Year of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Department or School/College
Department of English
Atwood, ecocriticism, ethics, humanism, oryx and crake, posthumanism, surfacing, the year of the flood
University of Montana
Atwood’s concern for the environment has spanned nearly the entirety of her career, informing her fears about the future and providing the grounding for her speculative fiction. In Atwood’s understanding, ecological ruin stems from human estrangement from the natural environment, an estrangement fortified by capitalism and consumerism in contemporary societies. Instead, she strives to situate the creative, imaginative human species within a larger natural order that inspires ethical treatment of the more-than-human world. Atwood attempts to provide us with a model of interconnection and respect for nature that we must imagine if we desire to avoid the apocalyptic future she describes in her novels. This paper will investigate three of Atwood’s novels that address issues concerning our interactions with nature and the effects of technology. In Oryx and Crake, humanist and posthumanist understandings of the world cannot provide individuals with meaning in their radically altered environment. In The Year of the Flood, the second of Atwood’s trilogy, we are introduced to the God’s Gardeners, who demonstrate how new ethical systems can be enacted within specific subcultural spaces. From their space on the Edencliff Rooftop Garden, the Gardeners have a critical vantage point by which to view society and resist the controlling aspects of corporation run state. Atwood gives us a model by which to imagine enacting change in our own society, and the ethical system that must be implemented if we wish to avoid ecological ruin. Finally, I turn to Atwood’s second novel, Surfacing, to end my discussion. Surfacing demonstrates that Atwood does not believe that returning to nature is the answer to ecological problems and the ills of society. The dissatisfaction at the end of the novel hints at the necessity of humans to exist within communities, as well as the affirmation of traits specific to the human – creativity and the imagination. The image of personal survival depicted by Surfacing does not allow for large-scale political or social change. The answer to our dissatisfaction is not to return to nature, but to, like the God’s Gardeners, find a way to be both social and natural – the human animal.
Telligman, Megan Kathleen, "Imagining Boundaries: (Post) Humanist Understandings and Ecological Ethics in the Fiction of Margaret Atwood" (2013). Graduate Student Theses, Dissertations, & Professional Papers. 543.
© Copyright 2013 Megan Kathleen Telligman