What is Ecocriticism and its importance in literature

Ecocriticism is the study of the relationship between literature and the physical environment. The first person to use the term appears to have been William Rueckert in 1978. His main purpose in doing so was to suggest that ecological terms and concepts can usefully be applied to the study of literature. This, however, is not the dominant meaning of the term. It tends to be interpreted more loosely as a general term for the study of the relationship between literature and the natural environment.

Although several critics have considered the importance of the environment in the literature (e.g. Leo Marx and Raymond Williams), it was not until the late 1980s and early 1990s that it became a recognizable sub-branch of literary and cultural studies. One explanation for this may be that it was not until then that the environment itself became of broad and perhaps even urgent concern for many people.

Ecocriticism defines itself as a practice of reading literature from an earth-centered (rather than human-centered) perspective. There is also an activist dimension to ecocriticism: at least part of the reason ecocritics want to discuss the centrality of nature in literature is to raise awareness more generally about the need for concern and indeed action concerning the environment. Unsurprisingly, many ecocritics are also active in the environmental justice movement, whose interest is the uneven and generally inequitable distribution of the burden of environmental degradation e.g-poorer countries tend to be more polluted than richer countries).

Key Points:

  • In Ecocriticism Nature is the center, not the man
  • It is the study of literature and physical environment
  • It is an earth-centered approach to the literary study
  • Ecologically man is the ultimate villain
  • Eco criticism says that we all are equal.
  • The main purpose is to protect the earth


  • James Thomson’s The Seasons
  • Henry David Thoreau’s Walden
  • Gilbert White’s Natural History and Antiques of Selborne

Some books that were important in the founding and development of ecocriticism are:

  • Roderick Frazier Nash’s Wilderness and the American Mind
  • John Elder’s Imagining the Earth: Poetry and the Vision of Nature
  • Lawrence Buell’s The Environmental Imagination
  • Thoreau’s Nature Writing, and the Formation of American Culture