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The tyranny of appetite and its appeasement form the leitmotif of Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver . Man labours largely to satisfy the fire in his belly but he is more than just a digestive system . He walks the path between high and low - descending into hunger or ascending or restraining hunger .


Deanna Wolfe is a ranger in the Zebulon National Forest of the Southern Appalachians .  She chooses to live in the forest on the mountains with little human contact . Her secret mission, beyond the call of duty, is to ensure the survival of a family of coyotes in the mountains . This is at odds with the intentions of the farmers in the valley ( who have known Deanna since birth ) . For them , the coyotes are a threat to their livestock and must be speedily exterminated . But for Deanna , the coyotes represent the reintroduction of a crucial predator into the natural food chain on the mountain . The entry of Eddie Bondo into her life stirs feelings that will not be denied - feelings that she has held at bay in her life of isolation in the twenty-five months since her divorce . His presence sets off a conflict of emotions ; and not just because he is nineteen years younger than her forty-seven years . Eddie Bondo is a third generation of sheep ranchers from Wyoming , known for their hatred of coyotes , come to Zebulon to participate in the Mountain Empire Bounty Hunt which " had drawn hunters from everywhere for the celebrated purpose of killing coyotes”  . 

Down in the valley in Zebulon County , Lusa Maluf Landowski has recently been widowed after just a year of marriage to Cole Widener . They had met at the University of Kentucky where Cole , a farmer , was doing a course on integrated pest management and Lusa , a post-doctoral assistant , was studying the mating habits of moths . A whirlwind courtship and marriage later , they were in the throes of the adjustments inevitable in such an unlikely match . Lusa now has to find her way alone . She has to decide whether she wants to stay on in her husband's home and continue her fight to be accepted by his family ( as a city girl and a Palestinian Jew )  and carry on his mission of making a go of his ancestral farm , or return to her life as a student in the city. 

Just down the road from Lusa ,  live two of the valley's oldest inhabitants - Garnett S. Walker III and Nannie Land Rawley . Though neighbours , they are poles apart in every way , not least in their take on farming methods . A total conformist , Garnett believes in Man's domination of Nature . His allegiance to " green farming " begins and ends with his efforts to revive the almost extinct American chestnut tree in a blight resistant form . Nannie , a complete iconoclast , swears by Man toeing the line in Nature's scheme of things .   


Will Deanna succumb to her need for Eddie Bondo or will her determination to prevent harm to the coyote family prevail ? Will Eddie Bondo go through with hunting the coyote family or will his better self prevail ? Will Lusa take the easy way out and return to the life in the city that she would like to live ? Or will she stay on to fulfil her husband's dream ? And if she does do so , how will she deal with the farmer's attitude of " If it ain't got a use to me what good is it " ? Will Garnett see Nannie's organic way ? And will Nannie meet him half-way ? Will the answers to these questions prove the truth of these words - The history of the world shows that when a mean thing was done , man did it ; when a good thing was done , man did it "  ( R. G. Ingersoll : Speech in Pittsburgh , Oct. 14 , 1879 )  ?



Over the course of one prodigal summer , the protagonists connect with themselves ; they come out of their isolation and connect with the world around them . Their journey of self-discovery foregrounds the author's basic concern with interdependence - at both the individual and ecological levels . 




" Every dead animal was somebody's lunch or somebody's population control " , says Deanna to Eddie Bondo . Man is not only a part of the law of appetite  , he is at the top of the food chain .  By the laws of survival of the fittest and natural selection , " individuals which are best fitted for the complex and changing conditions to which , in the course of the ages , they are exposed , generally survive and procreate their kind " ( Charles Darwin ) . In W. Winwood Reade's evocative words , the law of murder is the law of growth . Man is more like the coyote that he wants to hunt than he can imagine . Spiders can spin , beavers can build , ants can accumulate . Like the coyote , man has no such intrinsic ability . But , again like the coyote , he has the ability to copy each one of them ; which ultimately makes him a more versatile and greater hunter . Like the coyote , he also has the ability to adapt to a changing world . 

With greater power should come greater responsibility . But " the history of man is a series of conspiracies to win from nature some advantage without paying for it " ( R. W. Emerson , Demonology , 1877 ) . The more charitable view would be that Man can neither know nor comprehend the stupendous interconnected whole that is Nature , in which even an iota of change in one part has ripple effects throughout all parts of the whole . Whatever the reason , Man has only two options : limited food or limit appetite . The coyote , unable to choose the latter , has the former forced upon him . Eating begets appetite . Man needs to break free of the trap of his own hunger to perpetuate balance , both within himself and with the world around him - that is the message , and the contribution , of Prodigal Summer .