Courses of Empire: Ecological Apocalypse in Early American Literature
Echoing their European roots, the writings of early American writers hold a strongly anthropocentric viewpoint, but by the early national era, they begin to reflect modern science and challenge long held conceptions about the centrality of humans in the cosmos. I begin the chapter with an overview of work by American Indians, the essence of which challenges European anthropocentrism. The poetry of William Cullen Bryant and paintings of Thomas Cole Americanize European ideas about fallen civilizations and ruins, and, though fully romantic, decenter humanity as the end of the universe. Transcendentalists such as Emerson and Thoreau, echoing Wordsworth and other European romantics, elevate humans as divine, but their views are far from anthropocentric. Writers such as Hawthorne and Melville operate more skeptically and metaphysically in problematizing anthropocentrism.