Postcolonial Resistance and Ecofeminism in the Latin American Jungle Novel

Madalina Stefan (Junior Fellow 2021-22)

Global Convivial Forum 

The narratives of the ‘novela de la selva deconstruct and subvert the colonial discourse by portraying nature as a moment of postcolonial resistance that opposes the white male master model

Colonial processes have usually been intrinsically linked to the exploitation of natural resources. and terms such as Decolonization and the Anthropocene have become keywords in the context of late postmodernity, foregrounding that ways of narrating nature are gaining increasing importance as nowadays threatening scenarios of natural disaster and social injustice overshadow our completely medialized realties.

Against this backdrop, it seems worthwhile  to reach out and see look at how nature narratives have been used in a productive manner, this is to say, as an empowering moment of postcolonial resistance that denounces the exploitation of nature and indigenous people.

In this sense the research project aims to focus on an particularly fit literary moment that is famous for its entanglement of postcoloniality and nature writing, namely the Spanish American jungle novel (novela de la selva), which turned to the rainforest and the indigenous communities and emerged between 1924 and 1953.

It is crucial to understand that since the discovery of America, the representation of the New World’s nature has played an important role in the process of colonization. and that nature discourses are at the heart of the debate on Latin American identity: from Colombus’ diaries to Humboldt’s romanticizing views, the European imaginaries of the New World were linked to nature and the exotic.

Nevertheless, with Latin American literary modernity, a change in the representation of American nature takes place. Characterized by the search for an American identity of its own, the Latin American literature of the first half of the 20th century marks a significant turning point, and, indeed, unlike colonial utopian narratives that mask the exploitation of nature and colonial violence by idealizing pristine landscapes of a lost terrestrial paradise that are in need of European male management, the narratives of the novela de la selva deconstruct and subvert the colonial discourse by portraying nature as a moment of postcolonial resistance that opposes the white male master model. Thus, these narratives present their own perspective, denounce the inequality of colonial conviviality and describe the jungle as a space of power struggle and exploitation of nature, indigenous peoples, and women.

In this sense, it has to be pointed out that besides focusing on human and non-human nature, the project aims to cover an often-overlooked perspective. Thus it is outstanding that the conviviality between colonizers, indigenous people, rubber workers, farmers, slaves, traders and explorers, on the one hand, side and flowers, trees, bushes, omnivorous ants, leeches, hippopotami etc., on the other, is not only depicted as marked by unequal power relations and colonial hierarchies but foremost as traversed by gender issues.

Given the striking female characters and the gendered representation of the rainforest, the research project proposes an ecofeminist reading that highlights how the hyper-separation between culture and nature is accompanied by the separation between male and female and how the exploitation and oppression of nature go hand in hand with the oppression of women. Since gender plays a crucial role in the novels but has not been studied in relation to colonial nature discourse so far, this approach promises new insights and perspectives in the context of Latin American Ecocriticism.