How is the changing relationship between humans and nature represented in British literature? How are Beowulf, Paradise Lost, Oroonoko, and Heart of Darkness representative of different periods'...
How is the changing relationship between humans and nature represented in British literature? How are Beowulf, Paradise Lost, Oroonoko, and Heart of Darkness representative of different periods' view of nature?
In British literature, nature was originally regarded as threatening, but before the modern era, nature came to be associated with noble simplicity and goodness. By the turn of the 20th century, however, some works of British literature such as Heart of Darkness regarded both nature and civilization as evil. In Beowulf (written down around 1000 CE), nature is regarded as threatening and scary. Grendel and his mother are creations of nature, and they threaten Hrothgar and his men. Hrothgar and his community only feel safe within the confines of their great hall, called Heorot. The hall is described as "lofty and broad-gabled" (Childs translation), while Grendel is "the fell prowler about the borders of the homes of men, who held the moors, the fens." In other words, the lands beyond the community's homes are held by a monster, and he rules over the moors and the wilds. In this epic, the hall is the center of comfort and civilization, while nature beyond it is terrifying and uncontrollable.
In Paradise Lost (published 1667), the natural world is also threatening in many ways. While the Garden of Eden is nature perfected, it is bound on all sides, and it is still vulnerable to intruders. In Book IV, Satan finds his way into the garden, and in Book IX, he corrupts humankind by enticing Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge. In Paradise Lost, nature, in the form of fruit from a tree, is the source of evil. While the natural world is beautiful at first, it can also be corrupted and become the source of unhappiness. Satan is motivated to bring about humans' fall because the beauty of the Garden of Eden makes him jealous; therefore, nature is beautiful but also a source of corruption.
In Oroonoko (published 1688), nature is a source of innocence and beauty. The people in Surinam live naturally, simply, and innocently like Adam and Eve before their fall, and they are corrupted by civilization. Oroonoko himself is the picture of physical grace, as he comes from this natural world.
Unlike in the earlier works, in Heart of Darkness, evil lurks both in civilization and in nature. In fact, it lurks deep in the hearts of men like Kurtz. Marlow, the narrator, compares the Congo to a "snake," and as he penetrates deeper and deeper into the Congo, nature becomes more and more evil and threatening. However, in Marlow's dark world, civilization is no better. He describes Brussels, Belgium as "a white sepulcher," or tomb. While Africa might be dark and evil, Brussels is white and evil. By the point at which Heart of Darkness was written (1899), evil and darkness lurked in both nature and civilization.