From Pastoral Gardens to Weatherworn Wastelands - On the Tracks of Nature in Beasts of the Southern Wild

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From an American Studies perspective, this thesis explores how Benh Zeitlin’s independent film Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) constructs discourses surrounding nature and in what way these discourses are linked to specific ideological beliefs and convictions. With the help of Norman Fairclough’s Critical Discourse Analysis, the three chapters dive into American pastoralism and American environmentalism as key discourses that can be extracted from the filmic text. The first chapter focuses on the romanticized natural landscape created in the film, interpreting the characters’ beloved village ‘Bathtub’ as a visual representation of the myth of the garden which is so central in American pastoralism. Moving from the movie’s setting to its characters, the second chapter scrutinizes one of the main characters (Wink) who embodies the pastoral yeoman farmer figure that was historically praised as a national American symbol. Finally, the third chapter foregrounds the American environmental discourse, focusing on questions of race as well as the greater sociocultural meaning of the devastating hurricane that is at the center of attention in Beasts of the Southern Wild. Collectively, all chapters conclude that BSW creates an image of nature that intends to raise environmental awareness and which needs to be understood as a commentary on American society that is constantly evolving throughout the progression of the film.
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