Ecology and Epiphany in Short Fiction by Zadie Smith and Joyce Carol Oates
Keywords:Cli-fi, Epiphany, Denial, Short Fiction
This essay investigates ecological epiphany in short stories by Zadie Smith and Joyce Carol Oates, moments in which characters confront the link between their own consumption habits and planetary damage. These moments build on a longer literary history of epiphany in modern fiction, a history that foregrounds suddenness, physicality, and the mundane, but these short stories also adapt epiphany to address prominent concerns about anthropogenic climate change in the twenty-first century. Through close readings of Smith’s “The Dialectic” (2019), Smith’s “The Lazy River” (2017), and Oates’s “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” (2019), I show how these stories’ ecological epiphanies invite the reader to emotionally confront the urgency of the climate crisis and to take action. While important arguments by Amitav Ghosh and Rob Nixon argue that literature must make planetary crisis visible, Smith’s and Oates’s short stories suggest that some contemporary writers now face a different issue, not a need to heighten the visibility of the damage, but rather a need to psychologically confront its terrible obviousness.
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Copyright (c) 2022 Barbara Barrow
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