Seminar in Composition
Dr. Adam Johns
September 17, 2014
Analyzing Abbey's Misanthropy
By this point in the novel Edward Abbey has made it clear that he has a unique distaste for humanity. He has shut himself out from the world by spending a season at Arches and every time he has some form of human contact he goes on a tirade about the idiocy of mankind. Yet he writes a book attempting to call out the shortcomings of our society in the hopes that we may open our eyes and fix them. Would these be the intentions of someone who truly hates mankind?
On pages 154-55 Abbey makes his stance on the subject very clear. He despises the “tool making kind.” He releases his anger towards the government and societal norms. He wants to escape it all. But as we eventually learn, he cannot escape the effects of mankind on his vision of the perfect world. He shares with us his belief that by cutting off the wilderness from our world, we are destroying the principles of society. He warns “industrial man” that our expansion will isolate us from the earth and as Abbey stated “He will make himself an exile from the earth and then will know at last… the pain and agony of final loss.”
Abbey is angry with society for taking advantage of what he holds so dear. What adds fuel to his anger is the fact that no one realizes it. He is in the minority of people who see the true beauty of unaltered nature and prefers to take the road less travelled to see further into natures offerings. No automobiles or roadways are needed for this. Dams will only destroy the beauty forever. This whole novel is an attempt to open some eyes to opportunities mankind is destroying. I believe Abbey is trying to help mankind despite his anger towards it. It isn’t for his sake. He understands the true essence of nature. He wants others to see it as well.
So maybe Abbey doesn’t truly hate mankind. Maybe he is just frustrated with the ignorance and greed. The years of watching the land transform before him to feed the money-hungry proprietors has made him bitter. To Abbey’s pagan beliefs, original sin is the destruction of nature which is true paradise that we are completely unworthy of. He states, “…the Paradise of which I write and wish to praise is with us yet, the here and now, he actual, tangible, dogmatically real earth on which we stand.”
Probably the best example for this argument is when Abbey tells Newcomb that they need to start heading home on page 181. When questioned why, Abbey’s response is somewhat surprising. “Because they need us. Because civilization needs us.” This conversation unveils a greater meaning to Abbey’s journey throughout the book more blatantly. As much as he hates it, he knows he must try to help open the eyes of the people.
With all of this being said, I believe that Abbey does hate mankind. There is no question to the existence of misanthropy of this novel. He clearly states (repeatedly) how he is disgusted with the “utterly useless crap we bury ourselves in day by day.” Yes, most of the time we should take him literally. Although his arguments may seem extreme they are logical. At times we must read into his metaphors. The stories of Billy Joe, Moon-Eye and his trip down the river all have significant points trying to be made. It’s our job to put in an honest effort and give him the benefit of the doubt to try to understand them.
How does Abbey define wilderness? “Something lost and something still present, something remote and at the same time intimate, something buried in our blood and nerves, something beyond us and without limit.” This definition seems to hold much more passion than any of Merriam-Webster’s. It is this passion that drives Abbey to misanthropy. As would we if something we are so passionate about is being ultimately spit on by the society that surrounds us.
We must not take offense to this hatred. We have to see the causation that has led to these views and decide for ourselves if this book is just a crazy man rambling about his hippy beliefs or if we should take him seriously and see the issues he is trying to have us fix. While it may be extreme at times, I believe that Abbey’s misanthropy is the result of his frustration; with passion as intense as his, it is entirely understandable.
Works Cited:Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness. New York: Touchstone, 1990.