When we think of nature we think of green beneath our feet, trees enclosing us, lakes mirroring our looks, the smell of flowers in a garden, rain splashing around our jackets, wind swirling around our figures, the sun smiling at us, birds flying around singing, animals dancing in the forest and sea, and much more in between. But, in the novel Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, nature is not simply nature. The author takes gigantic, broad, nature and conforms it into one thought provoking philosophy. Nature’s existence is battling head-on against humanity. In the book, a constant idea is the idea of the continuity of nature and the death of humanity. Nature is forever, it has a permanent existence on Earth. Humanity on the other hand, has a temporary existence. Humans eventually die, but nature is always here.
I picked up on this philosophy in the beginning of the book. Every time there is a tragedy, or death, she goes on a pedantic, imagery-filled, rant about nature. This theme exists throughout the whole book, beginning with the first chapter. In the first chapter, there’s a part where she discusses a Catholic lady that lives in San Francisco who would go out and pray everyday, and her parrot would be right there with her. But, after some time, the woman got sick and stopped coming out to pray. Or, she just stopped praying. However, the bird still went out and prayed though, without his owner. This passage made me think, maybe Robinson is hinting at the continuous innocence of nature, and the eventual corruption of humanity. Nature would be continuously innocent because of the idea that the bird still went out for prayer without its owner shows purity and obedience. Humanity could be eventually corrupted because she started out praying and something stops her from practicing her religion, tainting her purity. This was a thought I possessed, but because it said she gets sick, I assume she died. For her to talk about a woman who prays with her bird, and the bird continuing to go pray until after his owner dies shows distinctions between human beings and nature.
Humans have a life cycle. You are in your mother’s womb for typically nine months, then you are pushed out and officially a member of the world. Then you live a few years as a baby learning how to talk, walk, and function as a human being. Next, you are a child and you are going to school and growing physically, emotionally, and socially. Then you are a teen finding yourself, going to school, experiencing life, having fun, and possibly working. Your longest phase of your cycle is adulthood where you work, have children, get married, pay bills, and try to live. Eventually you become an elder where you simply try to live and have as many more years as you can. Then, you die.
You spend your entire life in your body, with your identity then it is gone. Nature doesn’t work quite the same. Flowers are flowers. Trees are trees. Mountains are mountains. Lakes are lakes. There will always be flowers, trees, mountains, and lakes. But you, there will never be another you. Which is what Robinson is saying, how the individual is wiped away unlike nature, which will live on Earth for eternity. The average life span of a human is around seventy years. But, nature has lived forever, even before human life was created. Nature has been around forever. The oceans contain traces of the Titanic crash of 1912, and the soil contains traces of life from many centuries ago.
In the end, readers gain insight on the author’s motive with this novel. It is incredibly philosophical. Death reeks throughout the entire novel, but nature also exists throughout the novel. Nature is everywhere, in the beginning and in the end. The grandfather died, the mother committed suicide, the grandmother dies… But, the lake is still there. Something so tainted and so full of tragedy still exists after everything. The body of water will forever be there, because nature does not die. Yes, humanity may continue also but we all only have one personal identity. Once we meet death, our existence is forgotten. Our print on Earth is erased, and all that remains of us is the nature we occupied that possesses our last breath.