"When Nature Resumes Her Loveliness": The Slave Narratives as Ecoliterature

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The Ohio State University

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African American ecoliterature provides a window into their authors’ views of their relationships with the environment and with other people. Slave narratives, written during the antebellum South, serve as some of the earliest examples of African American ecoliterature. This paper considers three slave authors—Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, and Solomon Northup—and their narratives, along with Bruno Latour's theoretical work on nature writing, as a basis for evaluating the ecoliterary qualities within these texts. Some scholars evaluate slave narratives according to Lawrence Buell’s criteria for ecoliterature, but these qualifications discount several of the book-length narratives as ecoliterature due to the political motives that originally inspired their authors. When scholars exclude these texts, they lose a significant portion of early African American ecoliterature. By re-examining book-length narratives through the lens of Latour’s theoretical work alongside other ecoliterary theorists, researchers will also be able to find more similarities between the current body of work and the proposed additions to this genre. These additions could widen the canon of African American ecoliterature by providing an extension to the foundational work of this genre.



African American literature, Ecoliterature, Bruno Latour, Slave Narratives, Environmental literature, Human ecology