September 16, 2014
Seminar in Composition
Abbey and Misanthropy
What sparked Abbey to write Desert Solitaire? Was it to fill his need for adventure or just a desire to live with nature? Either points could be argued but I find this novel as a personal letter from Abbey to society that says ‘you all are going to kill each other.’ While that sounds harsh at first, let me explain. I believe the whole reason this book exists is because Abbey got sick of his life amongst the mass population and decided to live amongst nature and he found his new life to be so satisfying that he decided to write a book on it. During the writing of this book he became so passionate about what he was writing every time he was reminded about the world outside his bubble, he became very defensive in his writing, as displayed in when the corporate representatives visited him in the chapter “Industrial Tourism and National Parks.” I interpret Abbey to practice, mistrust and near hatred in humanity, characteristics of a misanthropists and these characteristics should be taken literally in his writing.
Before I necessarily delve into the book I would like to share some information I found on Abbey and his personal life. His father, Paul Abbey, was; a strong socialist, anarchist, and atheist and his mother, Mildred Abbey, who had an affection for nature too. Clearly, he grew up to be quite the combination of his parents and as a child, he was an “intimidating loner” (citation), making it clear he was never one to mingle with a crowd. In 1945, he was drafted into the Army but as a result of the G.I. Bill, he was honorably discharged to go to college, though during his time in the forces he was demoted twice due to opposing authority. Ever since his discharge it was noted that he gained a distrust in large institutions and the government. The portion of his life that sticks out the most to me is that he sent his discharge papers back to the FBI and they claimed he committed an act of civil disobedience, putting Abbey on FBI’s watch-list. His response to the FBI was “I’d be insulted if they weren’t watching me” (Wendell).
As a person Abbey clearly did not appreciate the company of fellow men and while in the book he does not single out people to hate, he always seems to attack civilization and what the collective whole of America is doing to the planet. This trend continues in “Down the River” in which he claims that as a civilization if we destroy the environment we will be “betraying the principle of civilization itself” (pg. 169, Abbey) because to him civilization does not need to move forward but instead take a step back and appreciate the land they stay on. One famous example of someone who followed a code like Abbey’s is Christopher McCandless, the person who inspired the book Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. In this true story, McCandless selfishly ditches the fortunate life he was given to live totally in the wild – where he went wrong is that over the past generations, we have been trained to rely on modern technology, no longer can someone just run away and hope live in solitary. While I do not believe Abbey is asking everyone to drop everything and live like McCandless tried too but as the years pass it becomes increasingly difficult to argue on the side of Abbey. Due to his ignorance Abbey seems to have lost compassion for people and the growth of humanity as a whole, instead he would rather have us regress into a primitive mindset.
Even though I believe this book spawned from Abbey’s will to get away from man, throughout his story, Abbey interacts with many different characters where no one is like the other; his boss, tourists, Roy, Viviano and Newcomb. As a story, naturally I would think that Abbey would find things about these characters that would allow him to grow as a person too, instead I see no rub-off from these characters. Abbey has been the same character since page one. But I have found an anomaly in his character that makes the reader, for a moment, more sympathetic, he claims he misses society but not the big city but “society of a friend or friends or a good, friendly woman” (pg. 97, Abbey), this is a step. Also, in the midst of my minor rant on Abbey and his beliefs, I realize that for many problems he poses, he proposes a solution. Solutions like the six-step solution of industrialism in national parks and his solution to overdevelopment on page 131. So he tries nicely to point out problems and offer solutions, though they seem weak, unpopular and answer problems that even forty years later are not huge problems.
The most glaring part of Edward Abbey is his clear distrust in humanity and hatred for what it has done to the planet. Everyone has their redeemable qualities and he is no exception but there clear evidence that he loves the national park system because he is not a fan of people and in fact is quite a misanthropists.
Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire; a Season in the Wilderness. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968. Print
Wendell, Roger J. "Edward Abbey and Henry David Thoreau Page of Roger J. Wendell." Edward Abbey and Henry David Thoreau Page of Roger J. Wendell. Roger J Wenedell, n.d. Web. 17 Sept. 2014. <http://www.rogerwendell.com/abbey.html>.
"Edward Abbey." Encyclopedia of Biograhpies. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Sept. 2014. <http://www.notablebiographies.com/supp/Supplement-A-Bu-and-Obituaries/Abbey-Edward.html>.