Sundown and Problems of Anti-Development in Petro-Modernity

University essay from Södertörns högskola/Institutionen för kultur och lärande


This essay takes the novel Sundown (1934), written by Native American writer John Joseph Mathews in the context of the Osage oil boom, as a literary source in order to address the question of how oil projects expectations of a glorious future, but actually prevents development in a colonial context. In this paper modernity is seen as a process of creation and destruction, able to create new ways of living and destroying the previous order, able to cause problems, but also find solutions in its never-ending movement. Oil-capitalism is one of the main reasons why modernity as we know it is possible, but it is also the cause of many modern problems. This essay examines negative impact of modernity outside the European and Euro-American cultures, and raises the possibility of an alternative to Western modernity, where development would be fair not only on the economic level, but also on the social and environmental one. In the first part the essay analyses the social effects of oil, such as the destabilization of the Osage culture and their exclusion from the system, which leads to stagnation and personal frustration; in the second part it interprets Sundown as a modernist anti-developmental novel, arguing that the stunted main character and plot are direct reflections of the context of impossible development. The paper concludes with an ecocritical discussion about the possibility of a post-oil future of human and environmental justice, and by extension, about an alternative to the Western modernity.

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