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The Roles of Nature in American Literature

Updated on August 19, 2013

The roles of Nature

Nature in American literature can be used in three main ways. It can be used to mainly present scenery or setting like in Henry James’s “Daisy Miller” or it can be an overpowering force that takes a new meaning like in Kate Chopin’s “The Storm.” Nature can also be used to represent humans in real life through personification and imagery.

In Emily Dickinson’s poetry, we see nature play a role in two of her poems. The first being poem 260 in which she describes herself as a “nobody.” The first stanza begins by calling herself a “nobody” and addressing the reader with the question “who are you? Are you -nobody- too? ” She then states that if the reader, is then they should not tell because they would be advertise. This is a representation of Emily Dickinson’s personal life and her preference to living a quiet life away from the fame. Even though she had written a large amount of poems, she did not wish to have the fame other poets craved and only published a few of her poems.

Further following along the second stanza she continues with her favor to seclusion by stating, “How dreary-to be- somebody!” Meaning, that it would only prove to be tedious if people began to look into her life and lose her privacy. Her life would become “Public- like a Frog,” meaning that it would be a constant hassle because people would continually look at her. By comparing fame to a frog, she is giving the reader the imagery of a frog croaking constantly and having others look at it. A frog does not hide its croaking but rather lets others hear him. Even when he hides from public view, one can still hear it’s croaking. Therefore, the frog’s life becomes that of someone who has become “somebody.” Even if Emily tries to hide from public view, like the frog, people will still hear about her. She will still be known through her poetry because like the frog, she will continue seeking attention through her poetry.

In addition, she also claims that the frog “tell one’s name-the livelong June- to an admiring Bog!” This brings the image of a frog croaking its name constantly in a bog, which is a spongy area surrounded by decaying matter. In other words, the reader gets the image of a frog in a swamp constantly crying out for attention. Emily does not want to become like this, in her mind, a poet who wishes for to be known is like this. They are constantly seeking attention while they lose sight of things and their private lives are deteriorating. Also the “admiring Bog!” represents the people who allows these poets to think they’re important and support them as they lose themselves in fame.

In the same way, Emily also uses nature in her poem Wild Nights (poem 269.) The poem talks about love between two lovers that are currently separated but will soon come to meet. The first stanza states that “Wild nights should be our Luxury!” meaning that these two lovers cannot be together but that does not matter because nothing can get in the way of their love. The second stanza begins with “Futile –the winds- to a heart in port,” meaning that no natural element can get in between their love, not even the wind. The poem implies that this love can withstand any obstacle, even nature itself.

However, in “The Storm” by Kate Chopin we see that the storm itself is an overpowering force that takes a new meaning as the story unfolds. In the story, we see that Bobinot and Bibi have been prevented from going home to Calixta. The storm also gives Alcee and excuse and a chance to stop by Calixta’s house while she is alone. We can see that Calixta not only worries for her son and husband, but she also fears the storm. “Calixta put her hands to her eyes, and with a cry, staggered backward. Alcée's arm encircled her, and for an instant he drew her close and spasmodically to him (Chopin.) Alcee takes advantage of Calixta and draws her near to him and ignites the spark that used to exist between them. Desire starts to build up between both characters and Calixta begins to give in to her desires. At this point, the storm is acting as a shield for both Calixta and Alcee; it gives them a chance to hide their immoral actions. At the same time it leaves Bobinot helpless at the store, being unable to go home and unaware of Calixta betrayal. Because of this, the storm is also a shield for Bobinot because it prevents him from being hurt by Calixta’s betrayal.

Moreover, we see that the storm is build up as they are in the middle of their immoral act, “They did not heed the crashing torrents, and the roar of the elements made her laugh as she lay in his arms (Chopin.)” At this point Kate has given the storm a new shape, it represents the sexual tension that had built inside both Alcee and Calixta, while they are committing this act, and the worst of the storm is taking place. But that does not matter to both Calixta and Alcee, because they have nothing to worry for since the storm is a shield to them. On the other hand, Bobinot fears the storm, “Bibi laid his little hand on his father’s knee and was not afraid (Chopin.)” Without knowing, the storm represents a danger to Bobinot, because not only has it stopped him from going home, but it has also allowed another to take his wife. The storm is not only causing physical damage around their home, but has also caused damaged in the marriage between Calixta and Bobinot, and even of Alcee’s.

The storm’s overpowering force could not be stopped by anyone in the story; it has allowed these events to occur and only calmed down after the immoral act has taken place. We see in the end, that even though it has the potential to destroy marriages, it has also given them a chance to continue. Ironically, both marriages continue their way in “happiness” implying that the marriages may not have been happy before. Calixta does not feel guilty about what she has done. She is happy and satisfied that her husband and son are well and they have a happy family dinner, stating “they laughed so much and so loud that anyone might have heard them as far away as Laballiere’s (Chopin.)” In the same way, Alcee is also left happy, and sends a loving letter to his wife who in return is enjoying her time away from her husband, stating it was “the first free breath since her marriage seemed to restore the pleasant liberty of her maiden days. Devoted as she was to her husband, their intimate conjugal life was something which she was more than willing to forego for a while (Chopin.)” This means that even Alcee and his wife were having their restraints before the storm, not just Calixta and Bobinot. Kate even ends the story by stating “So the storm passed and everyone was happy (Chopin.)”

Overall, Nature can be used in different ways when it comes to literature. It can be an overpowering force or an obstacle that love must face; it can represent human life or it can be used for irony. It does not need to take one form but can take many. Like in Kate Chopin’s “The Storm” it proved to be a shield and overpowering force that led to destruction and damage but allowed room for the continuation of life.


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      5 years ago

      Im interested in author Jean Lively who wrote The Flight of the Snowbird. Its about a boy Benjy and his autistic sister Sheryl. What year was this story published and what state does it happen? Its obviously in a cold snowy climate. Is author Jean Lively still alive? I first read this story in an American literature textbook in school in 1981-1982.


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