September 16, 2014
Seminar in Composition
Abbey and Misanthropy
Edward Abbey, quite the interesting man – prolific writer, outspoken environmentalist and quite the misanthropist. In Desert Solitaire, he sounds like a man who is on a mission both spiritually and politically to spread what he believes to be right. Though this is ironic in the sense that he is a misanthropist – Abbey practically hates what human civilization has turned into – as he blatantly rambles on with “my god! I’m thinking, what incredible shit we put up with most of our lives…” (pg. 155, Abbey) and continues to nit-pick at citizens and corporations. While the widespread definition of misanthropy involves the hating of humans, Abbey is a variation and his writing should be taken literally because it is a part of who he is.
I say misanthropy is a strong part of who Abbey is because I notice it in ‘Solitaire’ but I did a lot of research to find out why he practices these feelings towards society. Where did they spawn? In the biography from James M. Calahan, Edward Abbey: A life, Calahan states “appreciating Abbey’s imposing mother and father is a key part of understanding their son” (pg. 5, Calahan) because Abbey is quite literally the child of his parents, Mildred and Paul. Calahan quotes Mildred’s sister in saying “she was always active” (pg. 5, Calahan) and was closely affiliated with nature. Now, his father, Paul was a hardworking man but very extreme in his beliefs – he was a strong socialist, anarchist, and atheist, to name a few. Paul lived his life and raised his children on the Walt Whitman quote “resist much, obey little.” By the force of his mother, Edward attended church regularly but Calahan most notably points out “[Paul’s] political radicalism, opposition to organized religion and independent streak rubbed off on his oldest son [Edward]” (pg.8, Calahan). Starting to put the pieces together on Abbey?
Moving on into Abbey’s childhood, while just over ten years of age, he began leaving Sunday school because he questioned the bible on a regular basis. Also, Calahan attended Abbey’s high school reunion and noticed that the majority of his former classmates classified Edward as “a loner” (pg. 21, Calahan) who would never talk in a crowd and “was an independent, rebellious, free spirit from early age” (pg. 20, Calahan) as said by one of his aunts. It didn’t help Abbey either that his family suffered hard from the economy of the 1930’s as did many others but it really opened Ed up to the what he had around him, Western Pennsylvania nature.
How does all of this connect to Abbey’s misanthropy? Well the way I see it is that Abbey was raised with many beliefs of his father that were and quite frankly are still not popular amongst the American society. The combination of him adopting his dad’s morality and becoming a rebel makes him quite annoying to talk to in a simple conversation, in my opinion. We have all talked to those people who are so extreme on their ideals that a disagreement turns into a non-friendly argument, it is just frustrating. As it seems Abbey grew must have notice this amongst people and thus excluding himself and as he has said a couple times in ‘Solitaire,’ he misses civilization just not in the form of a couple people not populated life.
As shown in his writing, Abbey continues his behavior down the line but some of his actions become borderline extreme and anti-American. Let me explain in 1945, he was drafted into the Army but as a result of the G.I. Bill, he was honorably discharged to go to college, no big deal, a lot of men did the same. But, during his time in the forces he was demoted twice due to opposing authority. Personally, I find the G.I. bill clause to be quite the excuse and maybe Abbey’s ranking officers wanted him out as fast as possible. What really makes this event stick out was later in his life is that he sent his discharge papers back to the FBI and they claimed he committed an act of civil disobedience, putting Abbey on FBI’s watch-list. His response to the FBI was “I’d be insulted if they weren’t watching me” (Wendell).
Ever since his discharge it was noted that Abbey gained a distrust in large institutions and the government as displayed in his ‘Polemic’ rant. This all connects to his strong misanthropy towards American society because he clearly disagrees the way everything in this country is done. In all of my research, he never once appreciates the democratic system yet it is pointed out numerous times that he is a strong Marxist, somewhat of a socialist, and even in class we debated if he was an anarchist. All of which are quite unpopular in our nation. When it comes to industry, we are all familiar with where he stands on that front by even calling the idea of industrial tourism as “quite insane” (pg. 47, Abbey). I understand that there is nowhere else like home but quite frankly Abbey should have probably left America if he cannot seem to appreciate any of it.
Though I seem to be harsh about Abbey’s attitude and misanthropy towards our society, I would be open to listening to the other side of this argument – he is just trying to help us. While in Solitaire I find Abbey him to be a character who lacks growth there still exists a deeper part of him that misses what he had, people. Not the big city but a small group of people, this might explain why he delves deep into all of the individuals he meets throughout his seasons at Arches – Roy, Newcomb, etc. These people keep him preoccupied and he learns the occasional lesson from them, which does not mean he carries those lessons.
Referring back to many of his rants – like ‘Polemic’- for every problem he brings up, he does provide a solution. Though not every solution may suffice to be a quality one, kind of like his population solutions, they were not so nice. Obviously, there is in the case of his three step plan to clear industrialism out of national parks that is very thorough and could have had a chance of working in the mid-1900’s but those plans do not hold the test of time anymore.
//Paragraphs from Pozza
Here is a fun fact I learned about Abbey while he worked in Arches that I learned in David M. Pozza’s biography Bedrock and Paradox, Abbey was married to his wife, Rita and had a son, John living in his little trailer with him in his second season at Arches. They seemed to be simply left out of the story because as we have discussed in class Abbey writes in a mix of fiction into his non-fiction and Pozza states, “However, these apparent gaps and inconsistencies (even omitting his divorced wife) permit Abbey to fabricate a unity for Desert Solitaire and give it a seamless and focused quality that would otherwise be missing” (Pg,. 86, Pozza). I can accept that argument that Abbey’s family added nothing to the story. Except that throughout the whole book we are led to believe that Abbey does not even want to be around other people most of the time and that his happiest place in the world is when he is alone, sitting outside of his trailer. By the way, this is arguing Abbey’s claim to loneliness and missing of society. His misanthropy and ego sticks out so much simply in the fact that he threw away his family totally out of this book. Maybe that is why the marriage ended in a divorce.
Look, reflecting back on Desert Solitaire the best support for my whole argument is the book itself. There are so many points in the book where Abbey claims that our society is either wrong, damaged or needs some sort of improvement that I just did not put into this essay. I believe that Edward Abbey became the Edward Abbey we read because he was raised by parents who provided the heaviest of influence on their son. Abbey is the perfect blend of his parent’s personality wise and he really carries it throughout his life and giving credit where credit is due he sticks to his points like glue no matter how much criticism he may have received from them. Quite simply, Edward Abbey is a misanthropist and there is only a weak argument against that claim if any.
Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire; a Season in the Wilderness. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968. Print
Cahalan, James M. Edward Abbey: A Life. Tucson: U of Arizona, 2001. Print.
Pozza, David M. Bedrock and Paradox the Literary Landscape of Edward Abbey. New York: Peter Lang, 2006. Print.
Wendell, Roger J. "Edward Abbey and Henry David Thoreau Page of Roger J. Wendell." Edward Abbey and Henry David Thoreau Page of Roger J. Wendell. Roger J Wenedell, n.d. Web. 17 Sept. 2014. <http://www.rogerwendell.com/abbey.html>.
"Edward Abbey." Encyclopedia of Biograhpies. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Sept. 2014. <http://www.notablebiographies.com/supp/Supplement-A-Bu-and-Obituaries/Abbey-Edward.html>.