Eco-Feminism and Harriet Spofford

Topics: Harriet Elizabeth Prescott Spofford, Woman, Circumstance Pages: 8 (3159 words) Published: May 6, 2013
Samantha McCullough

Unprivileged Eco-feminist Society

In patriarchal culture, women and nature are considered second class citizens, several steps below their male counterparts. When describing women, they are often depicted as mother nature types, weak and vulnerable. “Eco-feminism explores the connection between the oppression of women and the despoliation of the natural environment.” (Marshall p. 49) American 19th century author, Harriet Prescott Spofford uses Eco-feminism to demonstrate woman's unprivileged ranking in society.

“Circumstance” is a short story about a woman who is savagely treated by nature but also it is about her deep connection with nature. Before her attack, the protagonist was enjoying a spiritual connection with nature. She felt “... the companionship of growth not sufficiently dense to band against her, the sweet home feeling of a young and tender wintery wood.” (Showalter p. 37) Her attitude is environmentally sensitive and knowledgeable, she appreciates natural beauty and she knows how to make use of it to enhance the pleasures of her life. Here she is plainly described as mother nature, feeling the love from her 'young and tender' child. She feels for the woods like she does for her baby at home, but the woods, like her child, have not yet grown to their full potential. They are an infant in need of care from their mother, the protagonist. Interestingly though, she has left her actual baby at home, leading readers to think that she is more at home in the woods than in her home with her family. She goes as far to say the woods have 'a sweet home feeling,' which solidifies her character type as a mother of nature. While having her connection with nature, she becomes uneasy because of the setting sun and the darkness gathering around her so she chews on “...a bit of spicy birch,” (Showalter p. 38) to calm her rattled nerves. Many types of tree bark have medicinal benefits, this type of tree bark is often used as a chewing gum or candy because of its mint like taste and here the protagonist is helping herself to some of nature's natural stress relievers. Like most people when they get nervous, they need something to distract them, usually that involves some sort of oral gratification. If a mother gives a crying baby a pacifier, it will soothe their cries, so if an adult needs to clam their nerves, they will chew some gum. In any good relationship, the partners help each other equally, Spofford is displaying how women and nature live harmoniously together but like any relationship some unsatisfactory moments will occur. Since nature took such great care of her, the protagonist never suspected an attack by one of nature's beauties, a panther. Here the unloving, dominating side of nature is revealed, bearing the name 'Indian Devil' and representing a man savagely trying to rape a poor, helpless woman. Naming the panther 'Indian Devil' also gives the impression of an American Indian capturing a white woman and forcing himself upon her. “Captivity images (often accompanying novels or captivity narratives) showed brutish Indian males overpowering terrified white women who it is implied, would experience unspeakable horrors.” (Fowler) These horrors are the attack experienced by the protagonist. “His long sharp claws were caught in her clothing, he worried them sagaciously a little, then, finding that ineffectual to free them, he commenced licking her bare arm with his rasping tongue and pouring over her the wide stream of his hot foetid breath.” (Showalter p. 38-39) Usually women are equal to nature, but here Spofford creates a representation of woman below nature, in this regard, since nature is already completely unimportant to men, except for sustenance, here women mean even less to them. The protagonist is overpowered by the brute force of her attacker and does not have any physical weight against the beast, if a woman were forcefully violated by a man, she would not be able to defend...
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