The Birds and the Bees are More Than a Sex Talk with Your Mother:
Willa Cather’s O Pioneers!, William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, and Ecocriticism.
Ecocriticism is a somewhat new field in the world of literary criticism. Critics are now examining works from earlier periods in order to find naturalistic elements. Ecocriticism is defined as “the interplay of the human and the nonhuman in literary texts,” by Cheryll Glotfelty. Texts such as O Pioneers! (1913) and As I Lay Dying (1930), by Willa Cather and William Faulkner respectively, are widely known to a variety of audiences. They have been torn apart at the seams and pieced back together like a puzzle. O Pioneers! is a text in which land and nature play a central role; however, in comparison with As I Lay Dying, the land is viewed in a more geographical sense.
An even closer look at the two texts reveals that there are links with human characters and their relationship with the land they not only live on, but farm and travel. The Bergson family in O Pioneers! not only builds but sustains their lives on the wild plains of Nebraska. The Bundren’s in As I Lay Dying, on the other hand, view land and nature more as a means to reach their destination. Although critics have explored Ecocriticism within the two texts, it is plain to see that there are underlying causes behind the reasons why one promotes a strong relationship with the land, where the other does not.
It is plain to see that the outcomes of both stories are vastly different. The Bergson’s, despite the tragedy at the end regarding Emil and Marie, live prosperously after many years of struggle. The Bundren’s from As I Lay Dying experience hard times from the death of Addie Bundren to the difficult journey to perform her burial and to obtain modern-day technologies. It is clear that the characters’ individual relationships with the natural elements of their stories are directly correlated with the outcome of their tales. The fates of the characters in conjunction with their relationship with land are tied directly to Willa Cather’s and William Faulkner’s own ideas about modernity.