Question ANU Art, Media & Literature

Ecocriticism in Anita Desai’s "Fire on the Mountain"

Does Fire on the Mountain consist of any ecocriticism? Explain in detail any scenes in which this takes place.

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Answer Expert #26888

Anita Desai’s novel Fire on the Mountain may be said to be informed by ecocritical approaches. Ecocriticism refers to the ways in which writing may take on board concerns related to the environment and to biodiversity, to the relationships between humans and the natural world, to an understanding of humanity in animalistic terms, and to the impact of humans on the ecology of the planet (Branch and O’Grady, 1994).

In Fire on the Mountain, characters’ perceptions and relationships are often relayed by Desai with reference to the natural world. In the opening pages of Fire, elderly protagonist Nanda Kaul is portrayed as identifying with pine trees, for example (Desai, 2001, pp. 3-4). Nanda is shown as being attracted to lifeless environments, seeing them as equivalent to her, now barren and at the end of her life (Desai, 2001, p. 4). The prospect of human contact brings Nanda little pleasure, though the sight of an eagle, gliding and in complete control, stimulates yearning for a similar level of freedom and controls over her life (Desai, 2001, p. 21).

Elsewhere, Nanda equates her situation with that of worms under attack by predatory birds (Desai, 2001, pp. 22-24). The associations between Nanda and the natural world around her not only express her existential crisis at the outset of the novel, but indicate the closeness she feels to the planet, now being old and close to death (Shayamala, 2011). There are links also to the sense of identification Nanda has with her home environment (Sabar, 2014). This connection to ecology is reinforced by Nanda’s visiting great grand-daughter Raka, who also sees Nanda in such terms as “another pine tree” (Desai, 2001, p. 44).


Branch, M. and O’Grady, S. (1994) Defining ecocritical theory and practice. Available at: (Accessed: 12 July 2016).

Desai, A. (2001) Fire on the mountain. London: Vintage.

Sabar, N. (2014) Ecocritical readings: a study of ‘Fire on the mountain’ and ‘Where shall we go this summer?’ Available at: (Accessed: 12 July 2016).

Shyamala, C.G. (2011) Nature and ecocriticism in ‘Cry, The Peacock’ and ‘Fire on the Mountain’. Available at: (Accessed: 12 July 2016).