Ecofeminist approach to lord Jim
Beholding the flowers swaying with the breeze like a ballet dancer swinging her lithe body, watching the rain watering a dry land like a mother suckling her thirsty infant capture one of the interminable reasons for the immortal bond between femininity and nature. Earth is the mother of nature; from its womb, plants and animals come forth. Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet sheds light on the maternity of the earth:
The earth, that’s nature’s mother, is her tomb.
What is her burying, grave that is her womb.
And from her womb children of divers kind
We sucking on her natural bosom find Many for many virtues excellent. (2.3.9-13)
The feminine voices of the earth are created in harmony with their masculine ones ,with neither the roar of the thunder nor the calmness of the lightning can outstrip one another, yet under the sky of capitalist patriarchy, the feminine voices are voiceless, silent, mute either those of women or nature. The white European man has placed himself at the top of the Chain of Being (directly after God), giving himself the right to exploit all other creatures. He is the master of the earth; in his possession lay the earth and all beings thereon. Thus, it is the same mindset that persecutes women corrupts the environment; that is, both of women and nature serve as a means to a profitable end. The construction of the European man’s culture has detached itself from nature, imagining that the more closely associated with nature the more primitive and inferior other peoples and creatures are. Susan Griffin states in her book, Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her,
He says that woman speaks with nature. That she hears voices from under the earth. That wind blows in her ears and trees whisper to her. That the dead sing through her mouth and the cries of infants are clear to her. But for him this dialogue is over. He says he is not part of this world, that he was set on this world as a stranger. He sets himself apart from woman and nature. ( 29)
Man’s perception of Nature, in the annals of Western humanism, has been diverse, complex, and overall, disparaging. In the cultural province of the European man, Nature has been devoiced as a comatose “other,” suppressed as a defenseless woman, and confronted as a bestial adversary. Separation from nature is primarily built on Cartesian dualism, which has controlled Western society’s way of thinking for centuries. Cartesian dualism is based on René Descartes’s theory of the division between mind and matter. Ever since Descartes introduced his mechanistic worldview, humans in Western society have regarded their minds as superior to their bodies and have therefore equated their identities more closely with their minds. The more humans identified themselves with their rational thinking, the further they estranged themselves from their bodies and their environment:
the way in which women and nature have been conceptualized historically in the Western intellectual tradition has resulted in devaluing whatever is associated with women, emotion, animals, nature, and the body, while simultaneously elevating in value those things associated with men, reason, humans, culture, and the mind. One task of ecofeminists has been to expose these dualisms and the ways in which feminizing nature and naturalizing or animalizing women has served as justification for the domination of women, animals, and the earth. (Gaard 5)
The lens through which human relationships to one another and to the earth are examined gives rise to one of the predominant contemporary critical theories: ecofeminism. Ecofeminism gives voice not only to women and nature but to all kinds of marginalized, oppressed, voiceless beings suffering under the umbrella of the logocentric thought:
Ecofeminism’s basic premise is that the ideology which authorizes oppressions such as those based on race, class, gender, sexuality, physical abilities, and species is the same ideology which sanctions the oppression of nature. Ecofeminism calls for an end to all oppressions, arguing that no attempt to liberate women (or any other oppressed group) will be successful without an equal attempt to liberate nature.( Gaard 1)
An ecofeminist approach to Joseph Conrad’s lord Jim accentuates the interrelation between nature and femininity and presents a new perspective in deconstructing the binary oppositional orthodoxy.
Conrad portrays the intangible affiliation created between femininity and nature, an affinity which one can see in the horizon of the sea at sun set when the sky’s jewel melts into the sea, when the sun’s gold dissolves into twilight, forming a splendor scene all in which components are welded together without a bond. The main female character in the novel is wreathed in natural images. Jewel is introduced to the reader as a bird coming out of its nest, “ . . . like a bird out of the recess of a nest” (Conrad 278). It seems that there are special traits connecting jewel with a bird; her tenderness, beauty, affection, existence inundate Jim, like a tide rushing to hug its shore, like a bird folding him in its wings. Marlow frequently alludes to her unfolding arms, “her tenderness hovered over him like a flutter of wings” ( 283), and in another quotation, he says: “She made me believe her, but there is no word that on my lips could render the effect . . . of the soft passionate tones . . . and the appealing movement of the white arms extended swiftly two wide sleeves uprose in the dark like unfolding wings” ( 308). Further, the starlight with its faintness and remoteness is in the background, looming jewel’s frailty and loneliness:
She fell at his feet–she told me so–there by the river, in the discreet light of stars which showed nothing except great masses of silent shadows, indefinite open spaces, and trembling faintly upon the broad stream made it appear as wide as the sea. He had lifted her up. He lifted her up, and then she would struggle no more. Of course not. Strong arms, a tender voice, a stalwart shoulder to rest her poor lonely little head upon. The need–the infinite need–of all this for the aching heart, for the bewildered mind . . . The starlight was good enough for that story, a light so faint and remote that it cannot resolve shadows into shapes, and show the other shore of a stream .(312)
Nature and femininity are in dialogue with one another, creating a symphony of homogenous tones. The benign maternity emerges explicitly here, “Jim on the bridge was penetrated by the great certitude of unbounded safety and peace that could be read on the silent aspect of nature like the certitude of fostering love upon the placid tenderness of a mother’s face” ( 17).
One of the most important issues consuming ecofeminists is the dualistic thought concerning not only gender binary but also all forms of binary oppositions some of which find their anchor hardly shaken in the novel. Conrad has a different approach in deconstructing the dualistic conception. He accuses in a sense some of the oppressed groups of thinking in dualism. They mistrust themselves, waiting for the European man to come and rescue them ,“ . . . like an eastern bride waiting to be uncovered by the hand of the master” ( 244). Supposing that the European colonizer thinks of himself as the centre of the universe, some of the marginalised societies contribute to their own marginalization and degradation by being passive. Dain Waris is revered by his people for having European traits which they think as superior to theirs. The unconscious of Patusan’s people is systemized to admire the European character, “Of Dain Waris, his own people said with pride that he knew how to fight like a white man. This was true; he had that sort of courage–the courage in the open, I may say–but he had also a European mind” ( 261,262). This proves how far the malayas depreciate themselves. They consider themselves as inferior beings with less worth and less dignity. Doramin’s scene where he is sitting passively in his chair, and Jim is down there taking up the responsibility of defeating sheriff Aly on his own manifests that yielding soul which reinforces the tiered dualistic mindset:
Doramin, waiting immovably in his chair on the hillside, with the smoke of the guns spreading slowly above his big head, received the news with a deep grunt. When informed that his son was safe and leading the pursuit, he, without another sound, made a mighty effort to rise; his attendants hurried to his help, and, held up reverently, he shuffled with great dignity into a bit of shade, where he laid himself down to sleep, covered entirely with a piece of white sheeting. ( 271)
The white sheeting here affectively symbolizes the vulnerability of the oppressed who is awaiting for his white lord’s protection, like a sheet protecting his body from coldness. . Ironically, despite the malayas’ fear of the European man’s colonization, simultaneously, they want him to rescue them from their own retrograde life:
Now and again “some fussy ass” deputed from the council-room would come out running to him, and in honeyed tones would administer amazing interrogatories: “Were the Dutch coming to take the country? Would the white man like to go back down the river? What was the object of coming to such a miserable country? The Rajah wanted to know whether the white man could repair a watch?” They did actually bring out to him a nickel clock of New England make, and out of sheer unbearable boredom he busied himself in trying to get the alarum to work. ( 252)
Marlow throws light on the misery of some persecuted groups suffering from dualistic ideologies, and in this sense, he attempts to voice the voiceless. Marlow dives deep into an uncharted sea to see their unseen oppression and hear their unheard screams. Patusan suffers from the binary oppositional strategy of Sheriff Ali and the tyrannical capitalism of the Rajah, afflicting nature let alone the people. Patusan is presented as a tortured land socially and naturally:
The stream of civilisation, as if divided on a headland a hundred miles north of Patusan, branches east and south-east, leaving its plains and valleys, its old trees and its old mankind, neglected and isolated, such as an insignificant and crumbling islet between the two branches of a mighty, devouring stream. You find the name of the country pretty often in collections of old voyages. ( 226)
Nature in patusan is gloomy, echoing the political and social chaos taking place:
The coast of Patusan . . . is straight and sombre, and faces a misty ocean. Red trails are seen like cataracts of rust streaming under the dark-green foliage of bushes and creepers clothing the low cliffs. Swampy plains open out at the mouth of rivers, with a view of jagged blue peaks beyond the vast forests. In the offing a chain of islands, dark, crumbling shapes, stand out in the everlasting sunlit haze like the remnants of a wall breached by the sea. ( 242)
Regarding the people in Patusan, they are apparently powerless, helpless and feeble. They are victim of a capitalist system imposed by the Rajah who seizes all of the fortunes in his possession. Accordingly, nature becomes a prey for that devastating shark. It becomes a vehicle for his predatory ends:
Villages were burnt, men were dragged into the Rajah’s stockade to be killed or tortured for the crime of trading with anybody else but himself. . . . Rajah Allang pretended to be the only trader in his country, and the penalty for the breach of the monopoly was death; but his idea of trading was indistinguishable from the commonest forms of robbery. ( 257)
Scholars like doctor Vandava Shiva and Karen Warren highlight one of the key factors contributing largely to the dualistic thought. They view capitalism as a dominant factor reinforcing the dualistic mindset in the sense that capitalism is based on hierarchal construction favouring some groups over the others (Plumwood 68). The world for the malayas, “ has been given into the hand of the high-born” ( 228). In addition, critics such as Raymond Williams, Joe Weston, and Martin Rylethe locate the root of social and ecological problems in capitalist societies where the fortune is monopolized in the hands of the ruling group ( Birckeland 269) . That is, a group of people is given access to and control over resources not given to the others. As a vast sea burying the pearls in its guts, while leaving the empty shells on its shore for passengers, as a ravenous whale swallowing all coming in its way, while leaving the leftovers for the tiny creatures, the rajah holds the island’s natural resources in his hand.
Conrad spots light on some non-European groups which adopt this binary oppositional outlook and logocentric ideology ,“ The logocentric thought places, at the center of its understanding of the world, a concept that organizes and explains the world for people while remaining outside the world it organizes and explains” ( Tyson 84). Sheriff Ali and his people perceive themselves as the centre of the universe. The description of his place above one of the two twin hills is very significant:
He hung over the town of Patusan like a hawk over a poultry-yard, but he devastated the open country. Whole villages, deserted, rotted on their blackened posts over the banks of clear streams, dropping piecemeal into the water the grass of their walls, the leaves of their roofs, with a curious effect of natural decay as if they had been a form of vegetation stricken by a blight at its very root. ( 257)
Perceiving themselves as a superior race legitimizes subjugating people and nature under their thumb. Nature and people in Patusan pay the price for oppositional valued dualisms. Sheriff Ali’s people think of themselves as the deputies of God who are responsible for purging and salving the world from infidels. They are the sons of God; therefore, they are above people and criticism. They have the right to exploit and capitalize on debilitated women and powerless people. Acting as Patusan’s Poseiden, they rush the land with floods :
Sherif Ali’s last raid had swept the outskirts of the settlement, and some women belonging to the town had been carried off to the stockade. Sherif Ali’s emissaries had been seen in the market-place the day before . . . One of them stood forward in the shade of a tree, and, leaning on the long barrel of a rifle, exhorted the people to prayer and repentance, advising them to kill all the strangers in their midst, some of whom, he said, were infidels and others even worse–children of Satan in the guise of Moslems. It was reported that several of the Rajah’s people amongst the listeners had loudly expressed their approbation. The terror amongst the common people was intense. ( 295)
In this respect, Conrad spots light on other forms of dualisms which represent one of the prior enemies to ecofeminism.
Ecofeminism is a theory encompassing all beings subduing to an oppressive, unfair system. Humans are part of nature; we are from nature, and to nature we will return. Thus, women and nature are connected. They have mutual characters. Conrad depicts female and nature as ebb and flow. Further, Conrad displays victims to binary oppositional thinking and attempts to show different forms of logocentric thought.
Birkeland, Janis. “Some pitfalls of ‘manstream’environmental theory and
practice.” Environmentalist , vol. 13. No. 4, 1993, pp 263-275.
Conrad, Joseph. Lord Jim. The world’s classics, 1975.
Gaard, Greta. “Living interconnections with animals and nature.” Ecofeminism: Women,
Animals, Nature , Temple University press, 1993, pp 1-12.
Griffin, Susan. Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her.
Harper & Row, 1978.
Harrison, Robert. Forests: The Shadow Of Civilization. The University of Chicago
press books, 2009.
Plumwood, Val. Feminism And The Mastery of Nature. Roultedge, 1993.
Tyson, Lois. Critical theory Today: A User Friendly Guide.Roultedge, 2006.
shakespeare, william. Romeo and Juliet. The world’s classics, 2009.
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