The greening of American naturalism

Cara Elana Erdheim, Fordham University


If we conceive of American naturalism as a literature about appetite and environment, then why have so few critical conversations about food, waste, water, and land emerged in connection with these early twentieth-century texts? Critics of American literary naturalism have long been preoccupied with hunger, framed almost entirely by a discussion about the animalistic appetites of socially determined human beings residing in socially segregated cities. My readings of Theodore Dreiser, Jack London, Frank Norris, Ann Petry, Upton Sinclair, and Richard Wright show that this hunger and social stratification is as much ecological—framing concerns about water use, access to food, and air quality—as it is socioeconomic, political, racial, or cultural. ^ My dissertation will be the first extended ecocritical study, as well as the only sustained green reading, of a literature that has lately received renewed critical attention. Until recently, naturalist scholars have limited their study of environment in these books to the urban world, which they too often see as detached from rural, wilderness, and agricultural ecosystems. The pastoral landscapes and seascapes sprinkled throughout these writings have gone virtually unnoticed by scholars in the field, so I direct our attention to nature as it pertains to culture in this socially activist prose. In "The Greening of American Naturalism," I argue that these politically charged writers cannot be understood apart from the environmental ethics informing their literature. ^

Subject Area

Environmental Philosophy|Literature, American

Recommended Citation

Erdheim, Cara Elana, "The greening of American naturalism" (2010). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3440633.