14 November 2013
Men and Nature.
W. Bradford´s Of Plymouth Plantation and N. Hawthorne´s Rappaccini’s Daughter
Those two texts were written within more than 200 years and on the first sight they deal with very different topics: the first settlement in America through the Puritans and the story of an Italian scientist and his momentous experiment. Nevertheless, there is a motive that occurs in both texts, which is nature. The relationship between man and nature differs in "Of Plymouth Plantation" and "Rappaccini’s Daughter" and those contrasts shall be depicted in the following. Both texts are products of the literary period they were written in. Bradford´s narrative embodies the Puritan era, as he was one of the first Pilgrims who came to the new land. He and his companions had to sail over a vast sea to arrive in a wild, uncivilized country. From a Puritan point of view, it was God who protected the English from this wilderness, or at least those who deserved it. Additionally, God is providing food and pleasant weather for his chosen people, to support them on their way to their new home. The text also shows that the Puritans are chosen by God to settle in their promised land, and therefore are allowed to use the nature however they want, or need to. Hawthorne, as an author of Dark Romanticism deals with images of nature too, but with a different purpose. The story of "Rappaccini´s Daughter" shows, in a cruel way, what happens if people want to rule over nature and manipulate it with science. It is not only the beauty and spiritual meaning of nature that played a big role in Romanticism, but Hawthorne goes one step further to show the cruelty and power of nature. The story illustrates how scientific manipulation can turn nature, in this case the flowers, into something terrifying for both, nature itself and the people.
Writing through the Puritan era when every event was related to God's providence, Bradford uses nature, and especially the weather, to depict His power. This undiscovered, new landscape and the rough sea were often very unpredictable for the Puritans. The author takes a lot of time to describe, how dangerous this landscape was, with saying that "it was winter ... the subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to travel to known places, much more to search an unknown coast. Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men?" (133). This descriptions and images serve to show how hard it was for the Puritans and how even more powerful God was, to protect them from such horror. If there was a big storm on one day and a quiet sea the other day, the best explanation was, that it was God "who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean, and delivered them from all the perils ... to set their feet on the firm and stable earth, their proper element" (133). What sailors nowadays would explain through science or simply luck was seen as a sign of God, influencing nature; Bradford explains, that they "thought themselves happy to get out of those dangers before night overtook them, as by God's providence they did" (132). The author uses the wild and savage nature to explain how blessed the Puritans were to survive.
Even if God had to protect the Puritans from the wild nature they experienced throughout their journey, he also provided them with nature and it's goods "and here is to be noted a special providence of God ... that here they got seed to plant them corn the next year, or else they might have starved, for they had none" (135). Anyways, nature was not only seen as a food supplier. As said before, the Puritans used God to explain any unpredictable event happening in the nature. Bradford recognized, that "though this had been a day and night of much trouble and danger unto them, yet God gave them a morning of comfort and refreshing, for the next day was a fair sunshining day" (138). God's support is even illustrated through the "special instrument" (141) of a Native American, who shows the Puritans how to make use of the nature and "he directed them how to set their corn, where to take fish, and to procure other commodities, and was also their pilot to bring them to unknown places for their profit" (141). So God is not only showing his power by rescuing the Puritans from the elements but also surprises them with positive incidents that are even "beyond their expectation" (141).
Not only is nature depicted as an instrument that can be influenced by the Puritan God for his providence, but the text also shows the Puritan's power over nature. As God's chosen people, they take it for granted that they can come to their chosen country and settle wherever they want to. As their mission is, like the title implies, to civilize America, they "marched through the woods to see the land, if any fit place might be for their dwelling. (...) but found no people, nor any place they liked" (136). Therefore, their view on nature was a very pragmatic one, serving to satisfy their needs, so they could settle and spread their religion.
This perception of nature also explains the way, the Puritans deal with the Native American's property in this text. They take for granted that they can just keep everything they find, like some "Indian baskets filled with corn, and some in ears, fair and good, of diverse colors, which seemed to them a very goodly sight" (135). Bradford´s explanation for this behavior is a comparison with the bible. He says, that the Puritans behaved like Moses and his companions and "took with them part of the corn, and buried up the rest, and so like the men from Eshcol carried with them of the fruits of the land, and showed their brethren ... and their hearts encouraged" (135). The Puritans did a "voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia" (138) and therefore, nature was just a means to an end. Bradford and other Puritans saw themselves as sent by God to civilize and dominate this country and had no view for the beauty and meaning of nature in its purest form.
Whereas Bradford´s perception of nature is a wild and savage one, which has to be civilized and conquered, Hawthorne focuses on the effects of manipulation of nature through men. Rappaccini´s experiments lead the flowers in his garden to be dangerous. Giovanni experiences the plants, as "it were adultery of various vegetable species, that the production was no longer of God´s making, but the monstrous offspring of man´s depraved fancy, glowing with only an evil mockery of beauty" (440). The author implies that there has to be something wrong with plants as perfect as this. The fatal experiments go even further and make the flowers be deadly poisonous themselves. When "a drop or two of moisture from the broken stem of the flower descend upon the lizard´s head ... the reptile contorted itself violently, and then lay motionless in the sunshine" (436). Trying to manipulate nature in an almost God-like way can be dangerous for animals and plants. Beatrice, who grew up next to the flowers, becomes poisonous herself and as an insect flies towards her, it "fell at her feet!—its bright wings shivered! it was dead" (437) and the bouquet that Giovanni gives to Beatrice whiters in the very moment she touches it. In the literary period of Romanticism, nature plays an important role, and is often described as very beautiful. Nathaniel Hawthorne does that too, for example when he describes the flowers as "gorgeously magnificent" (432). But as an author of Dark Romanticism, his purpose is more to show how dangerous and even evil nature can be, when it is manipulated.
- Quote paper
- Annika Mödl (Author), 2013, Men and Nature and the Question of Superiority, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/276756