Seminar in Composition
Dr. Adam Johns
September 3, 2014
Desert Solitaire: “Rocks” Analysis
Edward Abbey displays his deep-seated anger towards the onslaught of industrial tourism of the national park system. Throughout the first few chapters he contests the objective of the National Park Service and argues that the agency is gravely misinterpreting its duty. It seems to me that Abbey views the Park Service’s ambition to raise their number of visitors as a fatal flaw. This creates a parallel between Abbey’s beliefs and experiences with the National Park Service and the story of the Husk and Billy Joe in the chapter “Rocks.” The argument of “Rocks” is that when you try to make something great better, you may end up destroying it in the process.
The Husk family is introduced to us on page 67. They live in a beat up old trailer and drive a beat up old jeep. However, Husk soon shows Mr. Graham the “he can take care of himself” by showing him a check. Despite this, Husk is eager to strike it rich with Mr. Graham by mining uranium. The partnership quickly turns south when Husk’s wife cheats on him with Graham and Graham kills Husk as well as himself. The story then begins to elaborate on Billy Joe’s struggle for life in the following days until he tragically dies.
So what does this have to do with Abbey’s hatred of the National Park Service? What point is he trying to make? I believe that the story and its outcome depicts what Abbey believes will happen to the National Parks if they continue in their present direction. Let’s make some connections. I believe that Husk and Mr. Graham represent the ambitious National Park Service. The Service’s eagerness to create paved roads and allowed motorized vehicles through the parks to raise visitation numbers relates to Husk’s ambitious dream of becoming rich off uranium. This leaves the national parks themselves to be represented by innocent little Billy Joe.
Abbey sees the national parks as beautiful the way they are. Just as Husk’s life is fine the way it is without having stakes in uranium mining. Should the Park Service take measures to bring in more visitors by allowing more motorized vehicles and making more changes it takes away from the natural beauty and experience. Abbey refers to the phrase “parks are for people.” He shares his take on the statement by adding his opinion to it; parks are for people, not vehicles. Abbey also believes that if national parks go damaged by automobiles and other modern innovations, then future generation will be able to enjoy them. If they are not preserved like they should be (a result of greed and ambition), then they will be destroyed and invaluable to the generations to come. Much as Billy Joe will not be able to enjoy his life because of his father’s greed and ambition.
Abbey does not present a problem without offering his solution. Prior to rocks he offers his “constructive, practical, sensible proposals for the salvation of both parks and people” in the chapter “Polemic: Industrial Tourism and the National Parks.” His first proposal is rather blunt and simply sates, “No more cars in national parks.” The second builds off the previous by stating “No more roads in national parks.” Abbey allows compromises in both proposals and also shares why he believes them to be valuable to both people and park. For example, he believes that “distance and space are functions of speed and time” and therefore without automobiles people with be able to travel slower and be able to appreciate the great size of the parks that they would otherwise take for granted. The third proposal is more comical in nature and states, “Put the park rangers to work.” Edward Abbey elaborates on all of these points and then gives us a figurative visual of what may happen without these steps in “Rocks.”
Although Abbey does not directly show the relation between the two, we are able to conclude that “Rocks” parallels Abbey’s beliefs that greed and ambition with lead to the tragic downfall of the national parks. In Abbey’s eyes, industrial tourism (greed and ambition) will hinder the natural beauty or even the existence of the national parks just as Husk’s greed ambition lead to the death of Billy Joe.
Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness. New York: Touchstone, 1990. Print.