My First Summer in the Sierra Essay - Critical Context

John Muir

Critical Context

Muir’s book finds a unique, optimistic niche in late American Romanticist literature. My First Summer in the Sierra is clearly a celebration of nature, which is portrayed as the focus for all the values in the universe. Muir’s Romantic idealism is reminiscent in some ways of the work of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, and Muir was, in fact, influenced by both men’s writings. Yet the book is also the work of a botanist and geologist whose scientific body of work made significant contributions to these fields.

In 1911, when the book was first published, Muir was deeply involved in political activism. He and groups such as the Sierra Club, which he founded, were embroiled in the continuing battle to force legislation to protect wilderness areas. Therefore, he wrote and published this work to inspire his readers to join his cause. My First Summer in the Sierra had, in essence, been written almost fifty years earlier, yet the book found its place in Muir’s goal to educate Americans of all ages about the importance of the nonhuman world.

Muir’s contribution to the conservation movement increases in significance as environmental issues assume a greater importance to humans, and it is beneficial to modern readers to see how and when his personal discoveries crystallized into a set purpose that he pursued to his death. His freshness of vision, combined with his ecological revelations, makes My First Summer in the Sierra a valuable learning experience for a young student. The multifaceted aspects of Muir’s book invite the student interested in literature, science, and even history to benefit from reading it.