Close Reading American Literature

From Dark To Light; A Perspective Shift Of Nature

The Garden of Eden, The Fall of Man                                             Photo Credit : Google


               Since my last blog post, I have decided that my final assignment will be about the perspectives of nature. Emerson’s “Nature” has really resided with me, especially since my experience with the reading and the nature walk. I find myself seeing that nature has had several transformational shifts throughout the course of American history, especially through literature. Throughout the colonial time, nature frightened humanity. It was filled with dark forces and when seen with a religious lens, it was a place where the devil could be found. In the 19th century, the identity of nature was one filled with peace and pleasantry. The religious lens had been placed down and a new era began where nature shifted to being seen as a peaceful wander through the lens of science.

               The idea of nature has touched two very distinct and different writers in such a way that either antagonism or curiosity towards nature have been shown in their works. Jonathan Edwards, a Calvinist who preached sermons during the colonial era, used nature as a form of destruction to instill fear of God into his audience. This can be seen in his piece “Sinners In The Hands of An Angry God”. Ralph Waldo Emerson however shifts nature during the 19th century, using transcendentalism to show his audience how he was one with nature. Both writers identified nature in starkly opposing, polar opposite ways. From the Jonathan Edwards harsh Calvinist popular belief to Emerson’s transcendentalist modern connection to God, the identity of nature shifted from evil and mysterious to a place of peace and romanticism. 

               Edwards states “The devil stands ready to fall upon them, and seize them as his own, at what moment God shall permit him…The devil’s watch them; they are ever by them at their right hand; they stand waiting for them, like greedy hungry lions that see their prey, and expect to have it, but are for the present kept back. If God should withdraw his hand, by which they are restrained, they would in one moment fly upon their poor souls. The old serpent is gaping for them; hell opens its mouth wide to receive them; and if God should permit it, they would be hastily swallowed up and lost.

               Edward uses elements and scenery of nature to create metaphors that spook people and incites fear of God. Going back to the biblical scripture of Genesis, Edwards is referring to the Garden of Eden, where man first fell by the serpent within nature. Nature is seen here, as a place of sin, death, and the roadway to the devil’s hell. Yet Emerson says “Nature never wears a mean appearance.” Emerson defends nature. He gives it a whole new approach. Nature’s elements cannot harm man. 

Nash in his writing, Wilderness and The American Mind, states that “Puritan writing frequently employed this light – and -dark imagery to express the idea that wilderness was ungodly“. Even though Jonathan Edwards is Calvinist and Emerson is transcendentalist, we can see these reoccurring perspectives of light versus darkness within nature.



3 thoughts on “From Dark To Light; A Perspective Shift Of Nature

  1. Very cool! I like talking about perspective shifts–in my cultural anthropology class I decided to talk about the representations of Native Americans which is nicely something that you touch on when describing how the colonists were afraid of the wilderness as that is where the Natives lived… I haven’t thought of Jonathan Edwards in so long I love that you’ll be bringing him in to talk about nature. You’re absolutely right that he uses nature metaphors in a vicious way that instilled fear in the populace in a religious way and a way that would make them fear the woods even more. If you decide to mention Nash I would include him sparingly because the other two authors really focus on your thesis which is pretty clear. Emerson, who I’m writing about in my paper, has a much different view of nature that has to do with the time that has passed since the 17th century and Emerson’s personal philosophies. Good luck with the paper, great concept! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I really like the angle you are taking. Once you find supporting articles this will be an interesting paper. I was hooked by the paradoxical analogy that you used about how nature in one perspective is seen as a place that inhabits sin and death but on the other hand another perspective nature “never wears a mean appearance”. Perhaps you could explore how these two perspectives can coexist. Also, addressing what type of “nature” is being referred to here and maybe make speculations on why the authors use “nature” and not the term “wilderness”. Outlining the similarities between the two authors and how their belief systems influence their view on nature would be really cool to read about.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Looking forward to reading the final draft of this paper! Once again, just be clear that writers are characterizing nature or portraying their perspective of nature. Be careful not to call it the “identity of nature” and be clear and deliberate when you talk about this topic that it is HUMANS who have a perspective/view of nature. It is human perspective that shifts.


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