Seminar in Composition
Dr. Adam Johns
September 17, 2014
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.
Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire: The First Morning & A Season in the Wilderness. New York: Touchstone, 1990.