table of contents
1. A Changing World Requires Mobility
2. What Makes a Hero?
2.1. Physical Mobility and Mobile Identity
2.2. Dellarobia´s Insideness and Outsideness
2.3. The Butterfly Effect
2.4. Climate Change Fears are Given Wings
3. Eco-Heroism through Mobility
4. Works Cited
1. A Changing World Requires Mobility
In a world where climate change is undeniable and caused by anthropocentric global warming used as term that acknowledges and displays the significant impact of human behavior on the ecosystem of our planet (Ross 37), the need for a change in our way of thinking and especially in our behavior is vital. This includes the mobility of one's own identity in different ways. By this I mean not only consequential physical mobility of a person, due to environmental destruction, but also the mental mobility as development in terms of a different mindset and more environmental awareness. From this point of view, I find it particularly substantial to see how literature plays an important role in presenting environmental crisis through narratives. Ecocriticism is based on the principle that literature can significantly contribute to understanding environmental problems and initiate creative thinking about the planet’s future (Buell et al. 418). Climate change is, especially for non-specialists, diffuse and complex. “…climate change poses a challenge for narrative and lyrical forms that have conventionally focused above all on individuals, families, or nations, since it requires the articulation of connections between events at vastly different scales” (Heise 205). Kingsolver herself affirmed in one of her interviews that, "Literature is a wonderful tool for social change and to wake people up to their responsibility." It provides an “entrée, some way in, some angle that reduces the brain-frying complexity and ambiguity to manageable proportions” (Roberts in Garrard 298). Imaginary literary characters, who continue to evolve as a result of climate events to understand reasons, consequences and effects, can be seen as role models. Every human crisis needs people who lead the way, heroes, who make a difference, even if this crisis does not necessarily affect only the people but our entire world.
In my paper I therefore want to investigate the connection between mobility and eco-heroism, because I want to find out whether mental and physical mobility can be seen as a catalyst for starting an eco-journey. I want to show that Barbara Kingsolver's protagonist Dellarobia is an eco-heroine driven by her mental and physical mobility throughout the book, which is started by an environmental abnormality: the appearance of Monarch Butterflies. I examine the realities of climate change as they are presented in Flight Behavior and how Dellarobia’s starting recognition that climate change exists corresponds with her understanding of natural processes and unfair power dynamics. Dellarobia frees herself from the dualistic culture and the restrictions of motherhood, because she is realizing the truths and effects of climate change and want to create a better future for others -her kids. Her personal growth as an independent woman comes through her transformation into an environmentally aware individual. My investigation is supposed to help readers understand the importance of mobility for eco-heroism not only as a catalyst for Dellarobia becoming an eco-heroine, but I would argue, that recognizing the protagonist´s development in Flight Behaviour [sic.] as a reader, helps to overcome denial of climate change, activates concern and creates awareness.
I have structured my paper accordingly by starting with looking at the theoretical definition of the literary hero and the hero’s journey proposed by Joseph Campbell. Based on that, I want to further utilize the transformation towards a more modern understanding of a hero and propose my definition of an eco-heroine that will provide the knowledgebase needed to understand why I consider Dellarobia an eco-heroine. Furthermore, to understand her personal journey I want to look at the eco-heroine journey using the role of women and nature, ecofeminism and the concept of material ecocriticism and dive into the aspect of mobility from two different angles, as stated above. I will explain the aspects of mental mobility as well as physical mobility in connection to climate change and will use excerpts from the place study approach as well as risk perception studies to explain her mobility as a catalyst for her personal development through a theoretical lens.
2. What Makes a Hero?
In order to approach the definition of an eco-heroine I start by briefly outline the classical definition of a hero. According to Merriam-Webster, a hero is a person “who shows great courage and is admired for achievements and noble qualities.” In the traditional sense, a hero in a literary work is considered the main character of a writing. The literary hero is typically male, handsome and represents the moral ideals of his time. He serves as a model character who helps people through his actions. Therefore, he must set out on a great adventure to free the world from suffering and then returns to the world he left (Campbell 63–256). The hero’s journey is linear, world-saving, derived from anthropocentric mythology and is reflected in our worship of the hero as the individual who rises above all others.
Given the changing times, these are arguably outdated interpretations of the concept. Heroes come in many different forms and the definition of heroism has evolved to incorporate more modern values (Shang 2) in our changing dynamics of society. According to Zimbardo (talk “What Makes a Hero?”) a hero does not need to be an exceptional person associated with outstanding abilities, but a person placed in the right circumstance, given the necessary tools to transform compassion into heroic action. Zimbardo also further argues that, still, more men are considered heroes because women often tend to define their heroic actions as not heroic but just what is expected of them as a mother or wives.
This is where I want to build up on his conception with my definition of an eco-heroine and the eco-heroine journey. My definition of an eco-heroine deviates from the antique perspective. In contrast to the classic literary hero who rises above all the others, an eco-heroine breaks out of the dualistic structures for herself without defining her actions as heroic but seeing the greater good more connected through acquisition of new knowledge. By dualistic structures I mean not only the gender-specific roles of man and woman and power structures but also the contrast of religion and science and education and illiteracy. I argue that the journey of an eco-heroine is very different from the classical theory of a hero´s journey. It is about understanding how entangled humans are with the planet and about developing environmental awareness. It is a path that forces to examine oneself and the world humans live in, to face all that is dysfunctional in it and in one´s own lives and change it. First oneself, and then the world around. In this regard, I like to pay special attention to the gender aspect, as I speak specifically of a female eco-heroine. Women have long been associated with nature and were always regarded to as 'closer to nature' with their natural work undervalued, exploited by men and centered around human physical requirements such as eating, cleaning and taking care of children and the elderly. Today however, ecofeminism “seeks to understand the interconnected roots of all domination, and ways to resist and change” (Plant 214). The understanding of the historical connection between women and nature and their oppression is essential to understand to take a stand on the exploitation against nature and help to create awareness of domination at all stages.
…While women may have been associated with nature, they have been socialized in the same dualities as men have […] The social system isn't good for either of us. Yet, we are the social system. We need some common ground from which to be critically self-conscious, to enable us to recognize and affect the deep structure of our relations, with each other and with our environment. (Plant 215)
This is where the aspect of material ecocriticism can be attached to as the world appears as a network “a web teeming with meanings” (Wheeler 270) in which humans, nonhumans and their stories are tied together in one evolutionary flow. All material forms regardless whether human or nonhuman tell something about the world (Iovino and Oppermann 2) such as how society works, the depiction of roles which then affects and reflects the image of oneself or the attitudes but it also affects circuits that seem to be absent from humanity. From my definition of the eco-heroine journey, which is characterized by developmental processes of identity, change and the awareness of the environment, it can be shown that mobility plays a crucial role in many ways in this progress. Therefore, I will now further elaborate on the different types of mobility, which appear most important for me regarding the analysis of the protagonist in Flight Behaviour [sic.].