Title page for ETD etd-05062010-143500

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Gibbs, Jared Andrew
URN etd-05062010-143500
Title "The Length of Our Vision": Thoreau, Berry, and Sustainability
Degree Master of Arts
Department English
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Salaita, Steven G. Committee Chair
Graham, Peter Committee Member
Siegle, Robert B. Committee Member
  • Agriculture
  • Abstraction
  • Sustainability
  • Economy
  • Progress
Date of Defense 2010-04-22
Availability unrestricted
The past several years have seen increased awareness of environmental degradation,

climate change, and energy concerns—and with good reason; addressing the problem of sustainability is vital if American culture is to both persist and thrive. Because this issue affects all aspects of our lives, it can easily seem overwhelming, encouraging the belief that solutions to these problems lie beyond the scope of individual action. This study seeks to identify legitimate personal responses one can make to issues of sustainability.

I approach this subject with an eye toward answering a simple series of questions: Where

are we?; How did we get here?; Where are we going?; Is that where we want to go? I briefly

investigate the history of the idea of progress, focusing especially on our culture’s fascination

with and embrace of technological progress. Following this investigation, I examine two works

that offer critiques of progress: Thoreau’s classic text, Walden, and Wendell Berry’s, The

Unsettling of America. These texts are chosen for a few reasons. First, a clear tradition of

critical inquiry can be traced from Thoreau to Berry. Second, the historical distance between

these authors makes a comparison of their work particularly illuminating. Though they are

citizens of the same country, speak the same language, and ask similar questions, each author

writes in response to different worlds—Thoreau’s just beginning to embrace industrial capitalism

and technological progress, and Berry’s very much the product of that embrace. Most importantly, however, both authors focus on individual action and responsibility.

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