Date of Graduation
Eberly College of Arts and Sciences
This dissertation addresses the almost complete absence of American hunting stories in the subfield of environmental literature within American literature. Since environmental literature’s inception in the early 1990s with The Norton Book of Nature Writing (1990) and American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau (2008), environmental literary scholars have failed to take into account the roles of hunters in advancing conservationist measures to protect and preserve wildlife and lands throughout America from the early nineteenth century through the present day. This project seeks to build a bridge between environmental literary scholars and environmentalists far removed from hunting traditions and those whose involvement in hunting furthers both their commitment to improving their local surroundings and their support for conservationist measures. The study begins with a reflection about preservationist icon Henry David Thoreau’s complicated relationship with hunting. Because Thoreau’s Walden (1854) remains so largely influential and because Thoreau expresses disapproval of hunting in that work, readers fail to realize that Thoreau’s later writings reveal a more ambivalent response about the benefits and drawbacks of hunting. In addition to analysis of Thoreau’s writings, this dissertation begins by briefly focusing on the writings of well-known American preservationist John Muir and conservationist Aldo Leopold. Then, it provides more extensive analyses of the works of nineteenth-century American writers Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper; nineteenth-century traveller Francis Parkman; nineteenth-century whale hunters Owen Chase and Thomas Nickerson; nineteenth-century Appalachian subsistence hunters Meshach Browning and Philip Tome; nineteenth-century African-American slaves John Thompson, Frederick Douglass, and Solomon Northup; twentieth-century authors William Faulkner, Fred Gipson, and Wilson Rawls; twenty-first-century writers Lily Raff McCaulou and Georgia Pellegrini. More broadly, I argue that hunting stories comprise part of American environmentalism’s beginnings and that they depict the evolving ways that humans have approached hunting in America since the country’s founding. In a different manner than environmental literature that stresses sublime or pastoral appreciations of the outdoors, hunting stories interrogate humananimal boundaries by forcing readers to consider the complex relationships among humans, companion animals, and prey animals throughout the course of American hunting history. In presenting direct engagements with nonhuman life and in revealing the dangers of overhunting, of ignoring of the lives of animals and of not developing discernible, geographic-specific ethics and legislation, hunting stories ask readers to consider what humans demand from the natural world and what they should be prepared to do if hunting is to continue to remain sustainable. For these reasons, hunting stories should become a larger part of American environmental literature as the canon seeks to elucidate and grapple with human-animal and posthumanist relationships within the natural world.
Williams, Jericho, "The American Hunting Story and the Formation of Environmental Literature." (2017). Graduate Theses, Dissertations, and Problem Reports. 8180.