Nature, Caged Birds, and Constrained Women: An Ecocritical Feminist Reading of Angela
Keywords: Carter, ecocriticism, The Erl-King, feminism, caged birds, imprisonment,
In their feminist and postmodern readings of Angela Carter’s fiction, critics have often eclipsed the presence of nature in her writings and the significance of non-human forms of life. This article addresses this critical gap, focusing on Carter’s employment of birds and the greenwood in her story The Erl-King as a metaphor for gender roles and power relations. Hence, the alliance between her ecopoetics and feminist vision forms a case of “ecofeminism.” In her defense of “minor” and oppressed forms of life, Carter makes her caged birds emblems of women imprisoned by patriarchy. Their liberation by the female narrator at the end of the story is not only a sign of resistance but also an indication of the essential harmony and mutual strength of women and nature. Surprisingly though, and before this unexpected end in which the narrator strangles the Erl-King with his own hair, nature is made complicit in the oppression of women rather than simply liberating. This can be explained through Carter’s ambivalent brand of postmodern feminist poetics that rejects fixities and conventional binaries, unsettling the patriarchal myth that women are merely close to nature. Thus, Carter subverts feminist logic by exposing how women and nature are not only closely allied or opposed to patriarchy but also complicit in their own oppression. Moreover, she subverts the woman/nature dichotomy by making the Erl-King the epitome of a harmonious life in nature rather than plainly defending women as expected in feminist texts. Carter deconstructs established myths and conventional gender roles, accounting for subtle female desire in the process of articulating feminist poetics via nature.