Humans relate with the natural world and their environments in different ways. Some view nature as something to conquer using science to alter the natural world to make it better for themselves. Others see nature as valuable in its own right independent of human desires otherwise known as intrinsic value. These two values and perceptions of nature can be understood through the texts A White Heron, The Birthmark, Dead Man at Grandview Point, The Marginal World, and the film Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
In A White Heron the perception of conquering nature is displayed through the ornithologist. In the story a young girl Sylvia meets the scientist on a trial in the woods while he is hunting. He eventually comes back to Sylvia’s home to stay the night so he can continue his hunt in the morning. It is the part of the short story Where Sylvia’s grandmother and the ornithologist are talking about why he is here that reveals his perception and values of nature. “So Sylvy knows all about the birds does she?… I am making a collection of birds myself. I have been at it ever since I was a boy… There are two or three very rare ones I have been hunting for these five years. I mean to get them on my own ground if they can be found. Do you cage them? asked Mrs. Tilley doubtfully in response to this enthusiastic announcement. Oh, no, they’re stuffed and preserved, dozens and dozens of them, and I have shot and snared everyone myself.” In this passage from the text you can see he is almost trying to compete with nature. He wants to prove that man can best it by catching all of these birds and the white heron would be a huge step towards his goal. Another part from this passage that was particularly interesting was how happy and enthusiastic he was to correct the grandmother that he does not cage the birds but instead kills and stuffs them. To the ornithologist the lives of the birds do not matter if killing the birds means he can best nature he will do it then.
Sylvia who seems to share the second relationship with nature seeing its intrinsic value by the end of the story has a hard time understanding the young man’s point of view. Her reaction to this conversation between the ornithologist and her grandmother seems to be uncomfortable for her especially when the scientist asks her if she knows about the white heron. It says in the story “Sylvia’s heart gave a wild beat; she knew that strange white bird, and had once stolen softly near where it stood in some bright green swamp grass, away over at the other side of the woods.” You can tell that she does not know what to think of the man’s actions with the birds because her heart gives a wild beat when he asked her if she knew about the bird. She does know about the bird but is confused with his intentions to kill it. This is exactly why her heart beats wildly. Through the attraction of money and love for the scientist though she decides to find the nest of the heron so the man can hunt it. She climbs the tallest tree she knows to seek out the nest. At the top of the tree though she has an impactful moment where she sees the ocean for the first time and the majestic heron up close, sharing a moment with it that stuck with her. When she is confronted by her grandmother and ornithologist she has a choice to make. She decides to not give up the heron’s nest. At that moment on top of the tree she learns that the heron has value beyond the hunter’s view of it as a rare catch. Displaying Sylvia’s relation to the environment that’s it valuable on its own independent of the scientist’s desires.
Someone who has a shared relation with environment as Sylvia did is Rachel Carson especially in her piece called The Marginal World. This is a story about Rachel exploring the shore, admiring the beauty while also making scientific observations about it. As proof to this statement Rachel Carson writes herself “Visibly it carpets the intertidal rocks; or half hidden, it descends into fissures and crevices, or hides under boulders, or lurks in the wet gloom of sea caves. Invisibly, where the casual observer would say there is no life, it lies deep in the sand in burrows and tubes and passageways.” This quote shows her appreciation of the organisms that call this harsh habitat their home. While at the same time she is letting the reader know she is not just a casual observer, but instead a scientist making observation on knowledge she has already obtained. There are many examples of Rachel’s scientific background and her love and appreciation for nature working together in this story. This is nice to see because unlike the ornithologist in A White Heron she is a scientist that values nature for what it is. Thought the story and her walk along the shore she comes upon many interesting places and species and observes them takes note of what she is looking at and then leaves without causing any harm to the organisms she is observing. The scientist from A White Heron would have most likely removed the organisms killed them and studied them for gain of his own knowledge and sense of superiority over the environment. Rachel’s story enlightens the reader that scientist can have that same view that Sylvia has that nature has that intrinsic value and still be able to study the environment without causing harm.
It is the exact opposite for Aylmer and his wife Georgia in the short story The Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne. In this story a young respected scientist named Aylmer is obsessed with ridding of his wife’s birthmark. He decides to use his knowledge in the fields of science to get rid of it. He eventually does come up with a potion to rid of the birthmark but it kills his wife when she drinks it. Aylmer’s relation with nature is that he thinks he can control it with his knowledge of science. The fact that Aylmer risked his wife’s life to get rid of rid of her birthmark proving to himself that he can alter and conquer the natural world and failed resulting in her death displays that this relationship with the environment can negatively affect us. If Aylmer was not so fixated on getting rid of the birthmark and accepting the natural world for the way, it was his wife would not have died.
Victor Frankenstein from the film Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is another scientist whose blind ambition in altering the environment to reverse death lead to horrific failures and ironically the deaths of people close to him. Victor although a very brilliant person he could not understand the importance of death and how it is vital to the environment. Instead he looks for a way to reverse death and succeeds in creating life but only for a short time because the monster he creates kills the two closest people in his life his brother and wife. If Victor saw death as a valuable and essential part of the environment and life, he could have avoided the deaths of the people closest to him.
Death is valued and appreciated more in the importance of its role in nature in the personal narrative The Dead Man at Grandview Point. This story is about a dead man found under a tree in a remote desert. When the narrator finds the man he comes up with many interesting points on death. He says “Each man’s death diminishes me? Not necessarily. Given this man’s age, the inevitability and suitability of his death, and the essential nature of life on earth, there is in each of us the unspeakable conviction that we are well rid of him. His departure makes room for the living. Away with the old and in with the new. He is one we remain, others come… A ruthless brutal process-but clean and beautiful.” What the narrator is getting at is that death is not an easy thing but it is essential to all life on earth. Without death there could be no life. That why he says it is clean and beautiful because it is efficient way to sustain life in a limited environment. The narrator of the story takes death for what it is and agrees that it can be difficult sometimes but does not go off try to reverse it somehow like Victor did in Frankenstein.
From these texts it is clear on what the authors are getting at in all of these examples. Humans with our knowledge and power to alter nature, bend it to our liking to please ourselves. Changing what we do not like about nature. It is easy to forget though it is not what is wrong with the environment but what is wrong with the human society. We forget that we are a part of the environment and need it to survive changing it messing with what already works is to threaten the existences of ourselves.