Dr. Adam Johns
English Composition 0200
17 September 2014
Interpreting Abbey’s Misanthropic Opinions
Misanthropy is defined as the dislike of humankind, and as a misanthropist, Abbey despises mankind and avoids human society. At its most basic, Abbey portrays his uneasiness with people simply through describing his job, where he is very much alone in nature and has little contact with others while performing the duties of being a park ranger. However, his misanthropy is more clearly evident in later chapters when he describes the ways in which humans have destroyed his revered environment. By providing logical explanations as to why he hates humanity, Abbey attempts to persuade his audience to take his misanthropic opinions seriously, whereas in reality he should neither be taken literally.
Abbey begins his misanthropic arguments at the beginning of the novel, but becomes clearer about his position when he talks about the Industrial Tourism. He believes that roads running through the forests and environment detract from the beauty of nature in general. Abbey believes that Industrial Tourism is as ugly as humanity because humans are the individuals responsible for the continued construction to support their lazy, selfish needs. He again mentions that humans are the sole reason for the destruction of the natural environment when he describes how the Glen Canyon was “drowned” (152). This is seen when Abbey says that “the motorboats now smoke and whine, scumming the water with cigarette butts, beer cans and oil, dragging the water skiers on their endless rounds, clockwise” (152). By this, Abbey means to say that humans solely use nature to discard their waste while abusing it for their own enjoyment.
Abbey’s continued disgust at the human race is evident when he and his friend Newcomb go on an adventure down the Colorado River. When they see a man yelling and waving at them, they wave back but Abbey is almost immediately disgusted with his actions and amends them by saying “we shall not see another of the tool-making breed for a long time and we could not care less” (154). This statement puts emphasis on the man’s symbolical references to both society and humans in general, and makes them seem primitive and unruly. Abbey’s utter disgust and contempt for people is further shown through his quotes of Shakespeare and Raleigh. Through Shakespeare’s statement, “Man delights not me, no, nor woman neither” (154) as well as Raleigh’s declaration, “I wish I loved the human race, I wish I loved its silly face” (155), Abbey’s true feelings are exposed. Through these quotes, it is found to be that contrary to what he says, Abbey actually wants to like the human race, which is coincidentally what his beliefs about solitude are based upon as well. It is because of his wanting to like humanity that he accompanies Newcomb on the adventure, in order to “renew our affection for ourselves and the human kind in general by a temporary, legal separation from the mass” (155). Abbey comments on how his alone-ness will allow him to have the literal and primitive meaning of the word freedom, which is unable to be experienced in civilized society. He says that societal limitations like the domestic routines are hindering. This only proves that he has a “revulsion and delight” about humankind in general (156). Revulsion for what humans do, but delight about the idea of humankind. Thus, there are some inarguable aspects about humans that cause distractions and detractions from nature and the environment, but the there are definite perks to being around people as well.
Although Abbey uses logical explanations to persuade his audience that humankind is a disgrace to nature, his audience should not take his misanthropic statements literally. He has many valid arguments but he ultimately wants to like the human race that he tries so hard to despise. In a way, Abbey is misanthropic towards the actions of humans, not the idea of them.
Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness. New York: McGraw, 1968. Print.