Mother Nature can be fickle; is it friend or foe? For some, Nature seemingly works against them until they surrender but for others it is a blissful god who directs their every step. In much of literature, these two competing ideas can be found warring against each other. Are the characters being helped or are they being hindered by the forces of the natural world? This, then, provides interesting content that draws readers in and makes the textual work more interesting, whether in film or written word. In Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”, The Tempest, and the hit TV series Lost the same holds true. In my essay, I will be focusing on how Nature is an aid to humans, providing them with peace, direction, and justice.
Wordsworth presents his idea of Nature providing bliss in “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.” If there is one thing that people often crave the most, its peace and tranquility. As such, Wordsworth in a sense presents the idea that Nature is what can bring peace into a person’s life. The narrator notes that he is visualizing the beauty of the natural world: “for oft, when on my couch I lie/…they flash upon that inward eye/which is the bliss of solitude.” In other words, the narrator is thinking about the beauty of nature while lying down in his couch-it is there where peace, or “bliss of solitude,” comes to him. In fact, he extends upon this idea by stating that “a poet could not but be gay/ in such a jocund company.” When thinking about the “daffodils,” “stars that shine,” and “waves,” the narrator moves from a “vacant or…pensive mood” to a heart filled with “pleasure.” The idea and movement of the narrator’s feelings is clear; he goes from “pensive mood,” even describing that he “wandered lonely as a cloud,” to being filled with pleasure from the “jocund company” which leads him to “dance with the daffodils.” Clearly, he’s gone from lonely to being with company; from depression to dancing.
Just like Wordsworth, Shakespeare adds to the idea of Nature helping humans attain peace in The Tempest. The main character, Prospero, has been usurped from his position as the Duke of Milan. Due to this, he is filled with rage and bitterness; the complete opposite of a peaceful personality. When Prospero recounts the story of how he got to the island to Miranda, he describes his brother, the one who stole his position, as “perfidious” (Shakespeare). In other words, he’s using strong language to describe his brother as untrustworthy and deceitful. Prospero goes on, however, to tell Miranda to “mark his condition, and th’ event; then tell me if this might be a brother” (Shakespeare). The point he is making is clear; Antonio did not act as a brother should, be as an enemy. All of this is quite significant for our present focus because it sets the foundation as to why Prospero is presently not peaceful; he craves justice, and Nature is going to help him attain it. From the very beginning of the play, it is learned that Prospero has been able to manipulate nature to cause “wild waters” (Shakespeare) from coming upon a ship in which Antonio is on, along with others. As a result, the voyagers become stranded on Prospero’s island, which Prospero then uses as a way to regain his former glory by obtaining the trust of the king and making Antonio’s crime known. Although Prospero has power through “magic,” (Shakespeare) he used the physical world in order to accomplish his goals and, in a sense, obtain a certain type of peace through justice.
In a more contemporary text than Shakespeare and Wordsworth, Lost carries on this idea of nature being an aid to humans. Much to the influence of The Tempest, Lost is centered on an island. In fact, the island itself, just like in The Tempest, becomes its own character. After a plane crash (instead of a ship), people are forced onto a mysterious island that seems to have mystical properties to it – eventually, time travel ends up happening, but characters frequently see ghost-like figures of dead people, hear whispers, and some characters feel they are lead to do certain things by the island itself. Interestingly, all of the characters came to the island with some type of baggage; a con-man seeking justice for his murdered parents, a woman running from the police after murdering her step-father, a doctor who is plagued with an alcoholic and demanding father, an Iraqi soldier who was forced into torturing people during the wars, and even a young woman who is pregnant and wanting to give her baby up for adoption. The island, in a sense, becomes the characters place of rebirth; crashing was their baptism into a life of second-chances. All of them, then, are trying to find peace in their lives while on the island. Two very real and interesting examples are with the characters of John Locke and Rose. Before crashing on the island, Locke was a cripple and Rose was a weakening cancer patient. Both, however, experience healings after being on the island.
For John Locke, he not only experiences a miraculous healing of his paralysis, but he begins to actually “hear” from the island. He’s constantly trying to have the island tell him what to do next and even attempts to persuade other people on the island to believe in the power the island holds. In fact, by the time season 4 ends, it appears that Locke has assumed the leadership role over the island and makes his job protecting it from people who would want to come and make the island into another science experiment. More often than not, he clashes with characters like Jack, who is scientific and rational, because he believes in faith-faith in the island. As a result, however, Locke obtains peace in his life because of the island. Whereas he was once a cripple who could never do a “walk-a-bout,” an event where you trek through wilderness with nothing but a backpack and knife, now he is running all over the island attempting to protect it from outsiders. Additionally, Locke also becomes freed from the baggage he held as a result of his father abandoning him, trying to kill him, and even conning him out of donating a kidney! Likewise, Rose is freed from her cancer and is able to continue living on with her beloved husband thanks to the islands power.
From Shakespeare’s time to Wordsworth, and even down to J.J Abrams Lost, the idea of Nature helping humans to obtain peace and justice has been evident. In a very real way, Nature has been a character unto its own right. Good writers have been able to make the most of Nature as a character, adding mystery and intrigue to it such as in Lost and The Tempest. Moreover, they have been able to utilize Nature as a medium for conflict, which is one of the most important aspects of any good story. With that being said, it is often those who try to abuse the environment that ends up deeming it as uncooperative. In contrast, those who have faith in the workings of Nature can be aided by it. It seems, then, that it is a matter of perception to the characters and which side they actually choose to be on. To answer the question as to whether Nature is friend or foe, attention must be paid to the characters internal feelings towards Nature. Regardless of what it the answer may be in a given text, it is evident through the variety of works presented that Nature has helped humans achieve the peace and justice they need to live a happy and meaningful life.
Abrams, J. (Director). (2004). Lost [Motion Picture].
Shakespeare, W. (1999). The Tempest. Dover Publications.
Wordsworth, W. (n.d.). “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”.