A Friend of the Earth

by T. Coraghessan Boyle

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In T. Coraghessan Boyle's novel A Friend of the Earth, both Ty's first wife, Jane, and his daughter die from accidents that are both nature-related. What influence does the blameless, almost absurd, manner of death have on Ty's personality and his feelings about nature and himself? (Consider also the freak-of-nature and/or accidental deaths of Teo by meteor and Ty’s parents by falling girder.) 

Boyle uses the death of both Ty’s first wife, Jane, and his daughter Sierra to foreshadow his future as a cynical hermit. He is unable to protect those he loves from the natural world. When Andrea, Ty's second wife, asks him if he would try to save her from a lion if it were attacking her in their cabin in the woods (a part of their wedding vows), Ty answers that he would not because it is nature taking its course. The novel ends with a sense of hope for man’s ability to change nature for the better when Andrea and Ty set up hermitages for sick animals at the private menagerie turned singer’s estate.

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A Friend of the Earth, written in 2000 byT. Coraghessan Boyle, depicts a bleak future of environmental destruction. The novel flashes back between 2025 and the 1990s, revealing the back story of the main character Ty O’Shaughnessy Tierwater. The personal tragedies he experiences form his personality and feelings about nature and himself.

On a camping trip, Ty’s wife Jane dies from an allergic reaction to a bee sting when their daughter Sierra is only three years old. Ty raises Sierra to be an environmental activist, following in her father’s footsteps. This activism leads to Sierra being taken away from his care and placed with a foster family and Ty being imprisoned for various felonies. When Sierra is 25, she dies as a martyr to the environmental cause, falling from a tree that was her home for three years. Ty’s daughter literally falls dead at his feet.

These accidental deaths are caused by the natural world that Ty has made it his life’s work to protect. This irony lends a sense of futility to Ty’s activist efforts. Similarly, the deaths of Teo by meteor and his parents by a falling girder add to a sense of lack of control. The natural world seems to wreak havoc almost capriciously on Ty and his loved ones.

These personal tragedies Ty suffers lead him to become a cynical hermit later in life when Andrea, his second wife, reunites with him at a singer’s estate turned private menagerie. Again, ironically, the very people trying to protect the planet’s dwindling biodiversity die at the hand of nature when lions get loose and kill the singer and several employees. However, the novel ends on an optimistic note with Andrea and Ty again calling themselves husband and wife and living in a cabin in the woods.

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