Textual Analysis - The Journey Home By Edward Abbey Article Review

Published: 2021-06-22 00:29:34
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In a section of Edward Abbey's The Journey Home, the author comments on the apparently nebulous appeal of the desert, passionately asking his readers, "why go into the desert? Really, why do it?" (Abbey). While this passage, at first, seems to be a condemnation of the dangerous and hazardous nature of the desert and all its wildlife in particular, the passion by which he describes the desert itself is exactly what makes it appealing. By playing up this sense of danger and righteous fascination with the unknown, the reader is almost defied to love the desert; here, Abbey play-acts the role of the concerned parent, the condescending authority figure who wants you to be comfortable, while subtly telling you exactly why you should go to the desert. We know full well that Abbey is an earnest advocate for the desert and the stillness of the American Southwest (as seen in Desert Solitaire), so this must be the game that he is playing in this section. Through admonishing the desert, he points out its wonders and its allure, while simultaneously comparing it favorably to the mundane beauties and activities of the rest of the country.
The admiration Abbey has for the desert comes out in the majority of the essay through fragmented phrases of the various things one would encounter in the desert - "That sun, roaring at you all day long. The fetid, tepid, vapid little holes slowly evaporating under a scum of grease, full of cannibal beetles, spotted toads, horsehair worms, liver flukes, and down at the bottom, inevitably, the pale cadaver of a ten-inch centipede" (Abbey). While the sun 'roaring at you all day long' may sound like something that is unpleasant, the exquisite and grotesque detail by which he describes the environment and the wildlife one finds there is almost fetishistic; Abbey seems to want the sun to roar down on him all day long, and he takes an intense glee at cataloguing the various insectoid life he finds in this environment. The weather is treacherous, and come extremely close to harming you, as Abbey describes in more flash in the pan moments of true terror: "The rain that comes down like lead shot and wrecks the trail, those sudden rockfalls of obscure origin that crash like thunder ten feet behind you in the heart of a dead-still afternoon" (Abbey). Even the animals seek to kill you: "The ubiquitous buzzard, so patient--but only so patient" (Abbey).
Abbey further cements the renegade, maverick status of these places by linking their names with death: "Those places with the hardcase names: Starvation Creek, Poverty Knoll, Hungry Valley, Bitter Springs, Last Chance Canyon, Dungeon Canyon, Whipsaw Flat, Dead Horse Point, Scorpion Flat, Dead Man Draw, Stinking Spring, Camino del Diablo, Jornado del Muerto . . . Death Valley" (Abbey). These places are far from safe or pretty, Abbey implies, but they are full of life and activity, as well as myriad ways to test one's mettle. Abbey calling these names 'hardcase' implies a certain desperation to them, noting that people no longer go there because of the danger; this gives them an underdog status that Abbey wishes to use to appeal to the danger-seeker and the lover of the wilderness.
As Abbey continues, his repetition of 'Why' slowly ceases to become a question and instead leads one to the answer; he is no longer asking 'why,' but answering our questions of 'why.' In quoting Genghis Khan, Abbey is linking the desert to his great adventurous name, and also daring us to go where the great Khan himself could not stand it: "why indeed go walking into the desert, that grim ground, that bleak and lonesome land where, as Genghis Khan said of India, "the heat is bad and the water makes men sick"?" (Abbey). Abbey paves before you a path laden with those who either tried and failed to brave the desert, or succeeded but hated every minute of it; he thinks that you can do better, though he would never explicitly say it in this section.
In naming pleasant or equally exciting alternatives to the desert, Abbey offers the reader the chance to examine their attitudes to these typical appealing places: "Why the desert, given a world of such splendor and variety?" (Abbey). Abbey, in the process, has answered his own question: by noting the romanticism and the dangerous appeal of the desert, he pins down why people might want to go there - to get away from the golden beaches, the misty hills, and the rest of the various places we could go. Abbey alludes to our need to find solitude and sameness in the American Southwest in lieu of niceties, variety and pleasure; we challenge ourselves by going to the desert. Abbey's essay, therefore, reads as a tongue-in-cheek, sardonic representation of the stodgy authority figure who hates discomfort, thus egging us on to take on that discomfort ourselves.
Works Cited
Abbey, Edward. The Journey Home: Somee Words in Defense of the American West. Plume,
1991. Print.

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