Monday, October 5, 2009

Does pastoral/sublime actually exist?

In my view, absolute pastoral and sublime nature does not exist. There are certainly instances when nature is more harmful to humans, or seems pretty and peaceful, but I would not say there is any instance when nature is completely pastoral or sublime. Nature can be destructive, but that doesn't mean that it is inherently, "out to get" humans, it just is what it is. For example, Hurricane Katrina might have seemed like it was seeking to destroy humans to those who experienced the storm, but it was obviously not. I guess if you are looking from the perspective of a certain individual there are certainly times when nature is pastoral or sublime, but in the grand scheme of things, there is never such an instance.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Humans vs. Nature, Who will Win?

As we’ve continued to read about the relationship between humans and nature my understanding of this subject has changed greatly. I too had a viewpoint similar to that of Thayer Walker’s, in that I thought if I really had to, I could survive stranded by myself in nature. I would not have been as confident as him, but I would have thought myself fully capable of merely surviving. But after reading his island story and some of the other stories thus far, I’ve begun to better understand the reality of the forces of nature and the difficulty of surviving without all the modern technology we’ve come to expect. However, I don’t want to take anything away from humans. We have given ourselves this vision of being dominant over nature because, well, for the most part we are. Often we think that we have total control over nature, which is completely false and is when we run into problems, but we shouldn’t forget the fact that nature has less impact on our lives than any other species.

Sometimes we as humans believe we are above nature and can do anything we want without facing any kind of consequence. A perfect example of this is sadly Hurricane Katrina. For those who don’t understand how the city of New Orleans exists I will briefly explain. Basically, engineers decided that they could build up big dams (called levees) that would keep water out and would allow the ground level to drop below sea level. A lot of careful planning went into this, but it was still a recipe for disaster. Eventually, when Katrina came, the levees could not withstand the immense water pressure, and they gave way to walls of water that engulfed the city. Personally, I would not feel comfortable living in an area where this is possible, but I feel that I could have been persuaded otherwise. While the builders of New Orleans did know the potential risks they were dealing with, I would guess that they slightly underestimated the incredible force of something like Hurricane Katrina.

Conversely I think that in analyzing these situations we don’t give ourselves enough credit. It is amazing that humans could find a way to make a city out of a section of the ocean, don’t get me wrong. But it seems that in situations like these we are asserting too much confidence in ourselves and not giving enough respect to nature and the damage it can do. In Thayer Walker’s experience with survival, he was humbled by nature and came to a greater realization of its power over us. For most of us, the only experiences with have with the powerful, sublime forces with nature as seen on television from the comfort of our sofas and lazy chairs. Whether it’s Man vs. Wild or Survivorman we see experts battling nature and struggling to survive yet we think, “Yeah, I could do that.” I guess it’s just human nature to think that if one man can do it, than we can to.

In conclusion, we as humans are too confident in ourselves when it comes to our power over nature. We believe that because we have this great quality of life, we could easily survive in the most primitive form of living, but we are wrong. Nature is much more powerful than many of us realize and at times that is clearly demonstrated to us. However, we must not forget how far we’ve come and what we are able to do. The reason why we underestimate nature’s power is not sheer pride, but it’s because, compared to all other species, we do have the best ability to overcome it.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Twain's Use of Nature in Tom Sawyer

How often is nature described absolutely as pastoral or sublime?  Too often we read literature that deems nature one, and then immediately switches to the other in an instant.  No middle ground is reached where the climate is part pastoral, and part sublime.  In Tom Sawyer, Twain does a great job altering the nature to create a very accurate climate, that doesn’t take away from the rest of the story.  There are times when the weather is clearly pastoral or clearly sublime, and does begin to take on extreme qualities, but it never begins to take on qualities that are untrue or false in the real world.  All the nature and weather in Tom Sawyer could exist in a real world situation and wouldn’t be looked on as fake or miraculous.  Furthermore, the humans in the novel are physically affected by nature, but it never takes on a role greater than expected in real life.

An example of pastoral nature is when Tom first wakes up after sleeping on Jackson Island for the first time.  The scene is described as, “It was the cool gray dawn, and there was a delicious sense of repose and peace in the deep pervading calm and silence of the woods.”  This is a perfect example of Twain using pastoral nature to give the book more depth.  It is just a well-written descriptive sentence, which shows the reader what the scene actually looked and felt like.  He is not trying to say that the woods are an active character in the novel, or that they possess human or god-like qualities; he is simply using descriptive language to better describe the scene, and deepen the novel to make it more interesting for the reader.

            Another perfect example of this is when there is a great tempest on the island, and the boys have to run for cover.  The passage is quite lengthy and it uses language such as “furious blast” and “deafening thunder,” but it is summed up by this, “The storm culminated in one matchless effort that seemed likely to tear the island to pieces, burn it up, drown it to the tree tops, blow it away, and deafen every creature in it, all at one and the same moment.”  Obviously, this is sublime nature with exaggerated description.  However, at no point does it give the nature unreasonable qualities.  It says that the storm “seemed” likely to do many terrible and destructive acts, but it never actually did any of them.  It is clearly just a tool used by Twain to make this scene more exciting and interesting for the reader.

            In conclusion, while there are countless examples of pastoral and sublime nature in Tom Sawyer, at no point do any of them become something more than descriptive language used by Twain to keep the reader interested and entertained.  Stated plainly, he never uses examples that would make nature more than just nature.  The characters in Tom Sawyer are affected by the different kinds of nature used by Twain, but it never takes on abnormal qualities unlike that seen in everyday life.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sublime Nature in Tom Sawyer?

Have we encountered sublime nature in Tom Sawyer yet? If so, where and how does it function? Does the sublime come and go or is it ever-present? How do we know when we've switched from a pastoral dominated scene to one ruled by the sublime? Is that question even valid?

At this point, I would say that we have not yet encountered sublime nature in Tom Sawyer. I have read the first 15 chapters and to this point I don't remember any kind of pastoral nature. Nature is described regularly throughout the text, but to this point I can't remember any instance where it was clear that nature was a powerful, dominant force over the humans.

But from the viewpoint of the town and it's citizens, there is one major encounter with sublime nature. That encounter is the supposed death of Tom, Huck, and Joe Harper. Because they found their raft washed up 6 miles downstream, the townspeople think that the three boys were rafting in the middle of the channel, capsized, and drowned. Tom watches them crying and praying for him. They claim that the three were just innocent little boys who couldn't survive the rough waters that swallowed them up. Also, they begin to feel guilt for the way they treated Tom and his friends just before they ran away. They say that the boys were just innocent children who were just a little, "mischeevous," and didn't know what they were getting into. In fact though, the boys were very capable of surviving the elements, and are at this point in my reading, living happily on Jackson island.

Tom Sawyer Close Analysis # 1 (Pg. 80)

For my close analysis #1 of Tom Sawyer I chose the passage where Tom and Huck Finn make a promise to never tell anyone about the murder they witnessed.  The pact that they make is written by Tom and it says, "Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer swears they will keep mum about this and they wish they may Drop down dead in their tracks if they ever tell and Rot."  I chose this passage because I liked how it was written using Tom's voice and sloppy cursive handwriting.  It wasn't Twain narrating their conversation and ideas using sophisticated language, it was Tom's own voice.  I thought that by doing this, Twain was able to show the simplicity but importance of this pact between Tom and Huck.  By writing it in Tom's cursive, Twain was able to show how much this pact meant to the boys and that they were very serious about the consequences of not "keeping mum."  Also, I thought it was interesting that he capitalized the words "Drop" and "Rot."  By capitalizing these two words, I think Twain is emphasizing how normal and natural death is.  He is saying that when you die, you drop like a rock, and rot like a dead tree.  He is showing that Tom and Huck are just as much part of the natural, "wild" world as any tree, rock, or animal.  In conclusion, Twain uses this promise between Tom and Huck to develop his view on the relationship between humans and nature.  He is saying that humans are just another simple part of nature; they are no different than anything else.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Natures Influences

As we continue to read and talk about sublime vs. pastoral nature and how nature influences us, I started to think about how I felt about nature. How do I think and feel about nature? I guess at different times I feel different ways. For example, if I got stung by a bee, or tripped and fell over a rock, I'd probably get angry and curse the nature that harmed me. But, if I had just been on a long, hot hike I'd probably love nature if I happened upon a cool, refreshing lake to swim in. In general, I'd say I appreciate nature because it provides us with so many great opportunities. But we are also given many opportunities when we (humans) interfere with nature and change it to benefit us. For example, every year I go to Lake Powell with my family and have a great time swimming in the fresh water. But the water is only there because the Colorado river has been dammed up. It's a perfect example of something that seems completely natural, but is arguably not natural at all. That poses the question, "Can something still be natural that humans have interfered with?" I don't know.