Dr. Adam Johns
English Composition 0200
3 September 2014
The Destruction of Human Progression in “Rocks”
Edward Abbey’s novel “Desert Solitaire” follows himself as a park ranger through his years of working at the Arches National Monument. Throughout the story, Abbey describes the world vividly through his point of view, from simple topics such as the innumerable lives of the animals and plants that exist in their natural environment, to the deeper meaning of development and innovation, and how the advancing of technology detracts from the beauty of nature. This being said, “Rocks” symbolizes the effects of modernization and industrialization as the destruction of nature for unjust human progression.
To Abbey, nature is a “sanctum of … culture” (Abbey 52). In his eyes, the way in which people treat the environment is indicative of a person’s culture, not their skin color or other visible characteristics. Instead of allowing the age of Industrial Tourism to arrive, he believes that society should return to the limited ways of travel within nature. This includes riding a horse or walking, especially when the paths that are made to allow motorized vehicles to pass through hurts the environment and therefore makes it ugly. He realizes that “Industrial Tourism is a big business. It means money” (Abbey 49). What he refuses to understand, however, is that accessibility signifies that both man and machine must be able to enter, not just man alone. He exemplifies Mount Everest to explain how men can go anywhere on foot, and poses the question that asks why everyone cannot walk to see nature’s greatest treasures. Instead of developing to accommodate vehicles, Abbey advocates for preservation of the already dwindling numbers of dirt roads and natural trails. He argues that the statement such as “parks are for people” really means that parks are for “people-in-automobiles” (Abbey 50). Abbey’s extreme aversion for anything and everything at all modern or industrial stems, coincidentally, not from the motors and engines themselves, but the people who use them. This is seen when he says “so long as [people] are unwilling to crawl out of their cars they will not discover the treasures of the national parks and will never escape the stress and turmoil of those … complexes which they had hoped, presumably, to leave behind for a while” (Abbey 51). His statement only promotes the idea that he believes the environment to be “holier than our churches” (Abbey 52). For this reason, it is understandable that he feels so passionately for the perseverance in preserving the environment, as well as for his hatred for industrialization and modernization that is taking place near his beloved home. Immediately following Abbey’s arguments as to why nature should be preserved and his discrediting of the necessity of Industrial Tourism and modernization, he recounts a story that is laced with symbolism.
The tale of Albert T. Husk and his family is one that Abbey uses to prove his point that industrialization materializes nature and detracts from what the environment should be for. After Husk meets Mr. Graham, a businessman who came to the area for its promises of monetary satisfaction, they form a partnership. This materializes the land by dividing it into ownership for a profit, not making improvements for the benefit of everyone but rather the compensation of a few. Abbey argues that Husk’s sole attention being on his work and profit is the reason why he fails to do anything about his wife’s continued decline and lack of interest in him. This leads to an altercation between Mr. Graham and Husk while they, along with Husk’s son Billy-Joe, are eating around a fire. After Graham opens fire on Husk he pursues Billy-Joe, who runs away to escape his father’s killer. During the chase, Billy-Joe falls down a ravine and dislocates his shoulder. When Mr. Graham goes back to his truck in order to acquire a flashlight and continue looking for Billy-Joe, he decides to send Husk and the truck over the edge of the mesa. After dousing the truck in gasoline, Graham drives it to the edge but realizes the brakes do not work. However, “as he tumbled from the fast-moving truck the inside door handle, projecting forward, slipped into the open pocket of his jacket” (Abbey 75). Graham believes for a moment that he has gotten out just in time before the truck pulls him over the edge, accompanying the man he recently killed. It is soon understood that Billy-Joe is found after enduring countless tragedies due to his mountainous misfortune, but soon dies after his discovery. In this way, Abbey uses Graham to symbolize the modernization and industrialization due to his business, has Husk represent nature because of his innocence about his wife’s affair, and makes Billy-Joe embody society through the pain and suffering he endures after the symbol of nature is gone. Throughout this recounted tale, Abbey portrays his feelings for nature, as well as the advancement of technology, indirectly by describing the events that occur and placing higher meaning on what transpires.
The argument of “Rocks” is that the modernization, advancement, and industrialization of society will destroy the natural environment, which Abbey considers to be a representation of human culture as a whole. By portraying his feelings about nature through storytelling, Abbey is able to convey the messages of preservation and protection, not those of progression and innovation.
Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness. New York: McGraw, 1968. Print.