Desert Solitaire: A Comment on Culture and Environment by E.Abbey
For several seasons Edward Abbey worked as a ranger in what is today known as the Arches National Park in eastern Utah. While performing his duties during the summer season, Abbey lived alone in an old-fashioned caravan relatively far from the nearest permanent town of Moab. Desert Solitaire, which was published in 1968, is based on the journals kept by Abbey during his seasons at the Arches.
The book portraits the joys and toils of the desert with its plants and creatures, and uses these wonders of untouched wilderness as a context in which to establish a critical comment on the American impulse to commercialize nature in the name of preservation. In addition a particular damming project in Glen Canyon along the Colorado River, receives much attention from the author, and the politicians and investors responsible for the project get their fair share of blame and sarcasm.This article will briefly examine the contents of Desert Solitaire and outline its major themes and implicit meanings.
Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness – Brief Summary
The basic theme of the book is the account of one of the seasons Abbey spent in the desert near the Colorado Plateau in Utah. Through the first few chapters the reader follows Abbey as he is installed in a small caravan on a hilltop with a spectacular view down at the desert and up at the mountain peaks. The reader is from the moment Abbey stands alone besides his temporary home a part of a journey through the seasons of the year.
First the plants and wildlife of the area begin to awaken from their slumber through the winter, then the world blossoms in front of the author’s eyes in the summer, before it yet again falls to sleep in preparation for King Winter’s arrival. Along the way Abbey encounters both human beings and animals in different settings and seasons (of the year), where the first – mainly tourists during the summer – annoys him by polluting both the environment and the quiet, and the second fascinates him to the brink of obsession.
All the way through the book politicians and big business are criticized, but the most serious criticism is not made until the end of it. In one of the last chapters – Down the River – Abbey describes a trip he made with his friend Ralph Newcomb down the Colorado River in the Glen Canyon area, which soon after was dammed for the purpose of producing hydro-electricity.
This chapter paints a canvas for the reader from which it is hard to awaken, and when they finally reach the building site where the construction of the new dam is well under way, the complaints issued by Abbey seem forceful and well argued. The book ends with Abbey enjoying the magnificent view from the Tukuhnikivats mountain, before he closes with his now famous rant about civilization and culture.
Desert Solitaire Study Guide
When reading literature published by authors one knows to be of a particular opinion or a particular mindset, it is often easy to assume the themes and implicit meanings of that work. Thus many readers might be tempted to read too much into the political critique asserted in Desert Solitaire, and too little into the stories told about nature.
One particular literary move made by Abbey is to descend or transcend into the point of view of the permanent inhabitants of the desert – the animals, and even the plants and trees. The most significant aspect of these moments, is that they are not used as allusions to human behavior in a human context, but rather as mere manifestations of nature’s own destinies. The other main theme worth paying attention to is the one described in the closing chapter, where Abbey compares civilization and culture, the first being good and the latter bad.