Environmental Literature 204

Grant T. Smith, Ph. D.

Discussion Questions:  Place, Style, and Human Nature in Willa Cather’s The Professor’s House from Practical Eco-criticism: Literature, Biology, and the Environment by glen A. Love


  • Discuss the role(s) that place and habitation play in human relationships with self or with others.


  • Love argues that diverse cultures still reveal across cultural lines universal evolved features.  Ellen Dissanayake and Joseph Carroll argue that these shared human experiences are expressed and interchanged in art—and especially the literary experience.  If this is true, that there are certain “archetypal” human universals common to all cultures, then what would you list as universally true among all societies?  Here are some possibilities:


1.      We live in social groups rather than alone.

2.      We all have a language with an underlying structure and semantics.

3.      There is a division of labor between men, women and children.


  • What are some possible themes of Tom Outland’s Story”?  What do you think the Cliff City represents to Tom?  Why does he name the mummified body of the woman, “Mother Eve”?


  • Compare the three “houses” in the novel, the professor’s old house (especially his study), the professor’s new house, and the Cliff City. 


  • Compare the three men in the Professor’s life: Tom Outland, Scott McGregor, and Louie Marsellus.


  • Do you have a “place” that serves you as an aesthetic refuge, a place of shelter and protection—a place your can participate in and you feel obligated to protect, and a place that evokes a mythic sense in your being?