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Ecological Themes in Di Brandt’s Poem Zone: Le Détroit Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Sep 11th, 2019

People’s interaction with nature is one of the themes that play an important role in the poetry of Di Brandt. This topic occupies a central place in her poem Zone: Le Détroit which shows that contemporary society is hostile to environment as well as individuals who often feel very insecure.

This paper will discuss the way in which the author uses various images in order to highlight the dangerous impact of human activities on environment and on their own lives.

Her poem will be analyzed from an eco-critical perspective because this approach can better explain the ideas that Di Brandt tries to express. One can identify several things that the writer emphasizes, namely the separation of nature and civilization and people’s attempt to domesticate nature and make it more manageable.

Di Brandt succeeds in showing that such behavior is self-destructive. Zone: Le Détroit is an excellent example of a literary work in which environmental problems occupy the central place.

Overall, Di Brandt strives to create a very ominous image of the modern world, especially cities in which people do not usually feel very comfortable. She opens her poem with the following lines:

“Breathing yellow air
here, at the heart of the dream
of the new world” (Brandt unpaged)

In this way, the author strives to highlight the paradoxical aspects of North America. On the one hand, the idea of new world refers to the aspirations of many people who believed that one could create a better community in North America.

Yet, the ominous description of contemporary urban environment, and especially the image of yellow air suggests that this new world is by no means a perfect society in which people live in harmony with nature.

So, the opening lines are supposed to tell that the poem describes a highly industrialized society in which technologies play the part in the daily lives of people.

In Zone: Le Détroit Di Brandt focuses on the experiences of urban residents because these people mostly live in a human-centered environment in which the presence of nature is very limited.

The author attempts to create a description of an archetypal city where people tend to be more alienated from one another.

One of the issues that Di Brandt explores is the attempts to subjugate nature and make it completely subservient to the needs of the society. This is why Di Brandt uses a very interesting metaphor in order to describe these attempts; in particular, she writes about “wheat, overlaid with glass and steel” (Brandt, unpaged).

This metaphor is supposed to symbolize the subservient role of nature for modern societies. The author shows how people try to impose their dominance of environment and their physical space becomes human-centric. Nonetheless, Di Brandt compares a modern city to a living organism; this is why she mentioned “the arteries of the potholed city” (Di Brandt unpaged).

This imagery indicates that people cannot completely subjugate nature and make it completely human-oriented. Overall, in this way the author strives to demonstrate that contemporary societies are in conflict with nature and this conflict only harms people.

This is one of their major problems that modern communities face. A literary scholar and critic Jared Schickling argues that physical environment has become extremely “human-centered” (Schickling 81). More importantly, many writers tend to separate the city or urban environment with nature. (Schickling 83).

In her turn, Di Brandt strives to show that such a distinction only marginalizes nature and deteriorates the quality of people’s lives because there are practically no places for them where they can feel at peace.

Therefore, this poem can be of great interest to literary scholars who prefer an eco-perspective when analyzing poetry or prose because Di Brandt shows that separation of nature and culture and carefully describes its influence on people’s daily experiences. In the majority of cases, this influence is by no means beneficial.

Apart from that Di Brandt points out that people attempt to construct their own conception of nature which is very orderly and domesticated. For instance, she mentions that people want to make their “lawns free and dandelion free” (Di Brandt unpaged).

In other words, they want nature to meet the standards that they set. The author’s attitude toward these attempts is slightly ironic because nature often resists such domestication.

Moreover, in the author’s view, such actions can produce only detrimental results on the health of people; in particular she mentions the use of such chemicals as creosote which can lead to various diseases (Di Brandt unpaged).

So, this manipulation of physical environment can be self-destructive. Di Brandt explores people’s interactions with nature in Zone: Le Détroit. Furthermore, one can say that eco-criticism is perfectly suitable for the critical analysis of this poem.

It should be noted that this author speaks about the coexistence of nature and civilization, but she does not think that this coexistence is peaceful. Judging from Di Brandt description, one can argue that nature is usually marginalized in modern cities and its role is reduced the minimum.

In most cases, the landscape is dominated by roads and skyscrapers. One can look at the following quote which demonstrates how Di Brandt views modern cities:

“This glorious tree splendor,
splayed out for sheer pleasure
over asphalt and concrete
ribbons of dark desire driving us madly toward death” (Brandt unpaged).

On the whole, Di Brandt adopts a very pessimistic attitude toward contemporary cities. Certainly, the writer admits that some elements of nature are incorporated in a modern urban environment. Nevertheless, the landscape is dominated by artificial constructions.

Again, one has to say that Di Brandt creates a very ominous picture of a modern city in which people do not pay much attention to each other’s needs. In the author’s opinion, the separation of nature and culture eventually results in the alienation of people from one another.

One can also notice the way in which the writer describes nature and urban landscape. Wilderness is described as something glorious and splendid; nature is the thing that deserves admiration. In turn, Di Brandt associate cities with darkness, danger, and speed (Brandt unpaged).

This contrast between nature and urban landscape is of great importance to Di Brandt who wants to emphasize that people cannot and should not separate themselves from environment.

In her poem Di Brandt pays attention to the insecurity experienced by many people, especially those ones who live in urban areas. The opening lines of the poem suggest that urban areas are overcrowded and their bodies are “crushed” and that cars dominate the urban landscape (Di Brandt unpaged).

So, one can say that many modern cities are not comfortable for all of their residents. Later the author describes people’s insecurity or even paranoia, namely she asks the reader, “you know they’re staging those big highway accidents to increase the number of organ donors?” (Di Brandt unpaged).

Certainly, one cannot say that the author shares such beliefs; more likely, she is willing to describe the experiences of many people who often feel lonely and weak. Thus, Di Brandt’s poem is aimed at showing that contemporary societies often appear very hostile or dangerous to an individual.

So, one has to understand the underlying cause of this fear. It is possible to identify several reasons, and one of them is the almost complete exclusion of nature from urban landscape.

Additionally, this poem demonstrates that many urban residents may be dissatisfied with the quality of their lives. They want to find a place in which nature bears no print of human activities. This aspiration is expressed in the following lines,

“So there I am, sniffing around
the railroad tracks
in my usual quest for a bit of wilderness” (Di Brandt unpaged)

Di Brandt emphasizes the idea that nature should not be viewed only as physical environment of an individual. It is also essential for the emotional wellbeing of a person.

Thus, the author urges readers to reevaluate their attitude toward the environment because the separation of nature and culture is one of the reasons why many people feel discontent.

Overall, the separation of nature and civilization is a very important topic from Di Brandt and she views it as one of the main problems for contemporary society. One can illustrate this point with the following quotes, “our feet never leaving the car” (Brandt unpaged).

In other words, a great number of people do not want to pause and look at nature or think about it. This can be a source of their discontent.

So, one of the messages that Di Brandt wants to convey is that individuals should not forget about the existence of wild nature because without it their lives may not be very fulfilling. This is one of the points that Di Brandt strives to make in her poem.

Many critics believe that more attention should be paid to the role that nature plays in literary works. For instance, Serpil Oppermann believes that the dichotomy or the division of nature and culture can be seen in many novels or short stories even if the authors did not want attract the readers’ attention to this issue (244).

In contrast, ecological issues are the central themes of Di Brandt’s poem. In a very subtle way, the writer urges readers to reconsider their attitudes toward wild nature and its importance for them.

On the whole, Di Brandt’s poem Zone: Le Détroit shows that such a theme as ecology can be skillfully incorporated in a literary work. The author emphasizes the idea that people attempt to dominate nature or construct their own version of physical environment.

The writer also shows that contemporary cities are not places where people can comfortable or at least secure. This poem urges people to look more closely at their relations with nature since in this way they can greatly improve the quality of their lives. Overall, Zone: Le Détroit throws a new light on the conflict between civilization and nature.

Works Cited

Brandt Di. . 2003. Web.

Oppermann, Serpil. “Seeking Environmental Awareness In Postmodern Fictions.” Critique 49.3 (2008): 243-253. Print.

Schickling, Jared. “Ecocriticism, Ecopoetics, Legibility: Among Other Things, The Objectively Signified.” Literary Imagination 13.1 (2011): 80-88. Print.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Ecological Themes in Di Brandt’s Poem Zone: Le Détroit." September 11, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/ecological-themes-in-di-brandts-poem-zone-le-detroit/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Ecological Themes in Di Brandt’s Poem Zone: Le Détroit'. 11 September.

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