Woman, Land and Nation: an Ecocritical Reading of Margaret Atwood’s Poetry

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Anup Kumar Dey
Assistant Professor
Department of English
Assam University, Diphu Campus
Diphu, Karbi Anglong, Assam, India - 782460
deyanup1@gmail.com

Woman, Land and Nation: An Ecocritical Reading of Margaret Atwood’s Poetry

The word "ecocriticism" was probably first used in William Rueckert's essay "Literature and Ecology: An Experiment in Ecocriticism" (1978) and was subsequently accepted in critical vocabulary when Cheryll Glotfelty, at that time a graduate student at Cornell, revived the term in the meeting of the Western Literature Association in Coeur d'Alene in 1989, and recommended the use of the term to refer to the scattered critical field that had been known as "the study of nature writing." Glotfelty defines ecocriticism as “the study of the relationship between literature and the physical environment. Just as feminist criticism examines language and literature from a gender-conscious perspective, and Marxist criticism brings an awareness of modes of production and economic class to its reading of texts, ecocriticism takes an earth-centered approach to literary studies." He further states that “. . . all ecological criticism shares the fundamental premise that human culture is connected to the physical world, affecting it and affected by it. Ecocriticism takes as its subject the interconnections between nature and culture, specifically the cultural artifacts language and literature. As a critical stance, it has one foot in literature and the other on land; as a theoretical discourse, it negotiates between the human and the nonhuman.” (Glotfelty xviii). Simon Estok argues that ecocriticism is more than “simply the study of Nature or natural things in literature; rather, it is any theory that is committed to effecting change by analyzing the function–thematic, artistic, social, historical, ideological, theoretical, or otherwise–of the natural environment, or aspects of it, represented in documents (literary or other) that contribute to material practices in material worlds” (Estok 16-17). Thus it may be stated that ecocriticism tends to analyze the analogies between ecosystems and imaginative texts and posits that such texts potentially have an ecological (regenerative, revitalizing) function in the cultural system (Zapf ). Margaret Atwood (b. 1939) - Canada’s extraordinary woman of letters - has made her reputation as much by being versatile as by being controversial. Atwood’s poem reflects a post-modern emphasis on language as constitutive of reality, the forms are discontinuous, and her thematic focus is on almost all the central issues: revisioning and remythologizing the past, politics, peace, ecology, victimization, survival, and the complex web of human relationships. A writer of international prominence, Atwood is at the same time a poet, novelist, critic, and short-story writer. The conventional readings of Atwood centres round her projection of woman characters in her novels, the social constructions, her concepts of victimization and survival and her yearning to earn identity for women and Canada as a nation. With the growing concern over environmental issues and the role of literature, Atwood becomes more and more pertinent because of the profound ecological implications in her works which clearly reflects Atwood's ecological thoughts concerning human-nature relationship. Margaret Atwood, the daughter of Carl and Margaret Killam Atwood, was born on 18 November 1939 in Ottawa. She is the second of three children in a family with strong cultural roots in Nova Scotia. Atwood also spent a large part of her growing up in the wilderness of northern Quebec, where her father, a professional entomologist, pursued his research. Even after settling in Toronto in 1946, Atwood continued to visit the northern woods in summer along with her parents. This childhood experience in the Canadian wilderness provided the background for her nature verse. Atwood’s first book of verse, Double Persephone was...
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