Wednesday, September 17, 2014

week 2 prompt 1

Brooke Kihle

Seminar in Composition

Dr. Adam Johns

September 17, 2014
Abbey's misanthropy

Throughout the entire book, Desert Solitaire, Abbey contradicts himself. At first I couldn’t tell what type of contradiction or even what Abbey was trying to say, but eventually it became clear Abbey thinks he’s funny. Through hypocritical metaphors and images as well as contrasting ideals Abbey creates a humorous atmosphere in his text. This is key when dealing with Abbey’s distinct misanthropy. Specifically, when interpreting wither to take Abbey literal or metaphorical, I say both; Abbey uses a combination of each to portray his overall idea; that he is a paradox.  Abbey can’t truly hate mankind if he himself is a man.

In the highlighted passage on pages 154-5 Abbey separates himself from “the tool-making breed” insinuating misanthropy directly by exploiting the man for all his flaws that Abbey finds in mankind. Then he goes right around to state, “We hope to discover something quite different, to renew our affection for ourselves and the human kind in general by a temporary, legal separation from the mass” (Abbey 154-5). This is so outrageously hypocritical that it can only be viewed but humorous because honestly what else is Abbey stating besides the backward idea that he hopes to love all that he hates of mankind by separating himself from such things. This makes us go in two directions at once: Abbey displaying strong, literal ideals of misanthropy contrasting to Abbey displaying metaphorical, deep desires to want to love mankind. Abbey creates this humorous atmosphere by his portrayals of such outrageous contrasts.

“Look here Newcomb, do you think it’s fitting that you and I should be here in the wilds, risking our lives amidst untold hardships, while our wives and loved ones lounge at their ease back in Albuquerque… yes” (Abbey 159). Abbey uses the emotional connection of family and loved ones to hint that he doesn’t truly think mankind as less than him for not following his ideals. Also, Newcomb’s clear short, yes gives a tone of humor further detailing Abbey’s message of his paradoxical struggle: he instinctually loves mankind for what he himself is while hating the destructive and unintelligent characteristics of civilization.

To simply state that Abbey overall hates mankind by his dark and negative images of men, is naive of Abbey’s overall voice. “The beavers had to go and build another goddamned dam on the Colorado” (Abbey 151). This quote not only displays Abbeys sense of style but also an example of his humor. Abbey doesn’t singularly portray men as “evil” and nature as “good”; instead his message is much more ambiguous. He struggles with viewing either as a clear symbol (this includes himself), which can be shown by Abbey’s anger towards the beaver’s dam which he sees as harmful to nature overall. Also the alliteration “goddamned dam” is not a coincidence but Abbey’s touch to prove he isn’t completely serious.

Abbey continues to contrast the image of nature and humanity, “If necessary, we agree, a man could live out his life in this place, once he had adjusted his nervous system to the awful quietude, the fearful tranquility” (Abbey 160). Earlier in the chapter of “Down the River” Abbey makes it clear that he wants quietude and tranquility yet describes such environments negatively now. This just shows that Abbey continues to struggle with which is better, nature or humanity. He exaggerates the idea of living completely isolated and driven insane with such solitude versus the chaos and confusion that is the problems of current civilization. Neither can be deemed perfect and I hypothesis that Abbey will explore this deeper and try to choose. Plus, Abbey continues to use humor within his search by drinking to the exaggerated conclusion Newcomb and he is forever doomed.

Abbey hates what humanity does to nature, destroys, yet appreciates qualities in himself that make him humane, strength, intelligence, and the ultimate predator. This will be predominate in Abbey’s internal struggle which he tries to solve through humor. The literal and metaphorical analysis of exaggerated contrasts such as Abbey’s direct separation from mankind yet being a man himself, display all that Abbey questions- who is he? I believe this will be a continue search for Abbey following to the end of Desert Solitaire.

Works cited:

Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire: The First Morning & A Season in the Wilderness.  New York: Touchstone, 1990.


  1. I found the central argument in this paper to be that Abbey is both literal and metaphorical in his hatred for humanity, and he displays this paradox often through his humor, which also invokes an internal struggle. I thought this was a great point, and it was well developed, especially seen in the "goddamned damn" reference. I also thought it was great that essay ended in a sort of question that can only be developed on in further reading. I could have used a bit more at the end of the second to last paragraph when Abbey and Newcomb being "doomed" is discussed. I can see where it's going, however perhaps adding a bit more on this choice you think Abbey will have to make between nature and humanity and how that plays into his misanthropy would make that portion stronger. I think all of the support for Abbey struggling with who he is is strong, however perhaps condensing paragraphs 3 and 4 would allow for a better flow, because they are essentially getting at similar points, so you could perhaps more effectively build off of them better by including them in the same paragraph.


  2. I basically like your introduction, but I'd like it better if you clarified the role of humor here. Is his misanthropy basically a running joke, or does the humorous excess of it serve a serious purpose? The 2nd paragraph is basically an extension of the 1st. It's all solid, but maybe slightly repetitive. The third paragraph continues in the same vein. You continue to refine and clarify what you're saying - "Also, Newcomb’s clear short, yes gives a tone of humor further detailing Abbey’s message of his paradoxical struggle: he instinctually loves mankind for what he himself is while hating the destructive and unintelligent characteristics of civilization." - but I'd like to see some clearer direction by this point. You've nailed the paradox - but what does it mean?

    I like the paragraph on beavers and people. Your attention to detail is excellent. And yet, I still want you to move more clearly forward in some direction - any direction! - of your own.

    The final couple paragraphs don't really make any forward progress.

    Overall: This is an excellent, focused start. But what does the paradox mean? I understand that you're hesitant to answer that question now (since you see it as basically a question about identity), but I think you could have taken some initial steps. If it was me, I probably would have turned from his paradoxic love/hate relationship with humanity to his doomed attempt to understand the Juniper tree. Or maybe I'd delve into his reading (anti-reading?) of Kant, although that would be painful. What I'm getting at is that you're ready Abbey quite well - well enough that I want to see more interpretation - in a sense, more of *you*. If you feel like the end of the book gives you the right ways to expand on the problem of Abbey's identity, this essay offers rich opportunities for revision.


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