes pregnant. However, this child is not Aruni. Aruni is born later.

Turtles Nest is viewed from an ecocritical perspective. Eco feminism is applied in the case of Aruni and Mala who are exploited by the patriarchal system. Similarly in Jamis and Asilin’s  (Arunis parents) relationship, ecofeminism resurfaces in Jamis beating of Asilin.  Eco psychology is applied in Aruni’s quest of identity by going into nature. Deep Ecology is applied in the exploitation of turtles that are an integral part of the marine ecosystem. Social ecology is seen in the destruction of the natural environment and wilderness such as the development of tourism, and the commercialization of Mount Lihiniya.

Aruni is compared to a coconut soft on the inside and hard and brown on the outside. She is ‘tossed and husked’ like a coconut by the tide of the sea. The novel has a common theme but it is unique in imagery and stylistic techniques. It flows from the past to present and again into the past like the ebb and flow of the sea that recedes and then goes forward.

There are several small incidents that contribute significantly to the text. Aruni and Paul’s relationship, Priya’s rape, Premasiri and Aruni’s moonlight dance, etc. These incidents are weaved indirectly into the text.

Mala upon being raped and becoming pregnant is thrown out of the house by Jamis, her father. She is given shelter by the nuns of the convent in the house of Neela and Mohan. However, here too her sensual nature exploits her. As she falls asleep on Neela and Mohan’s bed, she is raped by Mohan. She becomes pregnant with Aruni whom she leaves at the doorstep of Neela and Mohan, while revealing the truth about the father. Although Neela takes care of Aruni she is never really able to accept and love her as her own child. Tired of people’s prying and interfering nature she at last seeks refuge in migrating to Australia.

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