Jurassic park tells a story of a company named InGen, which is the brainchild of millionaire eccentric James Hammond. InGen is trying to recreate extinct life (dinosaurs and various other forms of prehistoric life) on an island called Isla Nebular. InGen geneticist extract dinosaur DNA from blood, encased within the bodies of ancient bugs and mosquitos trapped in amber millions of years ago. These geneticists take that DNA and use it to create dinosaurs with which they populate a “nature reserve”, called Jurassic Park. As the novel progress however, these achievements turn sour. The created nature rebels, and ultimately overthrows InGen’s hold on the island.
Jurassic Park is a work that is most often associated with the cinematic production directed by Steven Spielberg, however before that massive undertaking it was a novel written by Michael Crichton. Before the great success of the movie however, was the novel. This novel, while equally thrilling and nearly as popular as its film counter part, contained various important environmental themes. The environmental themes represented in the novel are substantial enough in the work that the novel can be considered a piece of ecocriticism, more specifically phase two ecocriticism.
One of the most elements of this novel that lends it to an interpretation as ecocriticism is found in how Crichton ties the novel to reality. One interesting aspect of phases two ecocriticism is an aspect of its attempts to comment on a given society (Buell ). Because this type of ecocriticism is preoccupied with commenting on a specific aspect of the world, the piece has to find a way to tie the novel to that aspect of the real world. In Crichton’s case the novel is tied to the real world clearly through the seamless integration of real world event with fictitious events. We see these most evidently in the opening section of the novel. In this section Crichton gives a brief history of genetic engineering and then seamlessly weaves in the exploits of a fictions company named InGen. This section establishes the story but also establishes this novel as more than a simple act of fiction through tying its plot to reality. This is a tactic used by Crichton throughout the novel, and helps to tie the works themes of ecocriticism to an industry that exist in the real world.
Beyond tying the novel to the real world one of the more interesting elements of Jurassic park as a work of ecocriticism is created as result of the scientists on the island trying to create their own nature. The scientists of InGen are defying the natural progression of an extinct species. The prehistoric plants and animals recreated by InGen had at one time existed on the planet, and through a natural progression were eliminated. In the act of reintroducing these species InGen’s is in fact creating a new variety of nature. This variety however cannot ever truly be considered “natural” in the purest sense.
This issue of distinction between “real” and “fake nature” is an idea that preoccupies ecocritic scholar’s studies frequently. One such scholar is Michel Serres. In his work Natural Contract Serres comments how humanity has become such a powerful force in the world that has inherited many of the powers that had historically been reserved to nature (Serres 19). Serres describes this humanity by saying,
“From now on there will be lakes of humanity, physical actors in the physical system of the Earth. Man is a stockpile, the strongest and most connected of nature. He is a being-everywhere. And bound.” (Serres 18).
This power to shape the environment, referred to by Serres metaphorically as “…dense tectonic plates of humanity,” (Serres 28) is effected by everything that humanity encounters. In the case of Jurassic park we see this power manifested in the geneticists ability to create life. This introduces questions of ecocriticism in the discongruencies this created nature can create in an overall definition of what is “natural”. Can these species, which were at one point naturally made in the world but then reintroduced unnaturally, be considered a true part of nature? If not then what of the offspring of these “non natural” animals? Through forcing the reader to ask these question Crichton establishes his novel as a valid work of ecocriticism.
Crichton also plays on this disconnect between real nature and fake nature throughout the novel. A product of this interplay is an atmosphere very reminiscent of the first phase of ecocriticism in which humanity looks onto nature and interprets is as a separate entity. Jurassic park however is not a novel that is embracing these distinctions, but exploring them. It is in this exploration we see that Jurassic park fits into the canon of ecocriticism. In the park the natural environment is carefully separated form the world of society. The workers and visitors to the park are kept in a large central build, which is created specifically to provide all the comforts of a five-start hotel (Crichton 86). Even these accommodations however are edited to eliminate the intrusions of nature. One such example is in the skylights of the rooms. One character describes them by saying,
“Directly over the bed was a large pyramidal skylight. It created a tented feeling, like sleeping under the stars. Unfortunately the glass had to be protected by heavy bars, so that stripped shadows fell over the bed”
Sleeping under the stars is an activity most commonly associated with a desire to be closer to nature. This makes the inclusion of such a skylight in a location so preoccupied with separating itself from nature interesting. Regardless of any questions that may be created by the inclusion of such a feature, the physical act of destroying even the illusion of interacting with nature only further emphasis the interesting interplay with nature seen throughout the novel. In the work these scientists are trying desperately to create a new nature, and yet at the same time are trying desperately to escape the natural world. This relationship further helps the qualification of the novel as a work of ecocriticism.
Jurassic park is a novel, that in spite of its intent as popular fiction, begs many important questions regarding the effects society has upon nature. For the reason the novel begs an interpretation as a work on environmental criticism, more specifically under the category of phase two ecocriticism.
For some information over Michael Crichton click here.