• Rikke Rya Callow
4. term, English, Master (Master Programme)
The last few decades have seen the emergence of a new literary approach in the arts and humanities. Coined ecocriticism, it aims to highlight the relationship between humans and nature as expressed in cultural products and especially in literature. Its development follows a generally growing concern about environmental issues and, subsequently, an increasing interest in the matter. Ecocritics tend to support a monistic view on the human-nature relationship, but they may disagree on the root causes of the current ecological crisis and how best to solve it. In the present project, these different ecocritical positions will be accounted for in detail and, collectively, they will form the theoretical foundation for the analytical part of the project. In response to the threat of a global, ecological disaster, the relationship between humankind and the natural environment has become a popular topic amongst 21st century authors. The objective of this project, however, is to demonstrate that also literature that predates anxiety about global warming, rising sea-levels, and plastic waste can be relevant to the present day environmental debate in the US. I will demonstrate this by carrying out an ecocritical literary analysis of Jack London’s two novels, The Call of the Wild and White Fang from 1903 and 1906 respectively. The two novels will be analysed together as their plots are very similar, only reversed. In The Call of the Wild, the domesticated dog, Buck, leaves civilisation and joins a pack of wolves in the wild; in White Fang, a wild wolf becomes a fully domesticated family pet. The larger part of the analysis focuses on the Alaskan wilderness and how London presents the actual landscape, its wildlife and the indigenous population. This is contrasted with descriptions of green, Californian estates with livestock and pets that have all been moulded by human culture. The analysis shows that, once absorbed into civilisation, animals and indigenous people who represent the wilderness quickly lose their freedom and the recognition of their intrinsic values. Buck, who becomes wild however, rediscovers his biological link to nature, ancient instincts awaken and he experiences an overwhelming sense of freedom. The analysis is completed with an examination and comparison of the representation of females in the wilderness and in civilisation respectively. In the wild, the female characters (all animal) are depicted as equals to their male counterparts. The female characters in the world of civilisation however, are weak, immature and inferior. The suggestion is that these qualities have been learnt, and London is therefore not presenting the female sex as inherently inferior but is rather criticising the social constructions in human-controlled environments that mould and encourage woman to adopt certain characteristics. Based on the analysis, I conclude that The Call of the Wild and White Fang both present the wilderness and a state of nature as preferable to environments shaped and controlled by human culture. Both Buck and White Fang are shown to have instincts of the wilderness and nature that can be subdued and lie dormant, but that will not disappear. Although the protagonists are canines, London uses elements of atavism to remind the reader that humans too are biologically linked to the natural environment. The novels are thus examples of ecological fiction that stresses the human connection to and dependency on the natural environment, while also arguing for the inherent worth of everything in the so-called more-than-human world.
Publication date31 May 2022
Number of pages72
ID: 471684212