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Not quite Eden : Steinbeck, Heidegger and human being's relationship with nature

Bouchard Alyson. (2014). Not quite Eden : Steinbeck, Heidegger and human being's relationship with nature. Mémoire de maîtrise, Université du Québec à Chicoutimi.

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The goal of this thesis is to carry out an ecocritical reading of John Steinbeck's 1952 novel East of Eden, drawing specifically on the vast philosophical texts of Martin Heidegger. Ecocriticism is the study of the relationship between humans and the environment, and the impact that this bond has on an individual as well as on human societies in general. This literary theory is only now beginning to bloom, which means that there are no set methods of precisely how ecocritical studies should be carried out at this time. According to many literary theorists, Heidegger is the most significant precursor of ecocriticism. Heidegger, a 20th century German philosopher, writes extensively on the connection between humans at their natural environment, concluding that the closer one gets to the earth, the more authentically he or she can live. However, on the contrary, the more people are removed from the environment, the less they live to their full potential. Living apart from nature also makes it easier for humans to ignore the effects of their decisions, taking away their feeling of responsibility towards the earth. In East of Eden, Charles Trask's way of life shows precisely this type of denial, as he is in a position of complete domination of the soil. Samuel Hamilton, on the other hand, works the soil with a great deal of respect, even awe. His way of living is truly authentic in the Heideggerian sense. Heidegger also explains how the use of technology can lead both towards and away from this genuine manner of living. Some technologies, notably the more traditional ones, help to create and bring about revealing in its truest sense; bringing a thing from absence to presence. These technologies treat nature with respect, leaving it as it should rightly be, while taking only what is necessary. Many modern technologies, on the other hand, do not respect the natural environment. This facet is particularly interesting to explore in East of Eden, as the novel is set at the turn of the 20th century. The times are changing and many traditional methods are being abandoned in favour of more rapid, precise and cost-effective ones. Also, it is the time of the First World War, a scene of unprecedented violence. Many of the technologies invented during these years are overwhelmingly destructive in nature. The gathering of resources is done indiscriminately, destroying anything which could be useful in the war efforts. The cost of the battle is immense; it is felt not only on the natural environment, but also on humanity, showing a staggering neglect of the value of human life. Although the majority of my thesis is built upon a Heideggerian philosophical foundation, there is a second thinker whose writing helps to illuminate certain qualities of the relationship between humans and nature; Edward F. Ricketts. This 20th century ecologist is best known for his scientific work in Monterey Bay. Ricketts is also known for having been one of Steinbeck's closest friends, a relationship which lasted until Ricketts untimely death. The essay which I refer to in this thesis was, in fact, published posthumously. It deals with the concept of breaking through, which is the idea that there are certain events in one's life which can entirely alter the way in which a person lives on this earth. According to Ricketts, it is necessary for a person to live a difficult situation, and if this person is open to growing from the experience, he or she will see the world in a whole new light. In East of Eden, it is Adam who lives a breaking through, as he comes to truly and deeply understand just how connected he is to nature - just how much he relies on nature and how much nature, in turn, relies on him. In my conclusion, I suggest that the time has come to look at East of Eden from a new, 'greener' perspective. The novel has been the source of many brilliant studies, but very few have explored its environmental aspects. I believe this cannot be done without taking Heidegger's philosophy as a primary foundation. The addition of Ricketts writings, in my opinion, serves to give an entirely different, and yet parallel perspective of the very same topic; human being's relationship with nature. In the end, the characters of East of Eden teach us that there is much to be gained when one is willing to give back to the earth.

Type de document:Thèse ou mémoire de l'UQAC (Mémoire de maîtrise)
Date:Mai 2014
Lieu de publication:Chicoutimi
Programme d'étude:Maîtrise en lettres
Nombre de pages:126
ISBN:Non spécifié
Sujets:Arts et lettres > Étude des arts et des lettres > Études littéraires
Sciences sociales et humaines > Sciences humaines > Philosophie
Département, module, service et unité de recherche:Départements et modules > Département des arts, des lettres et du langage > Unité d'enseignement en lettres
Directeur(s), Co-directeur(s) et responsable(s):Fahmi, Mustapha
Déposé le:07 déc. 2015 08:38
Dernière modification:08 déc. 2015 00:41
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