Encounters with the Wilderness: Unsettling Perspective in Margaret Atwood’s The Journals of Susanna Moodie

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Hope JenningsWright State University
Vol. 38, No. 1 (Spring 2019), 131-152

This article expands the scope of Margaret Atwood’s engagement with posthumanism and apocalyptic narrative beyond her recent speculative fictions by revisiting one of her first texts, The Journals of Susanna Moodie (1970). Atwood’s work is situated within contemporary debates surrounding the Anthropocene to emphasize how her ecocritical stance is aligned with feminist new materialist critiques of imperialist viewpoints that have determined white settler relations with the environment, indigenous peoples, and nonhuman others. Reading The Journals of Susanna Moodie within this critical framework deepens understanding of Atwood’s ongoing commitment to decolonizing settler perspectives. Focused primarily on Susanna’s ruptured sense of identity in her encounters with the “wilderness,” this paper argues that Atwood’s text engages the politics of seeing and subjectivity to expose not only how settler perspectives and practices have led to ecological devastation but also how the settlement of wilderness spaces often unsettles white settler bodies and identities. By contesting human exceptionalism and asserting the complex, material, and intersubjective relations between humans, nonhumans, and their shared environments, Atwood’s earlier writing is an exemplary precursor to and illustration of the current turn in feminist philosophies toward posthuman ontologies and new materialisms.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]