Date of Award

Fall 12-2014

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

Committee Chair

Dr. Damon Franke

Committee Chair Department

English

Committee Member 2

Dr. Jonathan Barron

Committee Member 2 Department

English

Committee Member 3

Dr. Phillip Gentile

Committee Member 3 Department

English

Committee Member 4

Dr. Charles Sumner

Committee Member 4 Department

English

Abstract

This dissertation employs an ecocritical approach to explore the relationship between humans and nature in the works of Joseph Conrad. In his fiction, Conrad draws an impression of nature that was unusual for its time because of its complexity. Nature is not just simple scenery or a stage set in Conrad’s fiction; it plays a major role in his characters’ regression, which develops parallel to their alienation from nature. This dissertation explores the origins of man’s alienation from nature in Conrad’s work, particularly his early fiction, and the implications for society if such alienation continues.

Chapter I serves as an introduction. Chapter II examines two aspects of Conrad’s maritime fiction: the sailor’s spiritual advancement through his confrontation with the sublime, and the sailor’s alienation from nature because of new technologies. While Chapter II explores Conrad’s depiction of the sea as a symbol of life and transcendence, Chapter III examines Conrad’s depiction of the forest as a place of murder, disease, and agency for furthering man’s regression. I claim that in his jungle fiction, Conrad dismantles anthropocentrism and shows that the division between man and nature is a problem that will eventually lead to man’s decay. While Chapter III addresses the personification of the forest (anthropomorphism), Chapter IV focuses on the animalization of humans (theriomorphism) in Lord Jim. In this chapter, I take a deep ecological approach to Stein’s theory of nature and claim that without Stein’s comment on the “masterpiece of Nature,” the animalization of humans in the novel would suggest a form of human degeneracy; however, because of Stein’s theory, comparisons of humans to animals are more valorizing than derogatory. Chapter V focuses on Nostromo and Conrad’s criticism of Western society’s idea of “progress.” In this chapter, I take a more focused approach by using ideas of ecopsychology and eco-Marxism. My analysis of Nostromo offers the final piece in man’s process of alienation. What started with man’s alienation from nature is now ending with man’s alienation from his own self, which results in the untimely death of the characters. Chapter VI serves as a conclusion.

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