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Literature and Ecology: Organisms and Their Environments

Ecology is found in classic literature of all sorts. Charles Dickens, for example, touched on the ethical questions of human population growth and density in many of his novels. One of Dickens' most famous characters, Ebenezer Scrooge, said in response to a request to help the poor who "would rather die" than go to the workhouses, "if they'd rather die, then they had better do it and decrease the surplus population."4 This idea of a "surplus population" was not an uncommon belief in England during the 19th century, though Dickens himself deplored it.

In more recent, and lighter, literature, even Dr. Seuss got in on the act. In fact, it appears that he understood his community ecology quite well. In the the book "On Beyond Zebra" (1955), Seuss introduces us to mythical creatures called Nutches and their interaction with each other and the environment. Here's a sample:

And NUH is the letter I use to spell Nutches,
Who live in small caves, known as Niches, for hutches.
These Nutches have troubles, the biggest of which is
The fact there are many more Nutches than Niches.
Each Nutch in a Nich knows that some other Nutch
Would like to move into his Nich very much.
So each Nutch in a Nich has to watch that small Nich
Or Nutches who haven't got Niches will snitch.5

And there you have it! Pretty good, eh? As you read literature, and even as you watch movies, keep your eyes peeled for references to ecology. You will find them in more places than you expect.

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