Magazine 2012
Ecocriticism : Initiating Eco-Consciousness  
Dr. Ishrat Ali Lalljee  
K. P. B. Hinduja College of Commerce, Mumbai.  
Ecocrticism which is among the youngest genres of literary criticism has an increasing ambit and relevance  
since environmental and ecological matters are of universal concern. With industrialization, globalization and  
other recently coined b tionsb  that are analogous to progress there is a burgeoning crisis in which mankind is  
pitted against the environment and in this dual of sorts man finds himself in a confounding predicament, since  
he is both the player, as well as the referee.  
Ecocriticism raises moral questions about human interactions with Nature and motivates mankind to live within  
reasonable eco-friendly limits without regarding the non-human environment merely as a framework in which  
human interest alone is supreme and legitimized. It considers the survival and spatial rights of other forms of  
creation and reiterates that human accountablity to the environment is vital for the survival of Planet Earth.  
The origins of Ecocrit and Ecolit have been traced and discussed and both stances, nature endorsing, as well  
as nature skeptic have been considered, besides delving into the realm of Ecofeminism. The establishment of  
associations, publication of journals and organizing of conferences in an endeavor to vitalize ecocrit have also  
been included.  
Ecocriticismb  is a universally accepted and naturally undisputed young branch of literary criticism which has  
been variously christened as b Ecocritb , b Ecolitb , b Ecopoeticsb , b Environmental Literary Criticismb , b Eco-aestheticsb ,  
Eco-wisdomb  and b Green Cultural Studiesb .  
Ecological consciousness has been a constant in the East with concepts of b Satchitanandab , Zen Buddhist  
philosophy, tribal traditions and the pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses with their lineage traced to  
Mother Nature. However, in the west with the Biblical condemnation of Nature in the story of the Genesis,  
Nature had been relegated to a secondary position placing man as the focal point. To quote Alexander Pope  
twice over, b Presume not God to scan, the proper study of mankind is manb  and b Nature and natureb s laws lay  
hid in the night, God said let Newton be and there was light.b  (Pope, Essay on Man). With Darwin, Matthew  
Arnold, Freud and their ilk the narcissism of mankind was debunked and ecological consciousness and the  
view of a unitary cosmology slowly awakened in the west b  there was a shift from b Homocentricb  to b Biocentricb   
or b Ecocentricb .  
Ecologically inclined individuals and scholars in the west have been publishing progressive works on Ecocriticism,  
especially since the 1960s primarily to counterbalance cultural constructionism and environmental destruction  
and to awaken awareness that we are a part of nature and not apart from nature. However, until quite recently  
there was no organized movement to study the b greenerb  side of literature and such works were scattered and  
categorized under different subject headings such as pastoralism, human ecology and sometimes, even  
regionalism. To quote Glotfelty, b b &Each was a single voice howling in the wilderness.b  (Glotfelty, The Ecocriticism  
Reader xvii). British Marxist critic Raymond Williams, for example, wrote a seminal critique of pastoral literature  
titled b The Country and the Cityb  in 1973 and in the following year Joseph Meeker wrote b The Comedy of  
Survivalb , both of which are inherently Ecocrit, but until recently they were not categorized as such, because  
the christening of this genre had yet to take place.  
William Rueckert first used the term b Ecocriticismb  in 1978 in an essay titled b Literature and Ecology: An Experiment  
in Ecocriticismb . He intended to focus on the application of ecology and ecological concepts to the study of  
literature. In 1990, the University of Nevada created an academic position of b Professor of Literature and the  
Environmentb  and established itself as the intellectual home of Ecocriticism. However, the genre was officially  
heralded only by the publication of two pioneering works : The Environmental Imagination, by Lawrence Buell  
published in 1995 and The Ecocriticism Reader, edited by Cheryl Glotfelty and Harold Fromm published in  
996. With its recent inclusion in John Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism and the Oxford Guide to  
Literary Theory, Ecocriticism has finally gained recognition as a legitimate literary theory.  
Environment is a concept which cannot be seen in isolation from mankind. b Environmental literature is writing  
that comments intelligently on environmental themes, particularly as applied to the relationships between man,  
society and environment. Most nature writing and some science writing falls within the scope of environmental  
literature.b  ( Environmental Criticism is an extended arm  
of Environmental Literature which analyses and promotes works of art and raises moral questions about  
human interaction with nature because somewhere along the way human beings have developed a destructive  
relationship with Nature and have crossed over the line from biophilia to necrophilia.  
Nature has been a common theme in writing since the dawn of literature. However, the might of the pen to  
sound the knell of the progressive devastation of Mother Earth has frequently been discounted, even though it  
has been tolled since time immemorial. Homeric epics were dedicated to the Earth even before verse existed  
in written form; Plato mourned the destruction of trees on the hillsides around his birthplace; Coleridge composed  
The Rime of the Ancient Marinerb  to bemoan and perhaps also forewarn the deed of killing the albatross;  
symbolically profanity toward Nature (  
In fact in the Cold War era ecocide was a greater threat than nuclear destruction. However, while, stories,  
poems and art express and inspire the necessary passion, can they ever actually stop deforestation, poaching  
and oil spills? It is a tall order for the pen, yet Ecolit makes a modest effort to curtail the burgeoning environmental  
crisis and Ecocrit takes an ethical stand towards the natural world and treats it as an indispensable backdrop  
while it strives to redeem the environment from the twin assault of society and science.  
The American poet, Gary Snyderb s in Ripples on the Surface asserts that culture and nature belong together  
and habitat should be for both human and non-human species. Much of the environmental literature of current  
times is permeated by this stance. A few years ago, Scott Russell Sanders and his friends Alison Deming and  
Richard Nelson expressed this idea in a profound and direct way. The three of them regularly contributed to  
the environmental magazine, Orion. In a letter composed by them, they called for an b Ecological Bill of  
Rightsb . The letter reads:  
We are friends drawn together by a shared passion for wildness  
and words. For thirty or forty years we have been learning all we  
can about nature, through science and literature, through the stories  
of indigenous peoples and our own explorations; for the past twenty  
years we have been writing books to say what web ve discovered  
and why it matters. Our work as writers, we have come to realize,  
is not enough to protect the things we love b & Words on a page  
do not accomplish anything by themselves; but words taken to  
heart, words carried in mind, may lead to action. (Sanders et al.  
Letters to Orion Readersb  Orion Autumn 1995 23-24).  
Poet-editor, Jay Ruzesky told the audience at the b Green Imaginationb  launch of the issue of Malahat Review  
Winter 2008 No. 165), that the exercise of editing submissions was both disheartening and enlivening: enlivening  
because the writings expressed awe and celebrated beauty and disheartening because, to talk about the  
environment, is to talk about pollution and destruction of habitats and species. The b greenb  idea is an emotional  
connection which will move humanity to save animals, trees and habitat.  
In an attempt to set b Ecological Performance Standardsb  that conserve Mother Earth and its resources, Biomimicry  
is widely considered and adopted as a solution. It is about mimicking nature and adapting to it. It begins with  
the idea that if the Earth has been around for years, human beings have been there for five minutes and some  
other species, plants and animals have been around for about ten months. And, they have learned to adapt to  
the different parts of the Earth, and look at things quite differently, more easily and more effectively. Janine  
Benyus, pioneer of the concept of Biomimicry and co-founder of both The Biomimicry Guild and The Biomimicry  
Institute in a recent interview suggested that there is much to learn and adapt from nature.  
How do dragonflies outmaneuver our best helicopters? How do  
hummingbirds cross the Gulf of Mexico in less than one-tenth of  
an ounce of fuel? How do termites maintain constant temperature  
of 86 degrees Fahrenheit in their habitat through heat and cold?  
The answers to these questions will be the solution to so many of  
our problems. It is time we learnt from nature, not with an intention  
to control, but with an intention to fit in and last for good. (b We  
Need to Fit in With Natureb  Mumbai Mirror 3)  
Ecocrit also endeavors to classify Nature with other subaltern and disempowered groups. However, in other  
writings inspired by a b power situationb  there is a distinct conflict, as for instance, feminist writings seek to  
deconstruct perceptions about women which men have established down the centuries, Dalit Literature speaks  
up for the Indian b social underdogb  and African and other b Postcolonialb  literatures endeavor to demystify  
western myths that have dampened their self esteem. In the Nature b power situationb  Nature is poised at the  
receiving end and is pitted against all mankind who regardless of apparent and obvious distinctions is classified  
into three categories b  those who deliberately (though thoughtlessly) harm nature; those who are apathetic to  
the doings of the first type and those who are shocked by the mindless outrage and inadvertent callousness  
towards Nature and strive to sound an alert. This third category of writers and critics impel readers to think of  
themselves and their relationship with Nature and imbibe former US Vice President Albert Goreb s counsel to  
make rescue of the environment the central organizing principle for civilization.b  (Earth in the Balance 269).  
Since after all,  
We are the only species capable of exterminating other species  
wholesale, but web re also the only one capable of acting, through  
love and reason, to preserve our fellow creatures. We are unique in  
our ability to affect the fate of the planet, but also unique in our  
ability to predict those effects and to change our ways in light of  
what we foresee.b  (Woods, Hunting for Hope 133).  
Ecocritics poise themselves as spokespersons of Nature and some of the queries close to their heart are about  
the underlying values of the text being ecologically sound and the relevance and reverence given to other living  
beings. While all Ecocritics are environmentally motivated, it is to be noted that while the majority of them are  
nature endorsingb  a miniscule minority among them are also b nature skepticalb . This minority include some  
Feminists and those who subscribe to the b Queerb  and b Lesbianb  theories. They argue that Nature has been used  
to legitimize gender and sexual norms, which for instance makes homosexuality unnatural.  
Ecofeminism is a corollary literary theory of Ecocriticism. It is in fact a social movement that regards the  
oppression of women and nature as interconnected. In recent times, Ecofeminist theorists have extended their  
analyses to consider the interconnections between sexism, racism and social inequalities and Ecofeminism is  
now understood as a movement working against the interconnected oppressions of gender, race, class and  
A growing consciousness of ecology and literary outpourings on the subject prompted the establishment of  
ASLE i.e. Association for the Study of Literature and Environment in 1990. ASLE is U.S.A.b s premier membership  
organization in the field of literature and environment. It encourages and sponsors lectures, discussions and  
panels at scholarly conferences and has made the collection and publication of bibliographical resources on  
the study of literature and environment one of its main goals. It publishes an official journal ISLE i.e. Interdisciplinary  
Studies in Literature and Environment which includes the latest scholarship in the area of Ecocriticism. ASLE  
even organizes a biennial conference and has its branches in at least seven countries including India where it  
functions as a national forum, and members from twenty-three countries worldwide.  
The purview of Ecocriticism may well cross the boundaries of literature and embrace spirituality, religion and  
social causes too. In India, one such path breaker who merits mention is Jamboji. In 1451 he founded the  
Bishnoi community that is devoted to Nature and promotes conservation as an objective of human life. This  
community with an estimated population of about sixty lakhs adheres to twenty-nine (b Bishb  i.e. twenty and  
Noib  i.e. nine in Hindi) principles that fiercely protect the environment. Shri Sunderlal Bahuguna, an environmentalist  
of more recent times energized eco-consciousness through action when he hugged trees as part of the b Chipkob   
stick/embrace) movement and coined the slogan, b Ecology is permanent economy.b  He helped bring the  
movement to prominence through a 5000 kilometres trans-Himalaya march conducted from 1981-1983 and  
public addresses en route. This generated a b green awarenessb  which resulted in a ban on tree felling and  
brought some check on the hara-kiri attempts to denude parts of the earth.  
Ecolit and Ecocrit command immediate attention since after all,  
Human beings simply cannot go on as they are now going,  
exhausting the earthb s resources, altering the composition of the  
earthb s atmosphere, depleting the numbers and varieties of other  
species upon whose survival we, in the end, depend. It is not simply  
wrong, it is a piece of stupidity on the grandest scale for us to  
assume that we can simply take over the earth as though it were  
part farm, part park, part zoo, and domesticate it, and still survive  
as a species. Up until quite recently we firmly believed that we  
could do just this, and we regarded the prospect as manb s natural  
destiny. (Thomas Lewis. The Fragile Species 122)  
(2062 words)  
Pope, Alexander. Essay on Man, Selected Poetry of Alexander Pope, Representative Poetry Online  
hosted by University of Toronto Libraries, 2008.  
Cheryll Glotfelty and Harold Fromm, (Ed.) The Ecocriticism Reader, ,Belknap Press, 1995. Accessed on February 22, 2012. Accessed on February 22, 2012.  
Sanders b  Deming- Nelson, Letters to Orion Readers, b Orionb , Autumn, 1995.  
Benyus, Janine. b We Need to Fit in with Natureb  Mumbai Mirror March 15, 2010.  
Gore, Albert. Earth in the Balance. USA: Houghton Miffin, 1992.  
Woods Ginn, Hunting for Hope, Boston: Beacon Hill, 2000.  
Lewis, Thomas. The Fragile Species. New York: Colliner/ Macmillan, 1992.