Dr. Adam Johns
English Composition 0200
15 September 2014
A Half: Regarding Abbey’s Misanthropy
Often throughout Desert Solitaire, Abbey claims to hate humanity, and the various baggage associated with it: civilization, scientific advancement, industrialization, and the like. He’ll go on long tirades on the subject, ranting about the evils of advancement, forming elaborate arguments on the matter, and yet despite that, I don’t think it’s something to be taken completely seriously. Of course, he does make valid arguments and equally valid points, and those points that he makes are not satirical. But it’d be a mistake to take his apparent misanthropy completely at face value. As opposed to being a genuine argument that all of humanity is horrendous and monstrous, it represent humanity’s frustration with the order of civilization.
Abbey tends to use hyperbole in his works, that’s a given, especially in regards to contrasting nature and civilization. He describes nature and the wilderness as “an Eden, a portion of the earth’s original paradise” (Abbey 152), and his descriptions of civilization tend to be sardonic at the best, and vitriolic at the worst. On page 155, Abbey practically lists an entire paragraph of things he hates about human civilization. “...what intolerable garbage and what utterly useless crap we bury ourselves in day by day, while patiently enduring at the same time the creeping strangulation of the clean white collar and the rich but modest four-in-hand garrote!” In that same speech, he complains about nearly all aspects of civilization: from corrupt governments and businesses to meager household appliances, the “constant petty tyranny of automatic washers and automobiles and TV machines and telephones—!” (Abbey 155) Despite this, and his apparent hatred of all things originating from mankind, he doesn’t do away with all things man-made. In his journey down the river, he uses many man-made tools for assistance. Rubber row boats, for one. Pots and pans, bacon and dried fruits, and they even would have brought their life jackets had they not forgotten them. This isn’t a one-time thing. Even during his time as a park ranger, he lives in a trailer, complete with gas stoves, fridges, running water, and so on.
So is this genuine hypocrisy, or intentional? Considering Abbey’s writing style, this contrast is blatant enough so that it seems intentional. So why all this exaggeration? Because as opposed to arguing some logical or rational point, the point of this misanthropy is to represent his emotion, namely his (and the rest of humanity’s) frustration and boredom with the ‘civilized’ world. He says the wilderness is necessary for the average person as a safe haven, a place to “escape the stress and turmoil of those urban-suburban complexes which they had hoped, presumably, to leave behind for a while.” (Abbey 51) And his complaints and rants are representative of that, the reasons someone would want to escape those urban-suburban complexes, minor things that built up: the monotony of office jobs, the government and “the Man”, and the little inconveniences and quirks that came with urban-suburban life. His misanthropy is outlandish and exaggerated because of that, it represents not reason, but emotion, and emotion is the exact opposite of the completely and utterly rational. In the end, his hatred is a metaphor for the part of humanity that wants to get away, that which wants to embrace nature and total freedom.
Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire; a Season in the Wilderness. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968. Print.