Shifting the Ground: American Women Writers' Revisions of Nature, Gender, and Race
In Shifting the Ground, Rachel Stein adds a feminist slant to the rapidly growing field of ecocriticism. Americans have historically defined themselves in terms of their conquest of "virgin land". Unfortunately, this identification has often proved disastrous to groups such as women, Native Americans, and African Americans, who were regarded as nature incarnate, part of the ground that must be mastered in the name of nation.
From a perspective of ecofeminist theory, Stein suggests that selected writings by Emily Dickinson, Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, and Leslie Marmon Silko cannily revise intersections between American conceptions of nature and problematic formulations of gender and race. Writing from diverse social positions, each author examines a historical instance of this colonial conjunction: Dickinson grapples with the forces of Victorian Puritanism; Hurston interrogates Afro-Caribbean and African-American women's abuse as "beasts of burden"; Walker examines black mothers' struggles in the Jim Crow South as the legacy of their history as slave "chattel"; and Silko treats the social ills of Native Americans as stemming from their objectification by white settlers.
In order to alleviate these oppressive conditions, Stein argues, each writer incorporates an alternative conception of nature from popular and indigenous traditions such as sentimentalism, Voodoo, African-American animism, and Laguna Pueblo story cycles. By reinterpreting nature, they transform their characters from social objects into self-empowered subjects.
Recasting these authors against the backdrop of conquest rhetoric, Stein offers provocative new readings of their texts. Her book paves the way forfurther development of ecocriticism and ecofeminist theory with regard to American women writers.