Dr. Adam Johns
Revision – EngComp 0200
12 October 2014
Human Progression in “Rocks”
Edward Abbey’s chapter “Rocks” symbolizes the effects of modernization as the destruction of nature for unjust human progression. Through many representations of the different aspects of the environment, the author depicts how industrialization destroys the earth and ultimately portrays his beliefs about what will happen if progression is not curbed. The chapter is extremely allegorical due to the fact that the story told within it has characters representing the effects that modernization would have on the natural environment. By doing this, Abbey explains the deeper meaning of development and innovation, and how the advancing of technology detracts from the beauty of nature.
To Abbey, nature is a “sanctum of … culture” (Abbey 52). In his eyes, the way in which people treat the environment, as well as how they move around within it is indicative of a person’s culture, not their skin color or other visible characteristics. Abbey realizes that “like much of America,” Industrial Tourism “is mainly a very big business” (Luke 176). It provides useful benefits to many people, including jobs and ease of transportation. However, instead of allowing the age of industrial tourism to arrive in the parks, he believes that society should return to the limited ways of travel within nature. Abbey says that biking, walking, or even riding horses should be the only acceptable means in which to travel because these modes of transportation permit people to take time and actually view their surroundings. The roads that are made to allow motorized vehicles to pass only aid in the destruction of the environment by allowing the tourists to fly through the park without truly seeing its beauty, therefore making it ugly. He realizes that “Industrial Tourism is a big business. It means money” (Abbey 49), but refuses to understand that the definition of accessibility has changed to include both man and machine, not just man. While exemplifying Mount Everest as the explanation to how men can go anywhere on foot, Abbey poses the question that wonders why everyone cannot walk to see nature’s greatest treasures. Instead of developing to accommodate vehicles, the author advocates for preservation of the already dwindling numbers of dirt roads and natural trails. Abbey’s problem with roads and industrialization is that with the continued increased accessibility of parks and natural areas, society should be more focused on interacting with the outdoors, not just looking at it through a window.
Coincidentally, Abbey’s extreme aversion for anything modern or industrial stems from the people who use machines, not the motors or engines themselves. This is seen when he says “so long as [people] are unwilling to crawl out of their cars they will not discover the treasures of the national parks and will never escape the stress and turmoil of those … complexes which they had hoped, presumably, to leave behind for a while” (Abbey 51). Understandably, Abbey is extremely passionate about persevering towards the preservation of the environment, which includes voicing his opinion about his hatred for industrialization and modernization that is diminishing his beloved home.
Abbey uses his tale within “Rocks” to explain how modernization and industrialization materialize the land and detracts from its values in the eyes of those who profit from it. The author argues that dividing nature into purchasable pieces only diminishes the environment, especially when not put to good use. Charles Graham is a moderately wealthy businessman who owns several uranium claims worth of land. Graham represents the modernization and industrialization sides of society because of his business that thrives on the division and destruction of the land and environment. Symbolically, Graham’s fiery death from being attached to a rolling truck and dragged over a cliff signifies that, try though they might, businessmen will pay the consequences of participating in the destruction of nature. In this way, nature will have the last word.
Albert Husk is farmer who works for Graham and represents nature itself because of his absolute innocence and ignorance about his wife’s affair with his boss. Abbey argues that Husk’s sole attention being on his work and profit is the reason as to why he fails to notice or do anything at all about his wife’s continued decline and lack of interest for him, eventually leading to his inability to tell when she has been unfaithful. Husk’s death is symbolic because it depicts how nature will be destroyed without a second thought, just as Graham shot Husk without warning or another chance to live. By having the character that best represents nature be killed first, Abbey relays the message that the most direct aspect of modernization and industrialization to be impacted and ultimately hurt is nature.
Husk’s son Billy-Joe represents society as a whole because of the pain and suffering that he is forced to endure when nature is gone. After Graham kills his father, Billy-Joe desperately tries to escape the businessman but falls off the edge of a ravine, dislocating his shoulder. After spending torturous days floating down the river on a tree, he is found to be barely alive. However, he dies three days later, which Abbey symbolizes as the end of society. The author says that no matter how hard society tries to live and endure without nature, it will fail. Without nature, humanity would perish. In this way, the author is showing how he believes that although society may desperately attempt to survive, as soon as nature is destroyed by modernization and industrialization, society crumbles.
Throughout this recounted story, Abbey portrays his feelings for nature, as well as the advancement of technology. This is seen when he says:
“Do not jump into your automobile … and rush out to canyon country … in the first place you can’t see anything from a car; you’ve got to get out of the goddamned contraption and walk, better yet crawl … this is not a travel guide but an elegy. A memorial. You’re holding a tombstone in your hands. A bloody rock … throw it at something big and glassy” (Abbey xiv).
This shows that Abbey despises Industrial Tourism everyone arrives in his or her car for a quick look at the park. He argues that the beauty of nature is being diminished due to the constant modernization of society that negatively impacts nature, but that his book contains some of the last living memories and descriptions of some amazing aspects of the environment. The author says that industrialization is forcing people to not look properly, which can ultimately render the beauty of nature irrelevant. Abbey simply advises that taking the time to walk will help the tourists appreciate the world around them instead of being caught up in their busy lives.
The argument of “Rocks” is that modernization, advancement, and the industrialization of society will destroy the natural environment, which Abbey considers to be representing of human culture as a whole. By portraying his feelings about nature through storytelling, Abbey is able to convey the messages of preservation and protection, not those of progression and innovation.
Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness. New York: McGraw, 1968. Print.
Luke, Timothy W. "In Defense of the American West: Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness." SAGE Journals. SAGE, n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2014.