Four seconds to midnight: human brevity and ecological longevity in The History of Bees and The Overstory
The loss of biodiversity through a rapidly changing climate means humans can no longer assume their longevity on Earth; a crisis that has prompted a wave of literary imaginings. This thesis will examine two eco-narratives through an ecocritical and narratological framework: Maja Lunde’s The History of Bees (2015) and Richard Powers’ The Overstory (2018), which envision starkly different ethical approaches and corollaries to the question of human response to ecological crisis. My thesis argues that these novels perform crucial cultural work in destabilising myopic perspectives on human and environmental paradigms. Anthropocentrism is a pivotal force shaping humanity’s hierarchical relationship with the environment and thus shaping attitudes towards climate change. Through examining narrative techniques of worldbuilding, focalisation of the human and more-than-human, and temporal movement, my thesis explores how Lunde and Powers repurpose key tenets of the novel form in order to encapsulate human and ecological experiences. Both novels thus demonstrate literature’s capacity to facilitate holistic rather than anthropocentric depictions of nature and of time. Furthermore, the novels operate as instances of literary provocation in a context of climate change, seen in Lunde’s attempts to inspire human and environmental symbiosis and in Powers’ fervent acknowledgement of ecological endurance and human insignificance. In the juxtaposition of two modern novels that address three crucial ecocritical themes, I will expose diverse portrayals of humanity’s relationship with the environment. The comparative analysis of these novels crystallises the value of ecological literature in offering diverse depictions of human relationships with the more-than-human world. My thesis thus critically contributes to ecocritical scholarship by exploring literature’s intervention in climate change discourse through analysing Lunde’s and Powers’ imaginative capacities to pose ethical alternatives to engaging with, and responding to, the urgency of climate change.