A critical examination of the ‘agricultural trap’ in literature

For thousands of years, agriculture and civilization were essentially synonymous. The superiority of farming over the unsettled, itinerant life of hunting and gathering appeared, to many, self-evident. Only recently has the field of anthropology challenged this assumption by positing that foragers were, and are, actually happier and healthier than people living in agro-cultures. Plowswords is the first work to consider the refiguring of the agricultural revolution into the agricultural trap through a literary lens. Reading texts that depict farmers in conflict with foragers, Cates Baldridge argues that agricultural ideology justified the tedium and toil of farming by enlisting a rhetorical foil: the “savage” and “backward” hunter-gatherer. Texts such as The Tempest, Robinson Crusoe, Frankenstein, Wuthering Heights, Heart of Darkness, and the novels of J. M. Coetzee use this figure either to exalt farming’s triumph over foraging or to mourn the consequences of the agricultural turn, anxiously championing or stridently challenging the received wisdom of humanity’s supposed progress.
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