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 Keywords
Date of Defense 2010-04-22 Availability unrestricted AbstractThe 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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