Seminar in Composition
Dr. Adam Johns
17 September 2014
Abbey’s Apparent Misanthropy
Abbey’s alleged hatred of humanity is mentioned several times throughout the text. This misanthropy can be taken in several ways. We can simply assume that Abbey’s hatred of humanity is precisely what he says it is, that this is why he is spending a season in the wilderness. However, if he truly loathed humanity, would he not express hatred towards all those whom he meets along the way? Yet, out of all the characters we have met thus far he has yet to necessarily show a blatant and pure hatred towards any of them. In fact, any hatred he shows towards humans is seen through generalized groups of people. For example, women, government officials, etc. With this in mind, I contend that Abbey’s apparent misanthropy should be taken both literally and metaphorically, and that he makes these hate-filled claims in order to show his loyalty to nature.
It is true that we can take part of Abbey’s misanthropy quite literally. For example, at the beginning of “Down the River” Abbey uses sarcasm to convey his aversion to those who alter natural bodies of water saying; “This reservoir of stagnant water will not irrigate a single square foot of land or supply water for a single village; its only justification is the generation of cash through electricity for the indirect subsidy of various real estate speculators, cotton growers and sugarbeet magnates in Arizona, Utah, and Colorado; also of course, to keep the engineers and managers of the Reclamation Bureau off the streets and out of trouble,” (Abbey 152). From this we can assume that Abbey probably quite literally hates these particular people. But, for the fact that he hates that they are destroying nature.
A mere few pages later we then see him reciting famous authors,with quotes about despising the human race. I believe that this is a firm over-exaggeration on Abbey’s part. At this point, he has begun his journey down the river, and is already on a sort of natural high. He says of this, “My anxieties have vanished and I feel a sense of cradlelike security, of achievement and joy, a pleasure almost equivalent to that first entrance—from the outside—into the neck of the womb” (Abbey 154). It is therefore only natural that he would hate anyone wanting to destroy or alter the environment that makes him feel essentially reborn. So, here we need to take his hateful claims as more of a metaphorical hatred. Not of the human race as a whole, but those who threaten his euphoria, his intimate relationship with what is left of the untouched world. For on this voyage down the river Abbey is not alone. Not to say that if he did literally hate the entire the human race he wouldn’t have a few allies or comrades, or exceptions to his disdain. However, one would assume that he would want to go on a voyage like this one alone, and it is this pattern of companionship that we have seen throughout the readings thus far. Abbey’s ventures outside his realm of the desert are often with someone else, and when he is with these others, although he may make sarcastic comments about them at times he never expresses a blatant disdain of their company, and never says that he would rather have ventured out alone.
So, this misanthropy ultimately gives us a further reinforcement of Abbey’s passion for nature. We get a rather blatant taste of this in the chapter “Polemic: Industrial Tourism and the National Parks” where Abbey tells us exactly how things ought to be. He has ideas for humanity; ones that he thinks will ultimately bring us all closer to nature in a way that satisfies his own convictions. He does not wish his most detestable thoughts upon humanity here, he wishes for us to be able to get closer to nature. Yet he wants to avoid the commercialism, and essentially the modern world at the same time. It is this that can be taken as merely a symptom of the many contradictions Abbey makes throughout his book. However, I believe that his underlying beliefs are that others should experience nature in the way that he sees fit. For, he would not be writing a book about his experiences to tell us of the wonders of nature if he didn’t wish us to perhaps take an interest in it. It is in this light that we should further view his comments towards humanity, for Abbey merely wants to preserve the places he loves.
Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990. Print.