Edward Abbey

The Wilderness and Its Four Scorned Lovers

“What’s more American than violence?” Hayduke wanted to know.
“Violence, it’s as American as pizza pie.” (176)

How do you peacefully make a difference? When something calls to you so hard that you know you must act on it, but need to do so in a non-destructive, power-filled protesting way—how do you accomplish that? Monkeywrenching is your best option. And then you must ask, where do we start to resolve the dichotomy between the civilized and the wild?

Do you want to save the fucking wilderness?
Yeah? Do it.

Edward Abbey revolutionizes the environmentalism movement with his 1975 novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang. He deals with the morality of using eco-activism to set straight was has been broken. But, he does not simply write a book that includes human destruction and people trying to make it better. He draws out humor, uses crude language, and forces the reader to feel the angst the characters are facing.

Some may question how you could effectively use humor when dealing with such a serious topic. I think these people would be knocked off their feet by Abbey’s writing. It’s raw. It’s laugh-out-loud-curse-the-government-stand-up-and-scream kind of writing. It’s civil disobedience at it’s finest.

I believe Abbey and Thoreau would have a lot to talk about. Thoreau said in his iconic essay Civil Disobedience, “There are thousands who are in opinion opposed to slavery and to the war, who yet in effect do nothing to put an end to them; who, esteeming themselves children of Washington and Franklin, sit down with their hands in their pockets, and say that they know not what to do, and do nothing.”



The crafting of the four protagonists, George Hayduke, Bonnie Abzug, Smith, and Doc Sarvis was perfectly done. Each one, morally flawed in one shape or another, presents a new idea, and a method ‘to take their hand out of their pockets’ do something about the frustration they each feel over the urbanization of their desert, their home. “The open desert was being scraped bare of all vegetation, all life,”  This quote comes right at the beginning of our introduction to Hayduke and strongly shows the goal the four of them have that starts their adventure down the “asphalt trail.”

When the cities are gone, he thought, and all the ruckus has died away, when sunflowers push up through the concrete and asphalt of the forgotten interstate freeways, when the Kremlin and the Pentagon are turned into nursing homes for generals, presidents and other such shitheads, when the glass-aluminum skyscraper tombs of Phoenix Arizona barely show above the sand dunes, why then, why then, why then by God maybe free men and wild women on horses, free women and wild men, can roam the sagebrush canyonlands in freedom—goddammit!—herding the feral cattle into box canyons, and gorge on bloody meat and bleeding fucking internal organs, and dance all night to the music of fiddles! banjos! steel guitars! by the light of a reborn moon!—by God, yes! Until, he reflected soberly, and bitterly, and sadly, until the next age of ice and iron comes down, and the engineers and the farmers and the general motherfuckers come back again. (107)

This quote stuck out the most when reading this novel. I started to read it aloud, and at first, I didn’t even recognize this was happening, until I looked over at my little cousins. Her eyes wide after hearing all the cuss words, and confusing washed across her face trying to understand what had just come out. I open my mouth again, preparing to try and explain to her and make sense of what I had just done, but I didn’t know what to say. My mind was wondering with the visualization Abbey has just painted. I started to picture Trump as a  fatigued, fossilized man in his pentagon nursing home and Bonnie coming right up to him, flipping him off while the other three stood back and cheered her on.

It’s incredible how relevant a text can be decades later. The parallels you can draw from other writers that speak in the same atmosphere is also shocking. You read one book, build a connection with it, internalize it, and project the idea out into your own world. Then you read another and again do the same thing, but this time building off of the new outlook you have discovered and you put yourself in awe. I like the feeling I was left with after reading this novel. A sense of power and entitlement to my ideas and beliefs.

I recently wrote about Terry Tempest Williams and her idea of refuge in change and in nature. In my head, she owns that word now. Refuge is hers; it is what echoes in my head when I spend time outside. When I read it in another text, I try and compare it to her definition. So, when Abbey wrote, “The wilderness once offered men a plausible way of life, now it functions as a psychiatric refuge. Soon there will be no wilderness,” I automatically critiqued and judged Abbey for trying to hinder her portrayal (63).

The wilderness was a refuge for Tempest and a place for her to clear her mind and become whole again. I tried to take a step back and relinquish the hold I placed on that idea. I asked myself, Where am I? I am in the context of Abbey’s characters, who are on a different mission. They are trying to reclaim their land and the wilderness. People are abusing it with urbanization and destroying the natural, to build a “psychiatric refuge.”

Through eco-terrorism, the four characters work towards gaining back the west. Tempest was able to find peace in the desert and the lake, I think these four characters were looking to accomplish much in the same. Abbey romanticizes the land and Hayduke, Abzug, Smith, and Doc Sarvis are the scorned lovers. The colonizers need to leave so the wilderness can get its happy ending.


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