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LIT 6394: Literature of Place: Florida

Class 9: Water and Plants

Reading Assignment:

    Orleans, The Orchid Thief
    Garrard's Ecocriticism finish
    Selections from Unspoiled see course docs
    Eleanor J. Bader, "Thinking Green: Writing the Advocacy Essay" from The Alphabet of the Trees see course docs.
    Post #8

Class Objectives:

    Discuss Orchid Thief as a construction of place, an ecocritical text, as creative non-fiction
    Discussion of ecocriticism and the tropes of apocalypse, dwelling, animals, and further directions
    Student led discussion of Orchid Thief: Grace Veach
    Student led discussion of environmental writing and representations of Florida in Unspoiled: Mary Jo Malone

Notes and Discussion Questions:

This week we begin our third section of the course, on Water and Plants. Thus our focus shifts emphasis, while we will continue to pursue our courses goals in place, ecocriticism and the representations of Florida.

Our main focus this week will be Susan Orleans' creative non-fiction The Orchid Thief. The other writings might be clustered around the idea of representing nature or nature writing. In particular, we are interested in the swamp, but we are also interested in the ways in which humans interact with the environment of Florida vis-a-vis their obsession with orchids.

I am interested in Orleans' perspective as a New Yorker- outsider. How, if at all, does this affect her representation of Florida. How do each of you respond to this perspective given your respective positions as insider, transplant, visitor?

Evaluate Orleans' representation of nature. How does it compare to the nature writing of, say, Bartram or Rawlings? How does it compare with the more contemporary writers in Wildheart or Unspoiled?

As with all of the long works, please map this narrative. What places are represented? This is one of the few texts we will read that focuses on South and Southwest Florida. What strikes you as unique to this place?

The book is avowedly about obsession. Consider the theme and its many manifestations in the book. What does the book say, if anything, about Florida and obsession?

Do some research on orchids -- visit the website for Selby Gardens in Sarasota, or better, visit the gardens and see the orchids and bromeliads in person. What about orchids generates such passion? How do you reconcile the beauty of the orchid in the context of a swamp?

Do some digging on reception of the book. How was it received? The book was also adapted into a fascinating movie called Adaptation which in fact is only tangentially about the book. If you have seen it, comment on the relationship between the book and the movie.

Despite Orleans' outsider status, the book has many significant insights into Florida culture. For example, on page 9 she writes:

    The wild part of Florida is really wild. The tame part is really tame. Both, though, are always in flux: The developed places are just little clearings in the jungle, but since jungle is unstoppably fertile, it tries to reclaim a piece of developed Florida every day. At the same time the wilderness disappears before your eyes: fifty acres of Everglades dry up each day, new houses sprout on sand dunes, every year a welt of new highways rises. Nothing seems hard or permanent; everything is always changing or washing away. Transition and mutation merge into each other, a fusion of wetness and dryness, unruliness and orderliness, nature and artifice.
Evaluate this idea as a theme of Florida literature.

Can you do an ecocritical reading of The Orchid Thief? If so, which of our models or motifs might be most relevant?

The book is in many ways a character study of John Laroche. To your mind, is this a story more about Laroche or about South Florida? Can we separate the two?

Much of the story involves the legal status of Seminole or native tribal rituals. Analyze the figure of the Native American in the text, in the conflict, in light of our reading of the "Ecological Indian" in Garrard.

What aspects of the text strain credulity? Given our discussions of "authenticity" and "referentiality" what strikes you as characteristic of her mode in this long work? Can she make you believe? If so, how? If not, why not?

Of the three tropes in the readings from Garrard for this week, which might apply best: apocalypse, dwelling, or animals?

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