The Vilification of Wilderness and Its Relation to the African Experience in Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness: An Ecocriticism
First-wave ecocriticism, while studying the relationship between humans and the environment with the focus of emphasizing the value of nature, maintains a categorical divide between these two highly connected subjects. However, second-wave ecocritical studies reduce this gap between nature and humans by analyzing the environment’s ultimate self, humans as part of that environment, and comparisons between the treatment of enslaved bodies and the land. A second-wave ecocritical approach is used to examine the vilification of wilderness versus the claim of the cultivated environment despite its violent history and its impact on other captive bodies within Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899) and Toni Morrison's Beloved (1987). It finds the perception of the wilderness is used to define other enslaved entities, characterizing them as villainous and so excusing their exploitation and mistreatment. Conrad's novel follows the story of Marlow and internally, the story of Kurtz, both of whom are members of The Company that goes on expeditions to find ivory in the Congo. The jungle, which is seen as a possession and exploitable by other colonists, differs from Kurtz’ view after living with the Natives in the Congo. Rather, Marlow finds that European colonists possessive hunt for ivory, a sought-after commodity, into territory they claimed for themselves after brandishing it wild, reflected their perceived darkness of the jungle back onto themselves. Morrison’s novel introduces Sethe, who kills her child, Beloved, to spare her from the life of a slave. In both novels, the utility of the enslaved body is regarded as more important than its selfhood, which serves to not only categorize slaves as lower than both humans and animals, but removes their ability to represent themselves through communication, further disallowing them to own themselves or speak against actions that have been taken against them.