Environmental Jeremiad: Twentieth-Century Western Writers' Reconfiguration of the American Jeremiad

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)


Literature and Languages

Date of Award

Fall 2020


A rich tradition of nature writing exists within American literature. Writing with a focus on the natural world can be traced to America’s earliest writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Washington Irving, Henry David Thoreau, and John Muir. With the turn into the twentieth-century, however, nature writers became increasingly prophetic in their warnings to Americans against viewing land as an inexhaustible resource. This outlook intensified as Americans continued to populate the West in an effort to create sustainable cities. This research project will examine one of America’s earliest forms of discourse, introduced by Puritan ministers, the jeremiad. I will connect the seventeenth-century Puritan jeremiad to twentieth-century nature writers writing primarily from the western region of the United States. I argue these writers do not simply draw from this rhetorical form, but rather take the Puritan jeremiadic form and reconstruct it to subvert the idea God sent the people on an errand into the wilderness to establish a new City on a Hill. I will establish how twentieth-century Western writers employed personal essays about nature to argue that wilderness lands, especially those in the West, are permanently damaged and destroyed when people attempt to create civilization in such an inhospitable land. The Puritan jeremiad encouraged settling the wilderness lands of America and developing those lands to achieve God’s purposes. The twentieth-century Western jeremiad argues for decreased settlement and for preservation of these wild lands.


Karen Roggenkamp

Subject Categories

American Studies | Arts and Humanities