The use of nature, ecology and its anatomy can be a versatile means for writers. They approach various topics from different points of view to convey messages. Darwin argued in his book called On the Origen of Species: “Each new variety or species, during the progress of its formation, sill generally press hardest on its nearest kindred, and tend to exterminate them.” This passage has a great relationship with The Last Man by Mary Shelley, the short story “Bloodchild” by Octavia Butler and The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. Through the analysis of these three works, we will discover how human evolution and nature play a really important role.
From the beginning of The Time Machine, we can observe how Wells uses a scientific and methodological basis to base all his work. We are aware of the first change in the landscape when the Time Traveller observes the view of the earth when he travels to the future: “the whole Earth had become a garden” . The protagonist’s first impression represents the Earth as an idyllic place similar to the pastoral scenes. However, he realises soon the true world that lies beneath that natural façade. In the same way that he plies scientific tests to base his story, he equally uses nature to reveal how the earth looks in the distance and transmit a hopeful image.
In this novel, the inventor of the machine can travel to the past or the future with a simple lever movement. In fact, the protagonist travels to the year 802701 and contemplates a terrible panorama that is the consequence of the evolutionary doctrine. This alternative world is inhabited by two humanoid species: the Eloi, who were idle vegetarians, gentle and sympathetic, devoid of intelligence. And the heartless and terrible Morlocks, inhabitants of the subsoil and heirs of the subjugated classes. They from time to time rose to the surface to devour the Eloi. This beautiful last species were the descendants of the elderly capitalists, and the Morlocks of the proletarians, buried along with the machines and the industry and which, in the novel, finish dominating their former oppressors.
Both Elois and Morlocks are described as beings of very primary psychology. We know nothing about their thinking. The impression that the reader receives from the novel is that it is about two races of inhuman animals or even, degenerations of man. It is significant to note the course of Darwinian Theory in this novel. If we follow this theory, we can appreciate how the author endows them with external appearance and intellectual powers in coherence with their environment. In relation to this environment in which they grow, we perceive how the organic conditions to which they are exposed cause their bodies to undergo a transformation process. This is crucial to adapt to the new characteristics that are going to surround them. In this manner, the eyes of the Morlocks have to adapt to be able to see clearly and distinctly in the darkness since their dwelling is underground.
The protagonist goes interfering in the Eloi society only with the purpose of recovering his stolen time machine. However, during his stay, he is fascinated by the charms of little Weena, an Eloi girl. Theoretically speaking, their reactions are not far from those of any of their contemporaries who had a scientific mind-set and in similar circumstances. Their behaviours and intentions epitomise the character of a critical scientific observer. In addition, he develops the ability to be able to camouflage himself in the environmental features to be able to stay with the Morlocks and the Elois as well. In this way, he ultimately finishes getting his time machine.
We encounter unusual moments in which the Time Traveller reviews their different points of view in each travel and is aware of the changes he himself undergoes as well as the environment that surrounds him. There is a particular passage in 802701 A.D., in which he sees the beautiful Wenna and he realizes the whole landscape is as idyllic and lovely as her. That moment resembles the meadows of Eden. The protagonist is aware of a change in his way of seeing the world. He describes the situation with great appreciation and affection, as we can see in the following quotation:
“The thing took my imagination. […] The creature’s friendliness affected me exactly as a child’s might have done. We passed each other flowers, and she kissed my hands.”
The fact that Wells’ fantasy and science fiction are focused the last days of humanity is fascinating. This apocalyptic vision is the result of natural and cosmic disasters or Martian invasions, whose conclusion is the partial or destruction of the earth. As we see, this decline of humanity remains an inevitable question for Wells. In addition, it became one of the most used topics in science fiction novels.
Wells shows us a deep reflection about our path as humans on Earth. Simultaneously, it makes us note how our actions can have a great impact on the environment and everything that surrounds us. We observe how the nature of the terrestrial world has completely changed during the period in which the sun and climate change worsened.
We also recognize how Wells is nourished by the theory of Darwin’s evolution. This scientist explained the origin and development of life on the planet only through biological processes. For this reason, it maintains a unique relationship with The Time Machine. It describes nature not as a benign garden for man but as a ground of harsh competition and survival by adaptation. Just as humans struggle to remain on earth, their actions have an impact on the environment, modifying it to the point of eliminating it. This situation is exposed when the Traveller prolongs his journey to a more remote future. Finally, he witnesses the perpetual twilight and the new glacial era where everything known deteriorates and finishes disappearing. Being that a final assumption for humanity. We can see his fear in the following quote:
“But a terrible dread of lying helpless in that remote and awful twilight sustained me while I clambered upon the saddle.”
On the other hand, nature in “Bloodchild” is developed with diverse purposes. Through human behaviours in relation with aliens, we can recognize how the environment is exploited. Therefore, the nature represents just a response of how humans treat each other. This environmental crisis suggests a psychological drama as the centre of this story. First of all, we must identify the planet Tlic to appreciate its ecosystem. Their habitat was based on an ecological community and a global environment that represents a unity. However, this balance stops being possible as they requires offspring. From this moment the Tlics begin having a conflict with the human species. The procedure, which they followed, consists in using humans to inseminate them as reproductive bodies to allow the evolution of the species. This use of the mortal body as a means of transport and incubation for their larvae is related to what humans do in the fields to harvest what they demand. However, instead of being human, the promoters are the aliens who deal with them to procreate their exotic species.
One of the most intriguing points in terms of the description and portrayal of the characters is the reduction of the human being to a function. Human race is treated as an object of negotiation with which they can commercialise. Put differently, humans are shown as mere vessels and carriers of the next generations of Tlics. The case that best represents this reduction of conditions is in the figure of Lomas. Unlike the other characters in the story who interact more dynamically, Lomas only appears as a character who refuses to do this practice. Despite the fact that he is reluctant to do so, T’Khotgif finishes implanting him the grub. This character stays dehumanized and lessened for containing the parasite within. However, the situation becomes more complicated when the larva begins devouring him. T’Gatoi, another of the alien women, finishes cutting Lomas to extract the grub. This unpleasant process of suffering to Lomas, the protagonist of the story summarizes it in a symbolic exclusive line that shows how dehumanized he is:
“Lomas began to groan and make choked sounds. I had hoped he would stay unconscious.”
Butler also makes use of material, substantial, even visceral elements to emphasize the rarefied nature of a process of domination. She characterizes Gan, the protagonist, with the purity of having an exact understanding about the relationship of servitude in his family. The connection that links Tlics with Humans is despotic since the conscience of the weak side is not allowed to awaken. This strange tie between them is exposed when Qui, the Gan’s more elderly brother, explains it to him with his own words:
“Actually, they prefer women. You should be around them when they talk among themselves. They say women have more body fat to protect the grubs. But they usually take men to leave the women free to bear their own young.”
The connection that exists between the human body and nature does not go unnoticed. Although the relationship between both of them is symbiotic, an imbalance in power would cause the relationship to be really troublesome. Both are a chain of work in which each one has their function. Throughout the story, human beings have always been above everything they can dominate or have at their service. This natural domination links the problems of “natural” human colonization with the environment (Charvonia, 2016). The human body is now the one that is subjected to an unfair dynamic of procreation. This connection is exposed in the following quote where Gan shows what he really thinks:
“If we’re not your animals, if these are adult things, accept the risk. There is risk, Gatoi, in dealing with a partner.”
Their dynamic relationship is based on a dependence on both species whose only purpose is to survive. The Tlic are in a superior position. Nevertheless, they need the Terrans to perpetuate their specie, and in the same way the Terrans, isolated on their planet, make agreements with them. We can see it when T’Gatoi says: “And your ancestors, feeling from their home world, from the own kind who would have killed or enslaved them – they survived because of us” For describing this negotiation, Butler uses the expression: ‘paying the rent’.
Despite Terrans are the most harmed, since they hardly receive anything of Tlics, it is how they work. This same symbiosis between Tlics and Terran can be found between humans and nature. We observe how over time, the human being has been taking advantage of the fruits that the earth has offered them without giving anything in return. In the manner of larvae need to grow humans because of the warmth of their bodies. Humans have always used the earth’s body for its fertility to get food. This drastic story teaches us the apparent Tlics’ cruelty is only a response to the need for procreation. However, everything depends on the use of it. In this way, Gan is aware of the barbarity that aliens are doing with humans. Therefore, he finally refuses to be the guest of T’Gatoi. The alien human relationship in “Bloodchild” becomes a dystopia about the deterioration of environmental resources and nature itself.
Another work that shows us the different relationships with nature is The Last Man. Mary Shelley raises a world in which the heir to the throne has refused to continue with the monarchy and advocates a republican organization. However, far from the utopia, shortly after the establishment of the Republic, an epidemic appears that finishes eroding the life of all men. She had already stated in Frankenstein that “we are unfashioned creatures, but half made up, if one wiser, better, dearer than ourselves— such a friend ought to be—do not lend his aid to perfectionate our weak and faulty natures.” Throughout the first five chapters of this story, we can appreciate the link between human nature and scientific progress.
The narrator and protagonist of the story is Lionel Verney. He manages not to succumb to the disease. In addition, this character is a representation of the author herself. As the narrative progresses, we discover that Adrian, the most intellectual and democratic character, represents Percy Shelley. And finally, the ambitious and reckless traveller Raymond is the portrait of Byron. Therefore, we realise that we are within the author’s heart in which the intellectuals’ hopes to regenerate are questioned. We can see as the romantic consciousness that nature, even if we live with our backs to it, is always present in a hostile way.
Throughout the first five chapters we are aware that the process experienced by the characters not only develops in one way. If we vary something of the landscape or nature, no matter how small, it will be reflected in important psychic differences between Lionel and Perdita. For this reason, we can deduce human beings are not only the result of the physical environment, though their nature is clearly connected with the environment. Other important factors are temperament or gender influence. Thus, little by little, we realise the interaction of the inner and outer landscape. This connection is crucial and revealing for the interaction of the individual and society.
Being Verney the only survivor, everything he thinks and believes represents humanity. Therefore, from the beginning of the work, we noticed an effect of generalization since he really is the only one who can comment. However, the colonial figure of Great Britain is also presenting. Its appearance shows us the influence it had as a colonial nucleus among the inhabitants that were differentiated from their achievements in the different sectors of this sphere. This situation is related to the emerging principles of the empire. In the same way, this first reflection already makes us see the distinction between individual and subjective perception and the power of the mind. The following lines develop Verney’s mind:
“So true it is, that man’s mind alone was the creator of all that was good or great to man, and that Nature herself was only his first minister.”
This short passage insinuates us the superiority of man over woman. Nature has a feminine gender due to pronoun ‘herself’ and is subordinated to man as we see in the quotation. We can observe how nature is used as a feminized and useful medium for the expression of masculine desires. In other words, the earth has the function of being fertile and generating what is demanded of it. For this purpose, Verney says:
“and subdued to fertility by their labours, the earth’s very centre was fixed for me in that spot, and the rest of her orb was as a fable”
Thus, through Lionel’s point of view, we discover the metaphor about the process and evolution of the human being. Hence, a relationship is drawn cause effect in which human beings are affected and conditioned by the actions of other human beings. Additionally, we find a great parallelism with the decline of nature due to its misuse. The following passage shows the loneliness and insecurity that Lionel experiences with his reflections and words:
“The evil was so wide spreading, so violent and immedicable, that no care, no prevention, could be judged superfluous, which even added a chance to our escape.”
In the same way in which the characters influence the landscape and its ecology, nature exerts a great influence on their lives. In fact, they express their feelings and moods through the environment. We can see it when Lionel’s father influence dissipates little by little, instead of using: “this last calm before the storm to save himself” he focuses on: “his presence dissipated these clouds” , only to find his friend. Furthermore, the description of Lionel’s first encounter with Adrian also shows us this connection “his appearance blew aside, with gentle western breath, my cloudy wrath […] the morning sunbeams tinged with gold his silken hair, and spread light and glory over his beaming countenance.” The vocabulary and the way in which he expresses his interaction have a strong link with the changes in the landscape and in the environment.
The cascade of losses in The Last Man could be translated into a series of compliments to nature, art, beauty, love and friendship. We can see how together with the reflections about nature a great harmony is created in the work, providing hope in opposition to the most unpleasant moments. In the same way, Shelley manages to make us aware of the wonderful things that we have on earth and that we let go unnoticed. This sense of responsibility with nature is what she finally wants to convey to us. By making readers aware of it, she makes the compression of their tragedy easier. We can appreciate how this female author manages to cross the barrier of suffering and restlessness. Shelley wanted to see how the world would destroy through the standpoint of beauty, art and its meaning.
Interestingly, if we consider ecology as a set of relationships that occur between living beings in a particular place, we will see the consequence of these relationships could mean a ‘crisis’ instead of the concept of nature per se (Rajan, 2017). In this way, the uncontrolled situation that occurs both in countries and human relations demonstrates the double meaning of this word. In addition, the novel could also be interpreted as a reaction against Romanticism, both in its literary and political aspects. Under this prism, the plague would be a metaphor of the utopian and revolutionary world which the minds of a small and elitist group shape. This group would finish corroded by the most negative aspects of human nature. Neither lofty ideals nor deep passions manage to save them from their horrible fate. Mary Shelley does not place humanity at the centre of the universe, but questions the idea of having a privileged relationship with nature. Also, we see how she gives more importance to work and group support than to the excessive selfishness which caused that apocalyptic situation.
To conclude, we have been able to appreciate the diverse references to nature and the environment have greatly influenced to characters and their way of being and live. Despite being independent stories and dealing with different issues, we can establish a cause and effect relationship regarding human beings’ treatment towards the environment. Both the Time Traveller and Gan and Lionel represent the awareness of their own acts and their consequences. They experience in the first person what the Earth’s decline would be like, unless they took drastic measures as soon as possible. These works show us, ultimately, that the only solution to save the ecosystem is to raise awareness of the damage that can be done and start to heal it.