Dr. Adam Johns
Seminar in Composition
Throughout Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey, the reader is constantly faced with contradictions: life and death, failure and success, isolation and togetherness. Seeing as contradiction is a constant theme, I believe it applies to Abbey’s apparent misanthropy. For this reason, Abbey’s misanthropy should be taken metaphorically.
Edward Abbey identifies with being a misanthropist numerous times throughout his memoir. He claims to have a general hatred towards humans and human nature. Abbey seems to withdraw himself from humanity because he hates the feeling of suppression society gives him. He scolds individuals who drown themselves in everyday routines:
“A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself. If industrial man continues to multiply its numbers and expand his operations he will succeed in his apparent intention, to seal himself off from the natural and isolate himself within a synthetic prison of his own making. He will make himself an exile from the earth” (211).
He believes that men place priority on materialistic things, which traps them in a life they do not want to live. He blatantly shows animosity towards humans. The most apparent example of this is when Abbey regards, “What incredible shit we put up with most of our lives – the domestic routine (same old wife every night), the stupid and useless and degrading jobs […]” (193). Abbey claims to be in complete opposition of the human agenda. However, he contradicts himself when he is accused of being against civilization. Abbey explains, “I was accused of being against civilization, against science, against humanity. Naturally, I was flattered and at the same time surprised, hurt, a little shocked […] Could I be against humanity without being against myself, whom I love” (244). Abbey may not be fond of industrialization caused by mankind, but Abbey does not hate humanity. If Abbey truly hated humanity, he would hate himself. Not only would Abbey hate himself, but also he would express hatred towards all the individuals that he has encountered throughout his memoir.
The main reason Abbey continuously insults human nature is because he wants to make his point clear. He over exaggerates his misanthropy in order to make the reader feel what he feels. Abbey has hope that we may one day all of mankind will come to love nature as he does. He hopes that humans will be grow to appreciate nature and all it does for mankind. Abbey expresses this feeling when he states, “But the love of wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth which bore us and sustains us, the only home we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need—if only we had the eyes to see” (208). He explains how necessary the wilderness is to humans. Without nature, we would not be alive. We need nature to maintain humanity. Abbey has a very aggressive tactic, but I think his tactics are justified. He goes on to state, “We need wilderness whether or not we ever set foot in it. We need a refuge even though we may never need to go there” (162). Abbey understands not all humans share his exact viewpoint, but he hopes to change this. He feels free in the wilderness and wants others to share this experience.
Abbey has both a love and hate for humanity. Abbey hates how humanity impacts nature, but appears to love spending time with humans along his journey. He constantly struggles with this contradiction. Although somewhat insulting to the reader, I believe his apparent misanthropy has a powerful impact. The reader is left questioning his or her own love or hate of humanity.