Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Degree Granting Department
Laura Runge, Ph.D.
Gurleen Grewal, Ph.D.
Cynthia Patterson, Ph.D.
John Henry Fleming, Ph.D.
animal studies, ecocriticism, Everglades, literature of place, wilderness
Place theory examines the relationship between human identity and physical locations, asking how meaningful attachments are formed between people and the spots they visit or in which they live. Literature of place exhibits this relationship and the myriad ways humans connect to their environment through storytelling, both fictional and nonfictional. Florida literature, an emerging and dynamic genre, features characters, cultures, and histories heavily embedded in place. Florida’s places also abound with animal presences, and literature about Florida almost always illustrates significant human-animal interactions that drive plots and character development. Therefore, Florida literature invites consideration of how animals influence human attachment to the land in stories written by Florida authors. Scholarly attention has noted the important relationships formed by humans and animals in literature about Florida, but no extensive study incorporating place theory, ecocriticism, and close reading has been done on the literary representation of Florida animals or their contribution to the state’s diverse reputations.
This dissertation brings together theories about place attachment, ecocriticism, and critical animal studies (CAS) to illustrate the roles of fictional and nonfictional animals in works by six Florida authors: William Bartram, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Elizabeth Bishop, Rachel Carson, and John Henry Fleming. These works contain prominent animal characters that illuminate four ways of seeing Florida: idyllic Florida, wild Florida, opportunistic Florida, and mysterious Florida. These identities build off historical views about Florida as place: explorers, tourists, and developers projected their hopes for advancement onto the state based on its reputation as an exotic paradise, wild hinterland, or untouched beacon for industry and agriculture. Literature helped to produce these ideas about Florida through travel writing, but Florida stories also critique opportunistic ideologies responsible for harming animals and the environment. Literature can also preserve Florida’s mysteries and myths, offering narratives about nature and animals that challenge notions of human superiority. Thus, literature enacts a dynamic engagement with the four faces of Florida I discuss.
Florida animals are vital to the construction of these four identities. For example, Henry Bunk, the protagonist of Douglas’s Alligator Crossings, sees the Everglades as an idyllic alternative to the city for its many birds and fish. Rawlings depicts Cross Creek as a wild host to deadly snakes, predatory big cats, and ubiquitous insects. Bishop captures through poetry the ordinary activity of Florida fishing in such a way that invites us to question the harm inflicted on animals for the opportunity of recreation. Fleming’s stories suggest that exploration, industry, and science have mostly erased the mysteries of Florida’s natural world, but his enigmatic and monstrous animals, along with their ties to the land, offer hope for reviving a meaningful attachment to the land.
This dissertation connects literary representations of animals to real forms of violence occurring in Florida today, including fishing, caged hunting, and animal captivity. The works examined herein can prompt readers to rethink their own relationships to place and to nonhuman nature. As a cultural force, literature holds the potential for effecting change in our world. Beginning with the local is one way of witnessing this potential for the dynamic interplay between literature and place.
Scholar Commons Citation
Alcorn, Haili A., "Beauty and the Beasts: Making Places with Literary Animals of Florida" (2018). Graduate Theses and Dissertations.