Essays by Keegan and Williams offer retrospectives regarding the natural environments and their respective inhabitants as well as human perceptions of them. Although both are subjective personal essays, the authors take significantly different approaches and have different purposes of presenting their arguments. This paper seeks to contrast the content and forms of essays.
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Personally, I find Williams is a provocateur who uses extremes as the only explanation for her position. She says that people use the natural world “as a backdrop for our own human dramas and catastrophes” (Williams). Williams demonstrates strong opposition to almost all the activities of humans. She describes such behavior as “we are stopped cold, our spirits suspended, controlled, controlled sensation” (Williams). Instead of paying attention to emotions, compassion, and respect for the world around them, people want to focus on power, control, and using every resource for gaining personal benefit and success. However, there are many nature preserves that are legally protected, as well as official documents with Red Lists where threatened species are identified and protected. Society takes care of nature and promotes certain values to recognize its beauty and importance.
In Keegan’s essay “Why We Care about Whales,” she depicts a world that is eager to view wilderness as an inheritance of essences, which contrasts with the point illustrated by Williams that people view it as nothing more than entertainment, model, and background to human dramas. Keegan describes the unfortunate instance when she witnessed whales being thrown out and stuck on beaches as perhaps a consequence of human-caused environmental change. As communal creatures, whales come to each other’s aid, leading to several of them being in the inescapable position of a slow death due to dehydration. However, these events uncharacteristically inspire response from the human community, which throws its resources, ranging from volunteers to professional rescuers such as the Coast Guard, to attempt to save the whales. She notes how residents formed queues to keep the whales hydrated by pouring buckets of water and placing wet towels on them. She describes “the energy was nervous, confused and palpably urgent” (Keegan).
It demonstrates deep care, sympathy, and a general concern for the natural world, particularly from regular people who often choose to let the professionals take care of catastrophic events. This directly contrasts with the sentiment that Williams portrays as the natural world being something rather distant and unrelatable. Perhaps, from a perspective of a museum and its workers that must see these creatures as nothing more than a display of entertainment, Williams describes these feelings as “my mind becomes wild in the presence of creation” (Williams). It can be argued that it is both a matter of location, perception, and upbringing. As Keegan recalled the observations of the dying whales, she felt sentiment and sadness, imagining what it would feel like to be in this position from a human side. She describes, “I imagined dying slowly next to my mother or a lover, helplessly unable to relay my parting message” (Keegan). Drawing these parallels is inherently a symbol of both humanization and sincere sympathy that Williams seems to be unable to relate to through any means.
However, Keegan notes that “people are strange about animals,” referring to how thousands of dollars in resources and manpower are diverted to save dying whales on a beach while other species, potentially more endangered, are fished and consumed for food (Keegan). Perhaps, this can be referred to as William’s argument of seeing wild animals as nothing more than museum installations. As she anecdotally reflects o how children are brought to the museum of natural history to view a gigantic model of a whale; after all, nobody would put small everyday fishes on display (Williams). This leads to some similarities in the author’s arguments as Keegan notes that whales are the subject of legends, and their importance is based on a number of such things as, for example, intelligence. Communal understanding does not apply to fish being caught in nets for food nor to other humans ironically, but rather to such animals as whales simply because there is “less risk… less fear of failure” (Keegan). This may be the ironic philosophical paradox in this instance that while humanity has become so distanced through the natural world, the self-centered aspect of existence prevents people from caring about anything to which they cannot relate.
Keegan, Marina. “Keegan: Why We Care About Whales.” Yale News. 2009, Web.
Williams, Terry T. “A Shark in the Mind of One Contemplating Wilderness.” The Nation. 1999, Web.