CR Exercise 4: Austin and the Wilderness (Discussion)

Since we’re now hard at work on the RA essays, we’re going more low-key for this week’s CR exercise on Mary Austin’s Land of Little Rain and Nelson’s “Gendering the Wild and the Domestic.” Instead of writing a formal response, please participate in a more informal discussion about the role of sex and violence in fairy tales, taking Nelson’s arguments in “Gendering the Wild and the Domestic” as a starting place, and using this week’s Austin readings for our examples.

The reading questions below are intended to help focus your reading and note-taking on Nelson, in preparation to discuss with your classmates.

Also, no close reading practice this week–you’ll be responsible for finding your own examples from Austin to back up your ideas in the discussion.

Reading Questions

Nelson, “Gendering the Wild and the Domestic”

1) Nelson begins with a clear claim about Mary Austin’s writing:

Austin’s animal stories challenge gender stereotypes and the myth of a womanless West, reminding the reader that women and men of various species have always lived in the “wilderness,” together raising families, providing food, and setting up housekeeping… Knowing that animal stories operate on psychological, subconscious connections, Austin became a stickler for exposing, deconstructing, and rewriting gender misrepresentations in animal stories. (45)

How do you think Nelson’s claim about Austin applies to the pastoral tropes we’ve read already in Thoreau, Apess, and Douglass? In other words, does a pastoral representation of nature have women in it? How do these texts obscure or emphasize gender?

2) According to Nelson, why was “a ‘virgin’ wilderness also ‘no place for a lady'”? Why do you think nature is so often described in these terms? Can you think of additional examples of this in pop culture, in your own viewing or reading experience?

3) Austin, Muir, and London all write several times about dogs. Why do you think dogs are such productive examples for exploring the dichotomy between wild and domestic, male and female, in nature writing? (47-52)

4) What is “the domestic”? For Nelson, how does Austin expand the domestic to encompass the world? How does the domestic represent freedom and wildness? (52)

5) How does Austin challenge the myth of “wild bachelorhood” in the West? (54-56)

6) How does Nelson’s dichotomy between East and West reproduce the pastoral dichotomy between city and country that we have been studying? (56)

Discussion

Like last week’s discussion, let’s begin with two questions:

1) How does Austin reject pastoral conventions in her description of the Western wilderness?

2) How do gender norms shape depictions of nature (in Austin, or in other writers)?

The first person to respond gets to answer these two questions. Please write 100-300 words explaining your thoughts and discussing at least one specific Bluebeard tale as an example. Bonus for incorporating Tatar into your response.

Then, conclude your response by posing a new discussion question of your own, for your classmates to address.

After the first response is posted, everyone should first read through the entire thread and see what your classmates have already said in response to the previous questions.

Then, address the MOST RECENT QUESTION submitted by one of your classmates. You can also address some of the earlier questions/ideas discussed in the thread and/or the general questions posted above. But at minimum, you must respond to the most recent comment. Please write 100-300 words and conclude your response by posing a new discussion question of your own for your classmates.

Note: Your discussion question can ask for clarification about a certain point, but it’s better to focus on a debatable point that everyone can argue about. Our goal is to compare and analyze how Austin’s nature writing works and how it compares with Thoreau, Apess, and Douglass.

And please feel free to “like” thoughtful responses that help you understand our texts better, or that you find otherwise interesting (all “likes” are anonymous).

classmate’s answer:

1.Austin appreciates nature based on her descriptions in her juxtaposition and observational writing. Austin begins her writing discussing the uglier, more destroyed parts of nature. However, she soon juxtaposes this against the life that lives among the dead. She talks of insects and animals that survive in spite of their surroundings. She speaks of them almost miraculously, in a sense of admiration at their persistence to live regardless of the cards they have been dealt. She also shows appreciation for nature simply in the specifics of her writing. Even when she is discussing how dried up and dead everything is in the beginning of her writing, she is doing so in great detail. Nobody could write about something so specifically without spending a significant amount of time studying it. Therefore, Austin must have spent a while observing and appreciating nature in order to write this way with such clarity.

2.Austin appreciates nature based on her descriptions in her juxtaposition and observational writing. Austin begins her writing discussing the uglier, more destroyed parts of nature. However, she soon juxtaposes this against the life that lives among the dead. She talks of insects and animals that survive in spite of their surroundings. She speaks of them almost miraculously, in a sense of admiration at their persistence to live regardless of the cards they have been dealt. She also shows appreciation for nature simply in the specifics of her writing. Even when she is discussing how dried up and dead everything is in the beginning of her writing, she is doing so in great detail. Nobody could write about something so specifically without spending a significant amount of time studying it. Therefore, Austin must have spent a while observing and appreciating nature in order to write this way with such clarity.

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