Study Guide

Serena Man and the Natural World

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Man and the Natural World

The mountains and woods quickly reclosed around her. The trees were all hardwoods now. Light seeped through their foliage as through layers of gauze. No birds sang and no deer or rabbit bolted in front of her. The only things growing along the trail were mushrooms and toad-stools, the only sound acorns crackling and popping beneath Dan's iron hooves. The woods smelled like it had just rained. (3.59)

As Rachel rides her horse into town, she admires the beautiful landscape. This is just one of the passages we get with her at home in nature somehow. We think this is yet another way to contrast her with Serena, who seems bent on cutting down every tree in the state.

The surest sign came at the end of May when Campbell killed a timber rattlesnake while surveying on Shanty Mountain. When Serena heard, she ordered every dead rattlesnake placed in an old applecart next to the stable entrance. No one knew why. (10.3)

Serena may understand nature better than those around her. Instead of just accepting that things are the way they are, she strives to change the order of things. Step (1): Get eagle. Step (2): Train eagle. Step (3): World domination.

"Why is this pretense necessary, gentlemen?" she said. "We know what's going on with these land grabs. You've already run two thousand farmers off their land, that's according to your own census. We can't make people work for us and we can't buy their land unless they want to sell it, yet you force them from their livelihood and their homes." (14.38)

Arguing with the park commission, Serena points out how worthless the park will be. Okay, okay, she's got a dog in the fight, so to speak. But is she right? Is the national park of value to them when there's a depression going on all over the country?

"The way things is balanced. Everything in the world has its natural place, and if you take something out or put something in that ought not be out or in, everything gets lopsided and out of sorts." (16.26)

The workers aren't so sure about Serena taming the eagle—they think it ruins the circle of life (to borrow from the Lion King). Only problem is that getting bitten by a rattlesnake isn't exactly awesome either. Makes you wonder whether nature's order is as important as they think.

While our attention to the creation of a national park is crucial to our region's future, we must also act as a state to secure our own immense but threatened natural beauty. The recent foreclosure on 9,000 acres of farmland in the Caney Creek region of Jackson County, while tragic for those who owned that land, offers a rare opportunity to buy a tract as pristine as any in our region and at a very reasonable price. This hidden jewel is rich in hardwoods and sparkling streams, as well as a profusion of plant and animal life. (17.3)

In the newspaper, the Pembertons are mocked for wanting their timber business to continue. We can see the value of the national park to the nation with this article, and it really ticks Pemberton off. He doesn't want people appreciating nature, gosh darn it—he wants to rip it up to make money.

"When people finally realize it comes down to jobs or a pretty view, they'll come around," Pemberton said. (17.10)

We love the flippant way Pemberton sums this up. In some ways, he's right; in a depression, people can't be thinking about cutting jobs. On the other hand, he's missing the point. Nature isn't just something pretty to stare at.

"They have," Serena said, "but they're too timid. There are no roads. Miles that never have been mapped. A country big as the United States, and it will be ours." (17.47)

When Pemberton mentions that it's weird that no one's ever thought of timber in Brazil before, Serena responds by saying this. Again, she doesn't care about nature or the value of the trees in tact. All she sees are dollar signs.

"I see it as a rather impressive way to leave one's mark on the world," Webb said, "not so different from the great pharaohs' pyramids."

"There are better ways," Serena said, lifting Pemberton's hand in hers to rub the varnished mahogany.

"Right, Pemberton." Mrs. Webb spoke for the first time. "Yes, like helping make a national park possible." (24.93-95)

Legacy is an important concept to both Serena and Webb, just in very different ways. To Webb, the national park is a legacy that everyone can enjoy because it allows everyone to notice the beauty in nature. To Serena, making as much money as possible is a legacy in itself.

"We'll have every tree in the tract cut down by then," Serena said.

"Perhaps," Webb admitted, "and it may take forty or fifty years before that forest will grow back. But when it does, it will be part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park." (24.127)

Serena has no problem tearing down trees to make some dough—it's all about the money for her—but her confrontation with Mrs. Webb shows that not everyone thinks the timber business is so freaking amazing.

"We'll need a less dreary backdrop, so I'll have to move my equipment," Frizzell said irritably.

"No," Pemberton said. "The backdrop is fine as it is. As Mrs. Pemberton says, we're pleased with what we've done here." (37.25-26)

When the photographer wants a less depressing backdrop, Pemberton insists on taking the photo anyway. They are proud of the work they've done getting rid of all the trees, destroying the future national park. Tells you a lot about how much they value nature, doesn't it?

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