The rivalry between nature and civilisation is age-long. Ever since civilisation raised its head, nature seems to have been ignored. Many novels of the Victorian Era as well as of the modern generation focus on this theme of civilisation versus nature – showing how dangerous the battle can be and how the forceful mingling of civilisation and nature can only bring disastrous consequences.
One of the novels of the Victorian Age that focuses on this theme is Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, where society creates two outcasts—Catherine and Heathcliff—who are children of nature, suggesting how civilisation means a denial of the nature and the natural.
In the novel, there is a deliberate blurring of what is acquired and superficial with what is inherited or natural; of what is desirable and what one actually desires. Throughout her life, Catherine struggles to establish a balance between the wilderness that her soul desires and the domesticity that the society demands.
In a patriarchal society where women were almost completely dependent on men, Catherine couldn’t openly rebel against her father or husband. But her wild spirit refused to be domesticated and accept the conventional codes of discipline. And so, Catherine tries to oscillate between playing the traditionally perceived role of a ‘domestic’ women and her inner natural yearning to be the ‘wild’ girl.
The conflict that this dual character creates in her life ultimately kills her; Catherine is destroyed because her natural wilderness couldn’t accommodate itself in patriarchal and civilised society.
A more recent novel where the civilisation versus nature theme can be observed throughout the flawless narration is The Apple by Devashish Sardana.
The lifestyle of civilised people and that of the Sentinels living amid nature are in stark contrast. Their huts are made of mud and wood, and have very little furniture made of stones; their clothes are made from pine needles, vines and flowers, while twigs and flowers are used for ornamentation.
In short, they live in complete embrace of nature and are comfortable that way. They don’t need material comforts of civilisation to be happy. They find their happiness in the simplicity of nature. Another aspect of the theme that this story meticulously portrays is how greed drives seemingly civilised people to turn savage and how the apparently savage people – the Sentinels – are the true devoted children of nature.
The war between Civilisation and Sentinels brings to life the brutality of the ‘civilised people’ who are ready to kill anyone just to satisfy their greed. This is juxtaposed alongside the dedication of the Sentinels who are ready to sacrifice their own life fighting to protect the treasure which they have been safeguarding for thousands of years.
The book also throws light on the irony that the Civilisation which calls the Sentinels “savage” are more savage, cruel, brutal and greedy themselves. The savagery under the mask of civilisation is skilfully depicted in such a manner that blurs the boundary between the civilised and the savage.
Another novel from the Victorian Era where this prominent blurring of the civilisation and savagery can be identified is Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness which projects the relativism innate to such notions as civilisation and savagery.
Africa is depicted as a ‘dark continent’ with vivid portrayal of the darkness and the negation of civilisation at its centre. According to civilisation, the African people are in darkness. But in reality, the view is completely different. The representatives of the enlightened, civilised race have actually disturbed the solitariness of the natives of Africa.
The natives were proceeding well in the lap of nature close to humanity. But when civilisation intruded them, the heart of the continent turned black. The so-called dark people’s culture is seen as impure and their way of living is seen to be degraded in the primitive darkness. But the fact is that however savage or primitive Africa was, the darkness increases after the invasion of imperialism.
Throughout the novel, Joseph Conrad paints a vivid picture of the clash between Civilisation and Nature, meticulously bringing out the contrast between the humanity of the savage natives and the inhumanity of the civilised people. By the end of the story, it is implied that darkness is actually possessed by so-called civilisation.
The novel illustrates how the savagery of civilisation far exceeds the savagery of the natives and that the existence of the darkness is at the core of the shinning civilisation.
Will this war ever stop or will the age-long degradation of nature continue as we progress deeper towards building a ‘civilised world’? Can nature and civilisation co-exist or is civilisation really a threat to nature?
According to the novels – though differing in their plot and its portrayal – are tied to one another by a common string that connects civilisation to nature and puts them up as rivals. It is a war that can only end in a terrible disaster.
About the Author
Sanchari Das is currently pursuing her Masters in English. She devotes her free time to writing, painting, singing and enhancing her photography skills. The author of three books, Sanchari dreams to inspire millions through her writing. Born with a Piscean heart beaming with creativity, she is ever ready to embark upon new ventures and discover all the hidden sides to her personality.