Surprise! I’m going to talk about nature and apply a little bit of ecofeminism.
While reading Buchi Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen, a specific passage stood out to me about Adah’s relationship to Mother Nature:
She wished the Presence was still with her to give her a clue but it seemed to have deserted her when she landed in England. Was the Presence her instinct? It had been very active in Nigeria. Was that because in Nigeria she was nearer to Mother Nature? She only wished somebody would tell her where she had gone wrong. (55)
There are a quite a few interesting things going on in this passage.
Thinking back to our discussion about “what is civilization” and “what it means to be civilized” in class on Thursday, I think it is very significant that Adah’s “Presence” leaves her upon her arrival to England. If Adah’s Presence is indeed her instinct, the idea of civilization and the departure of instinct is really interesting. A quick Google definition of “instinct” says “an innate, typically fixed pattern of behavior in animals in response to certain stimuli.” Thus, instinct is associated with the animal kingdom rather than humanity. This could then imply that Adah has animalistic qualities/instincts that are not common among the “civilized” person. However, once Adah arrives in England, her instinct leaves her because she enters a civilized sphere in which her instinct is looked down upon. I think this is especially interesting because Adah is a women and the men in the novel are never described as having instincts (they are only described with physical animalistic qualities). Women are often associated with emotions and instinct. This might be a stretch, but perhaps this could mean that civilization or being civilized takes away from a woman’s identity as a woman. If a woman is stripped of her instinct and nature, she is no longer a complete version of herself.
Could this mean that the more “civilized” a person becomes, the further the person gets away from their natural instincts? It seems as though civilization makes instinct an unacceptable characteristic. Since civilization implies education, command of language, common law,etc., it appears as though instinct would not be considered an important part of such civilization. In order to be civilized, a person must be able to participate in society by abiding by the rules and maintaining socially acceptable behavior. This problematizes instinct because instinct is natural inclinations to behave in specific ways.
This reading of civilization and instinct supports the idea of England being civilized and Nigeria being uncivilized. If Nigeria is the place where Adah feels most comfortable being her whole self (instinct and all), than this implies that Nigeria is uncivilized. The use of Mother Nature in this passage is interesting because she can be present in one place and absent in another. Typically, Mother Nature is used as a general term to refer to nature and natural elements, which can be found everywhere. However, Mother Nature’s absence in England could imply there is nothing natural about England–perhaps because of industrialization and the “civilized” elements present in the novel.
The last sentence in this passage indicates that there is a problem with leaving Mother Nature. Adah wishes someone “would tell her where she had gone wrong.” It is interesting that she wishes someone, no specific person, would tell her what was wrong. Perhaps, the “someone” she is referring to is her Presence or Mother Nature. However, since both of these entities have left her upon her arrival into civilization, they cannot communicate to her that it was actually wrong to leave Nigeria and distance herself from her nature.
Overall, I think Adah has a connection to nature that becomes conflicted when she is required to act outside of her nature as second class citizen and as a woman being oppressed. Speaking of oppression, I think her instinct leaving her in England may also have to do with the fact that Francis obtains a more oppressive control over her in England. Not only does Adah feel disconnected from her nature, but Francis feels more controlling in civilization. As I said previously, women are more connected to nature because they act on emotions and instinct. In addition, men are closer to “civilization” because they are closer to “logic” and “rationality” (I’m not saying I necessarily agree with these things–men can be pretty silly and impulsive–but these are common conceptions among ecofeminist scholarship). Thus, because Adah is away from her natural environment and Francis is thriving in his new environment, he oppresses Adah through emotional and physical abuse. These are things that he would not have attempted to do in Nigeria because in Nigeria (being closer to Mother Nature) Adah had a “home field advantage.” By oppressing Adah, Francis is also oppressing Mother Nature because Adah is representative of nature.
Though there are many “brands” of ecofeminism, here is a cool video that presents many fundamental aspects of ecofeminism well: