Seminar in Composition
Dr. Adam Johns
Edward Abbey toys with the idea of misanthropy throughout his work confusing the reader, and seemingly himself as well, regarding his true opinion on humankind. While Abbey teeters back and forth between blaming his own kind for the destruction of the natural world and loving humans and their contributions’, I believe it is this uncertainty and inner conflict that makes Abbey’s stance quite clear. Abbey doesn’t hate mankind; he so desperately wants to relay a message to his fellow humans on how important it is to rely on simple nature, but he is struggling on how to do so. Abbey needs people to understand, before it’s too late, that destruction of and isolation from nature is not the right way of coping; we, as a race, should be living with the earth, not on the earth. While Abbey’s points can often be mixed about his frequent ranting and lack of thought organization, all he truly wants is to relay the message that, “out there is a different world, older and greater and deeper by far than ours (Abbey, 37).”
Abbey resents his human ancestors for creating technology and frequent innovations and advancements that make one more dependent on tools and less dependent on his/her natural habitat. As demonstrated by Abbey’s domesticated lifestyle in the desert, it is true that, “mechanical gadgets,” often, “separate a man from the world around him,” and disallow him to live without them (Abbey, 13). He frequently becomes frustrated with himself that he is unable to live a wholesome life without a flashlight, a refrigerator, a fishing pole and other items created by man. When on the boat with Ralph in, “Down the River,” Abbey is tempted to, “make the trip some other time,” because they had, “forgotten a few things,” that Abbey doesn’t feel comfortable traveling without (Abbey, 153). When he and Ralph are able to survive the rapids without the missing items, Abbey becomes overjoyed at his accomplishment, sharing an, “intimate relation with the river (Abbey, 155).” Abbey wants so badly from this exhibition in solitaire to go back to nature, but he is unable to completely because he was taught from a very young age by the, “tool making breed (Abbey, 154),” to rely on the tools around him to make things quicker and easier. He strives with his time to feel one with nature instead of an outsider who is unwanted and foreign to the area.
Being born into and growing up in a civilized community contaminated with human speculation and already concluded ideas, Abbey feels he was cheated out of the opportunity to create his own opinions based on personal experience. Early on, Abbey expresses that he wants, “to be able to look into a juniper tree, a piece of quartz… and see it as it is in itself, devoid of all humanly ascribed qualities (Abbey, 6),” which his upbringing has left him unable to do. Throughout his time in the desert, Abbey struggles with the fact that he is unable to live equal with his surroundings, angry with himself and humans for creating a barrier of entitled superiority over all other beings. He shows his disgust for the sense of power and entitlement humans have developed overtime. In his opinion, the government has no authority to reconstruct parks and canyons that should remain untouched, as they naturally occurred.
Abbey entered solitaire to escape the masses, the rush and the isolation of society. He needed to remove himself from, “the stupid, and useless, and degrading jobs, the insufferable arrogance of elected officials, the crafty cheating and the slimy advertising of the businessmen…the foul, diseased and hideous cities and towns we live in, the constant petty tyranny of automatic washers and automobiles and TV machines, and telephones!” He needs to prove to himself that these things aren’t necessary parts of life and that one can thrive without them. Abbey wants people to stop rushing around in their sheltered surroundings and stop in a, “suspension of time, a continuous present (Abbey, 11),” where they can reflect and understand what’s important and what’s completely unnecessary. Abbey stresses that people need to step out of their comfort zones because, “so long as they are unwilling to crawl out of their cars they will not discover the treasures…and will never escape the turmoil of those urban-suburban complexes (Abbey, 51).”
Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire; a Season in the Wilderness. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968. Print.