The Role of Nature in Shuttlecock

Barry J. Fishman '89

It is important to Prentis that his children be brought up to appreciate nature because he believes it to be an important part of a normal family: "a wife who tends house-plants and two healthy kids whom you take out on the common at weekends..." (p.24) Prentis had a class called Nature Study when he was in primary school and it was there that he first decided that he wanted a hamster. Like hamsters, everything that played a role in Prentis' childhood comes back to haunt his memory and cause trouble for his children Peter and Martin.

The Nature Study class-master was named Forster. "Perhaps it was Forester, but that, maybe, is just fanciful association." (p.33) Prentis was taught that Nature was a "rare and mysterious commodity," a concept which carries over to Waterland. Nature is not rare in that novel but it is certainly mysterious. Prentis feels that being able to touch Nature is important for everybody, as he comments when talking about the mental hospital that is home to his father: "the hospital grounds themselves are set within fields and woodland, though the suburbs of South London are less than a mile away. It's a strange thing that we put mad people in these walled-in parks, as if we recognize that though they have to be confined they need to rub against nature." (p.44)

Prentis himself on occasion feels the need to "rub against nature." He covets Quinn's job, not just for the position but also for the office with its view. Like the inmates of the mental institution, Prentis is trapped, although his imprisonment is in a below-ground office. Quinn's office is above ground level and looks out on an isolated piece of nature, a small cherry tree. "I envy Quinn his cherry tree and his daylight," admits Prentis. (p.17)

Does Nature (with a capital "N") play an important role in any of the other novels read in English 32? How does Nature figure into Romantic poetry? Consider for example, "Tintern Abbey."

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