Dr. John Adams
English Composition 0200
3 September 2014
Modernization: Rocky Waters for Humankind
Throughout the early chapters of Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, the intrinsic beauty of nature is corrupted by the industrial, crude manners of modern mankind, who are shown no sympathy by the bitter frustrations of a Park Ranger protagonist. A narrator already consumed by shame and anxiety regarding the rapid progression of modernization, Abbey uses the chapter “Rocks” to further expose the true corruptive powers of man and, in response, Mother Nature’s divine last word. Posing as a tale reminiscent of a Cormac McCarthy-esque apocalyptic novel, a gripping persuasion is woven in between the lines.
Prior to this chapter in the novel, Abbey builds an unwavering opinion—using his observations at the Arches National Park as evidence—that modern society, at least those who fall into the category of “Developers” (Abbey 48) is hopelessly selfish, incapable of what should be a purely raw interaction with nature. The Park Ranger does not hold back any resentment at the first signs of such “industrial tourists” (Abbey 49) disturbing his pleasant solitude, including himself in the “victims of human meddling with the natural scheme of things.” (Abbey 30). The first example of such feelings is his encounter with the three engineers; the Park Ranger discovers that “they were a survey crew, laying out a new road into the Arches.” (Abbey 43). Following a tangent addressing those for and opposed to the exposure of national parks to industrial development, Abbey attacks the modern family guilty of overusing their automobiles and underappreciating the value of camping in it’s purest, most primitive, form. There is no questioning Abbey’s scathing remarks on the damage innovation of modern man has on nature.
A prevalent theme throughout the novel thusfar, as highlighted in “Rocks,” is the toxic mixture of human greed and knowledge destroying a wholesome environment where technology, as Abbey believes, should not thrive. The story of Mr. Husk, a family man from Texas in “fruitless search for a fools treasure” (Abbey 68) hoping to discover riches in the seemingly capable hands of a wealthy businessman, Mr. Graham, turns out to be tragic. Upon disturbing the land of Moab in desperate search of the valuable mineral uranium, Mr. Husk meets a series of unfortunate events—his hard work soon proves to be unrewarding, resulting in financial troubles, while changes in his wife’s behavior imply her infidelity. An apparent divine presence inflicting such hardship seems to suggest that nature is not a force to be reckoned with. The reader surmises that Mr. Graham is a manipulative force propelling Mr. Husk’s despair and is furthermore driven by greed to murder Mr. Husk and his son, Billy-Joe. The effects of Mr. Graham’s consuming selfishness and violence are especially significant in their impact on young Billy-Joe.
While Billy-Joe survives the traumatic show-down between Mr. Graham and his father at first, the rest of his existence is not painless, only “each night brought relief, enough to stir his drugged consciousness and arouse his anxiety” after “his strength diminished” and “finally he must have given up those efforts.” (Abbey 79). His suffering, purposefully made obvious by Abbey, hints at the threat human greed and progressive technology pose on future generations. The ignorance of global warming as a modern issue, for example, stirs the same guilt; despite the consequences future generations will have to bear as a result of pollution, selfishness and urgency for a fast-paced society frequently win out. Abbey points out that not only are humans damaging nature, paradoxically, humans are destroying ourselves. The brutal murders of Mr. Husk and his son literally articulate this concept. Mr. Graham’s greed and the corruption of Mrs. Husk as a temptress, unfaithful wife, and poor family role model as portrayed in this chapter is representative of the greed and corruption Abbey sees in a modern, evolving society. Elements of the story of the Husk family certainly run parallel to overall themes of the novel.
I find myself conflicted about Abbey’s argument that aggressive progression is only harmful to nature. There are many modern technologies that, in fact, help us to understand nature better; without modern science, man would have less knowledge about the complexities and mysteries of the environment. Furthermore, I reject Abbey’s accusatory and harsh tone regarding modern society; human error is innate, unavoidable, and present in all cases. While valid in many of his frustrations, Abbey’s tone is slightly discouraging—hopeless and merely posing problems rather than solutions, resulting in complaints lacking action.
Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire; a Season in the Wilderness. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968. Print.