Samantha CallSeminar in Composition
Dr. Adam Johns
September 17, 2014
Society and Self-Hatred
Abbey himself states, in Desert Solitaire, that “The explicitly representational often comes side by side with the highly abstract” (100, Abbey). This statement can be applied to the words and thoughts of Abbey himself, who frequently expresses misanthropy. While he undoubtedly feels extreme disappointment in and anger toward the human race as a whole, there is also evidence to suggest that those feelings toward humanity are actually reflections of Abbey’s feelings toward himself. Both society and Abbey have their downfalls and are representative of the shortcomings of the human mind, which is why Abbey fosters such negative emotions toward both.
In the literal sense, Abbey has valid reasons to hate humans. As a park ranger and self-proclaimed advocate for nature, Abbey is distraught by the destruction of wildlife and much of this emotion is directed toward those who are planning on destroying it. His trip down the river is, at several times, plagued by the thoughts that his surrounding will soon be humanized. His disappointment is iterated when he writes, “We pass too many of these marvelous side canyons, to my everlasting regret, for most of them will never again be wholly accessible to human eyes or feet” (164, Abbey). Abbey loves nature and who he is when he is in nature so much that the idea of taking it all away disappoints him greatly. In his opinion, disturbing man’s natural habitat “is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself” (169, Abbey). Other people will not be able to experience the wonders of pure, raw nature, and Abbey resents society for that deprivation. Other than depriving humans living in cities from becoming closer to nature, Abbey is angry with developers for hindering the ability of native Navajo Native Americans from living their lives in the way they always have, close to nature. Being ripped away from their relationship with nature by tourism, the Navajos are being forced to rely on white institutions and ideas to survive. Abbey describes it as a “mutilation of their basic humanity” (106, Abbey). Humans are evil, in Abbey’s mind, for keeping individuals, himself included, from becoming enlightened or at peace with themselves in nature.
Another explanation of Abbey’s anger toward humanity is that he is, in reality, more disappointed with himself for being just the opposite of what he is advocating. If Abbey is truly fed up with all of humanity, why does he choose to take his trip down the river with Ralph? Abbey even enjoys the “companionship and ease of conversation” (154, Abbey), which suggests that he is actually fed up with himself, not society. He is frustrated with his own destruction of nature and of his inability to release himself from the rules that have always surrounded him. His shortcomings are his own fault.
When Abbey argues that nature should be preserved in case rebels of the future need to use it in their struggle to liberate themselves from oppressive regimes, he is actually expressing his own desire to be liberated from society. Early in Desert Soliataire, Abbey conveys that he is in the wild “to evade for a while the clamor and filth and confusion of the cultural apparatus” (6, Abbey). Even on his trip down the river, Abbey is unable to completely separate himself from human culture, thinking of not his own connection with nature, but of the connections other groups, such as the Mormons, have had with nature. He also fails in his dreams by constantly pondering upon the existence of God and of His control over nature. Society’s desire to expel unjust rulers is a metaphor for Abbey’s desire to expel human constraints from his mind. His inability to do so fosters anger within himself which he projects onto society, even though it is his own failure that keeps him from separating from society. This is also displayed when Abbey reveals the reason for his trip down the river. He and Ralph said they wanted “to renew our affection for ourselves” (155, Abbey). This suggests that Abbey had developed a hatred for himself, which stemmed from his failure to achieve his goal of connecting with nature in a nonhuman way. He wanted to partake in this adventure to attempt to make that connection and ensure himself that he wasn’t a complete failure.
Abbey’s misanthropy is an expression of both his discontent with society and himself. This hatred of humankind is, in reality, an embodiment of Abbey’s doubt in himself. He is unsure if he is able to accomplish what he has set out to do; see nature in its most bare and simple form, without human influence. If Abbey were to ever achieve his goal, it is likely that his misanthropy would disappear and he would be content with everything in the world, including himself.