273 Hurricane Winkfield

Daniel Harrison

In The Female American, Winkfield portrays climate as a primeval and powerful force, surpassing her Christian God and the religious order imposed by Him. Winkfield’s interpretation challenges a typical religious representation of climate, which portrays it as an instrument of god’s wrath intended to test an individuals convictions. This primeval form of climate is most evident when Winkfield describes a storm that passes over the island:

“Imagination can scarcely conceive such a total darkness as then covered the earth; as if every particle of light had been annihilated, and primitive chaos had once more resumed its reign; when in an instant the thunder roared as if the whole earth had been bursting into atom, whilst the lightning showed the air one body of liquid fire, and so illumined the earth, that I knew not which was brighter, that or the air.”

In the first half of this passage, Winkfield’s description of “total darkness” alludes to a supernatural form of darkness. This is not a darkness of shadow or of night; this is the complete and total absence of light, something far darker and more powerful. In a religious context, the absence of light is representative of the absence of faith and religion, as this darkness alludes to a time before religious enlightenment. In this storm, there is no divine light to guide Winkfield. The subsequent phrase, “primitive chaos had once more resumed its reign,” further emphasizes this point. Equating “primitive chaos” to a time without light implies that the storm is a force greater than faith, powerful enough to blot out all guiding light and erase thousands of years of enlightenment. In one swift blow, the storm removes Winkfield from her contemporary world and places her in a past that lacks the religious order she so heavily relies on.

Then, following the removal of light and return to “primitive chaos,” Winkfield continues with a description of destruction so awesome and violent that it speaks to the foundational forces of the universe. She describes thunder as if “the whole earth had been bursting into atom,” which, while serving as an incredible visual metaphor, acknowledges the atom as a foundation of our universe, a powerful forces that exists despite religion.

After thunder comes lightning, and Winkfield’s vivid description continues with an “an entire body of liquid fire” illuminating her world, to a point where she is unable to differentiate between the land and the air. Following her description of the total darkness, the form of illumination provided by the lightning remains a primitive and base force of the universe. The light, by its intensity and violence, is not a divine of guiding light. It is something deeper, more intrinsic to the universe, and appeals once more to a world that exists outside religious structure. Winkfield herself is so blinded by it that she can scarcely look at the world. These forces, through their power and alien nature, render the world incomprehensible.

Despite her faith and commitment to god, the climate that Winkfield discovers on the island is so powerful and awe-inspiring that it causes her to acknowledge other forces that may be in play in the universe. What’s remarkable about this is that Winkfield accomplishes this without explicitly abandoning god. In this passage, she never paints the forces as paganist or hedonistic. And while the imagery is undoubtedly apocalyptic, she also never labels it so. It’s as it the forces of climate exist parallel to her religious interpretation of the world, shaping it in the same way as god, coming in conflict with each other but never denying the existence of the other.


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The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature: A PSU-Based Project Copyright © 2016 by Daniel Harrison is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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