Introduction, Transition, and Textual Analysisechoing the Words of Psychologist Nicholas Humphrey

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, Michelle Sugiyama writes in “Reverse-Engineering Narrative” that “the storyteller models human behavior.”[1] But what happens when human behavior is modeled to reflect natural animal behavior, mirroring the origins of man rather than the socialized creature he has become? In her fifth novel, Prodigal Summer (2000), Barbara Kingsolver uses her own background in ecology and evolutionary biology to inform the natural order of a fictionalized Appalachia.[2] She argues for a Darwinian view of the necessity of human relationships and the passing on of knowledge via progeny: humans must reproduce and raise offspring communally in order to ensure the propagation of both their species and their ideas. By demolishing the presumed autonomy that Deanna has assumed, that Garnett has adopted after the death of his wife, that Lusa believes she has been forced into as an outsider to the Widener family, Kingsolver builds community where it is least expected.Community begins first with propagation, the building of relationships that become sexual, reproductive. Deanna Woolfe, the first of three perspective-sharing protagonists, interprets the title phrase as “the season of extravagant procreation” (Kingsolver 51). The action of the novel begins on May 8th and the story continues through August. The setting is essential to the novel’s plot. “Setting is not passive,” Sugiyama writes. “It is a distinctive environment upon which characters act and to which they react. On this view, setting is a representation of the potential sources of conflict in a given set of circumstances.”[3] Given the ecological slant of the novel, Kingsolver leans on the temporal setting as a launching point for the action. Because of the focus on sex and procreation not just with humans but throughout the natural world, the events could not happen if the novel was set in mid-winter, for example.
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