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An Ecocritical Insight into Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies


An Ecocritical Insight into Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies

Sushanta Sarkar

Ph. D. Research Scholar

Veer Kunwar Singh University

Ara, Bihar, India



Amitav Ghosh is an Indian writer writing in English. His novels present the panorama of the Indian cultures, history, tradition, politics, social issues. The novel Sea of Poppies narrates the story of colonialism and its effect on Indian Subcontinents. The novel discusses the growing of opium in Bihar and Calcutta for the British for their mercenary growth and its effects on environment and nature. Due to the growth of opium, the entire ecosystem affected. Thus Ghosh with the literary theory Eco criticism tries to show how the cultivation of opium leads to the destruction of both human and nonhuman world. Thus the paper presents how literary theory can bring to focus on the environment issues.


Keywords: Ecocritism, Ecology, Ecocide, Environment Degradation, Ecologist

Our Earth has very limited source of natural resources. The moral responsibility of every individual is to utilize the resources in a limited way and preserve it for our coming generation but the human beings even though aware of the fact is over utilizing the resources, thus, disturbing the peace and balance of nature. In order to make himself economical strong they are continuously constructing islands, impuring the rivers and seas, cutting down the trees their by leading to deforestation, hunting the wild animal etc. But what is the result of it man is economically building itself strong but making the nature worst.


It is the law of Nature that ‘Nature never did betray the heart that loved her’ (William Wordsworth 1798) but the extravagant lifestyle of human is destroying the nature there by provoking the nature to act against human beings.


Glen A love in “Revaluing Nature: Towards an Ecological Criticism’ an article published in Eco criticism Reader says, “…mankind now has the power to make the biosphere uninhabitable and that it will in fact produce this suicidal result within a foreseeable period of time if the human population of the globe does not now take prompt and vigorous concerned action to check the pollution and the spoliation that are being inflicted upon the biosphere by short sighted human greed.” (225)


Many Indian writers like Amitabh Ghosh, Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, R.K. Narayan have written most of his fictions and nonfictions on environment and nature. This writing will definitely change the present situation and will create path for the present writers to write about the environmental criticism there by setting an example for each and every one to preserve the nature. His novel The Glass Palace, Calcutta Chromosomes, Shadow Lines, Hungry Tides, Sea of Poppies, River of Smoke, The Gun Island and the nonfiction The Great Derangement And Climate Change and The Unthinkable, etc all presents his views on the nature environment.


We live in the World of pollution, industrial waste, and forest degradation. For the sake of mankind the human beings are overtly exploiting the natural resources there by leading to hazardous effect on nature and human beings themselves. In this context, literature places a very vital role to make aware the society the drawbacks cause due to their over utilization of natural resources. Literature is a link to connect mankind with nature. These ecological disasters need a theory to acquaint the society about the pollution. Such theory is called Eco criticism which studies the relationship between literature and environment. The primary aim of ecocritisim is to discuss on the environment problems like deforestation through the literary text thereby highlighting problems. Eco critics with the help of literature try to bring awareness about environment. The Ecologists are of opinion that human beings are neglecting nature.


The task of Eco criticism is to inform the reader through reading the cultural text which will create in them consciousness of nature. But also develop thinking about how to preserve nature. The novel studies the ecological relationship with the humankind. How the ecology is affected by the human hunger for their mercenary profit. the growing of opium in the northern part of Bihar and Calcutta by the Britishers for their economic gain leads to the exploitation of the land and the nature. The poor people of Northern parts of India are totally depending on the farming. But due to the British imperialism they were forced to grow opium in their fields rather than the regular crops of wheat, jawar, bajra etc. so sea of poppies is an account of imposed opium monoculture on the Northern part of Bihar and Calcutta . Ghosh exposes the role of raja who supports the British Imperialists just to gain financial rewards in the opium business. Neel Ratan and his father also supports the colonizers to earn profits.


Ecological imperialism is the exploitation of natural resources by the Imperialist for their economic growth. The Imperialist not only exploit the natural resources but also utilized the labor of native for their own economic interest. The novel Sea of Poppies was published in 2008 and is the first volume of Ibis Trilogy depicting the opium trade of British government. It also shows the effect of trade on the lives of ordinary people like Deeti, a widow, Kalua a subaltern or low caste chamber, Zachary Reid, an American mulato, Neel Ratan Halder, a landlord, Paulette a French orphan and Mr. Benjamin Burnham British opium merchant.


The novel Sea of Poppies presents the anthropocentric views of the author where he keeps the human kind as the most essential element. Sea of Poppies depicts the condition of poor farmer due to the growth of opium thus leading to the degradation of the lives of people. The novel centered on the lives of subjugated people who have no right to speak for themselves and even no right to leave their life independently due to the British imperialism. By presenting rules of them are much as non-human his poor character at the centre, he portray the existence of them are much non-human beings being even not fit to leave on as human only because of the imperialist attitude towards them.


Deeti is forced to grow opium in her field. In spite of her hard work, she is unable to meet her day to day necessities. she is unable to manage her household responsibilities and ultimately leads to poverty and hunger and is caught in debts. She is helpless. She couldn't grow regular crops. Though not willing, she has to adapt this new crop to grow. The British would go from home forcing cash advances on the farmers and their forged thumbprints. If the farmer refused, British soldiers would hide silver in their houses to make them culprit and then they were declared as convict and transported to the foreign land as an indentured labours for working for the Imperialist on the sugar plantation. In this way there is no escape from opium. Deeti herself was a victim of this. Seeing herself as over burden with the debts, she was compelled to become indentured labour for her survival. Thus the novel presents the mono cultural growth of poppies leads to the exploitation of farmer and destroyed their lives and even caused migration for the survival.


East India company plays very crucial role in crushing the lives and growth of the regular crop the peasants are force to sales their opium to the East India company who is sold responsible for growing of opium it is the Monopoly of East India company the British government to produce and pack the entire opium under the supervision of East India Company.


The sadder opium factory in Ghazipur where the opium is packed had a very environmental injustice. Deeti witnessed the inhuman condition of the workers in factory, who goes to take her sick husband Hukum Singh to home. Deeti saw the unhealthy environment of the factory. Ghosh has very well portrayed that environmental injustice imposed on the poor workers in the opium factory through the character Deeti, when she goes into the factory. “…her eyes were met by a startling sight- a host of dark legless torsos was circling around and around, like some enslaved tribe of demons. This vision along with the over powering fumes made her groggy and to keep herself from the fainting she begin to move slowly ahead. When her eyes had grown more accustomed, she discovered the secret of those circling torsos, they were bare bodied men, sunk waist- deep in tanks of opium tramping round and round to soften the sludge.” (94-95)


Amitav Ghosh not only shows the effect of opium on the living and nonliving things but it also shows it effects on river. The holy river Ganga which have been polluted due to the waste of the opium factory. Ghosh has depicted how the aquatic lives are also affected. The chemical that’s getting mixed into the water due to the opium waste from factory effect the life of the fish. The fish were under the tranquil effect of opium which made easy access to the fisherman. River Ganga which is the symbol of purity is also contaminated. Ghosh compares River Ganga with the river Nile, the lifeline of Egyptian civilization. Due to the opium, it leads to the environment issues. the novel presents all these issues caused due to opium growth having human , animals, birds, insects and the natural world. Kalua gives opium to his ox to eat so that it can relax. the insects suck the nectar in the flowers of poppies and are induced due to the opium. the effect of opium has not only left to birds about animals like monkey who due to the effect of opium are in constant and didn’t behave like other monkeys but behave strangely. “…this stretch of river bank was unlike any other for the ghats around the caracanna were shored up with thousands of the broken earthen gharas- the round bottom vessels in which raw opium was brought to be factory. The belief was wide spread the fish were more easily caught after they had nipped at the result the bank was always proud will fisherman.” (92)


The role of the Indian merchants for the sake of profit the Indian merchants in order to get profits financial profit in the business of opium supports the British imperialist. The very good example is Raja Neel Ratan Halder the Raja and his father supports the colonizer to earn the financial profit. It is not only the British who were enjoying the opium business fruits. In India many merchants also took imperialist. Neel Rattan , the owner of Halder estate was largely dependent for the family fortune on Benjamin Burnham, a British merchant but later Neel was trapped by into the debts by Mr Burnham for not supporting him to sell his property due to the debts incurred on him of opium business. Neel is transported as a convict to Mauritius Island as an indenture labour to work on the sugar plantation. Thus the paper studies the ecological issues affecting the life of everyone. The hazardous effect of opium troubles the life of people in Northern part of India, thus cutting them out of their lives and forced them to migrate to aboard for their survival.




Ghosh, Amitav. Sea of Poppies. Penguin India, 2008.


Love, Glen A. “ Revaluing nature towareds an Ecological Criticism.” Western American Literature. vol . 25, no. 3 (FALL 1990), pp. 201-215.


Wordsworth William “ Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey” 13 july 1798.


Jha, Vivekanand. ‘ A Tribute Poem to Amitav Ghosh.’ Jha I.


Bhatt, Indira and Indira Nityandan, eds. The Fiction of Amitav Ghosh. Creative books, 2001.