Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Laura Runge, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Pat Rogers, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Elizabeth Hirsh, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Marty Gould, Ph.D.


Restoration literature, animal studies, ecofeminism, ecocriticism


This dissertation analyzes the relationship between important intellectual discourses of the late-seventeenth and early-eighteenth centuries and the ontological status of non-human animals. The Enlightenment marks a distinct change in the ways in which humans gather knowledge and interact with the world, a change that forms the foundation for modern relationships between human and non-human animals. Through a theoretical framework that draws from animal studies and ecofeminism, I analyze the ways in which the status of non-human animals is shaped by the intersection of multiple anthropocentric concerns. In doing so, this dissertation probes the foundation of what defines the animal apart from the human. I use the metaphor of the chain of being to chart the relative ontological status of animals across multiple discursive paradigms and literary texts. The first chapter explores animal status within the changing epistemology of the Enlightenment. As humans rely on a combination of reason and sensory perceptions to know and describe the world, human reason becomes the source of human specialness and superiority. Rochester’s A Satyr Against Reason and Mankind questions the privileged status claimed by humans based upon the lauding of reason. Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko exposes the complex ramifications for animal status within a narrative that relies on sensory perceptions for its truth-making strategy. The next chapter analyzes animal status in relation to human aspiration. Pope’s Essay on Man urges humans to use their reason to restrain their ambitions. This results in a relatively secure ontological status for animals. However, Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe celebrates human ambition, which results in a lower and more tenuous status for animals. I then turn to the status of animals within the emergence of natural philosophy. Plays by Shadwell and Centlivre include virtuosi, who act as comic practitioners of the new science. Though the plays use science as a source of comedy, they reinforce the strict species hierarchy that rests at the heart of Baconian science. The analysis then turns to Thomson’s The Seasons, which employs natural philosophy in a manner that establishes a more egalitarian relationship between human and non-human animals. The final chapter analyzes the ways in which Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels imbricates each of the three discourses discussed in the previous chapters. The overarching trend that emerges throughout this research is that in texts that celebrate the human and human potential, animals occupy a much lower status relative to humans. In texts where human nature and behavior are met with skepticism or downright pessimism, the distance between human and animal shrinks, and animals occupy a relative status that is higher than in more anthropocentrically optimistic texts.