Environmental Evasion

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

By Lloyd Willis

Subjects: American Literature, Environmental Studies, Literature
Paperback : 9781438432823, 199 pages, January 2012
Hardcover : 9781438432816, 199 pages, April 2011

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Table of contents

American Literature and Environmental Politics
Historicizing Environmental Politics
The Unique Problem of Environmental Politics
1. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and the Formation of American Literature’s Core Environmental Values
Emerson’s Redefi nition of Nature
The Consequences of Emerson’s Abstract and Imperialist Nature
2. James Fenimore Cooper, American Canon Formation, and American Literature’s Erasure of Environmental Anxiety
Removing Cooper from History and Delegitimizing His Environmental Politics
Recontextualizing Cooper and Restoring His Environmental Politics
3. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, United States National Literature, and the American Canon’s Erasure of Material Nature
Longfellow’s Literary Manifestoes
Longfellow and the Nineteenth-Century American Literature Debates
Longfellow’s Un-Emersonian Nature
The Nation’s Shifting Sense of Nature and Longfellow’s Hedge Against the Future
Erasing Longfellow and Naturalizing American Literary
Personality in the Early Twentieth Century
4. Willa Cather and John Steinbeck, Environmental Schizophrenia, and Monstrous Ecology
The Unavoidability of Environmental Politics in Willa Cather’s World
Environmental Desire and Environmental Schizophrenia
Cather’s Canonically Modulated Environmental Schizophrenia
Steinbeck, Ecology, and American Culture
Steinbeck and Monstrosity
Steinbeck’s Monstrous Ecology
5. Zora Neale Hurston, the Power of Harlem, and the Promise of Florida
Hurston, Harlem, and Power
Creating a Floridian Blackspace
Ernest Hemingway and American Literature’s Legacy of Environmental Disengagement
The Circular Trajectory of Environmental Openness in In Our Time
Bad Faith in Green Hills of Africa
Works Cited

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.

Lloyd Willis is Assistant Professor of English at Lander University.