The scene of the crime: Imagining nature at the millennium

2001 2001

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Abstract (summary)

This dissertation focuses on the scene of the crime as a living place. The crime scene forces a retrospective look—a detailed inquiry into the past to uncover physical, political, and historical elements particular to that location. At the scene of the crime, lost or hidden clues are uncovered to solve a mystery: in the texts examined in this study, crime scenes of murder, forced cultural migration, and nuclear bomb testing disclose vital ecological data about changes in the land—in the wilderness, on the family farm, in the southwest desert, and in the urban future. Crimes in these works serve as metaphors for crimes against the land, the possible collapse of the ecosystem, or apocalypse.

The rhetoric of crime is well documented in environmental writing—from descriptions of earth slashed by wagon wheels to apocalyptic projections of slaughtered forests, poisoned seas, and the “critical condition” of the earth and its atmosphere—all warnings that envision the world as a vast scene of cultural crime. The works considered in this study command attention in a new way—as ecologically-based tales of crime.

The first chapter traces the legacy of crime rhetoric in contemporary environmental writing beginning with Rachel Carson's exposé, Silent Spring. In chapter 2, I investigate Peter Matthiessen's Watson trilogy, a multi-voiced saga of the 1910 murder of E. J. Watson, that recounts the ecological destruction of the Everglades at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Chapter 3 examines Annie Proulx's Postcards and Wendell Berry's A World Lost. In both novels, a brutal murder directs attention to the survival of small-scale living on the land and the fate of the family farm. Chapter 4 investigates the cultural crime of nuclear testing and the links between radiation and cancer in Terry Tempest Williams's Refuge, and Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony. The final chapter examines the apocalyptic landscapes of Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents, science-fiction novels set in futuristic urban California. These texts look to the stars for a better place in space and anticipate the possibility of partnership ethics as a means of preserving the living earth and its creatures.

Indexing (details)

American literature
0298: Literature
0591: American literature
Identifier / keyword
Language, literature and linguistics; Crime scene; Environmental literature; Nature writing
The scene of the crime: Imagining nature at the millennium
Humphreys, Camilla S.
Number of pages
Publication year
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 62/10, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
9780493392653, 0493392653
Davidov, Judith
University of Massachusetts Amherst
University location
United States -- Massachusetts
Source type
Dissertations & Theses
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL
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