Title

What Does the Desert Say?: A Rhetorical Analysis of "Desert Solitaire"

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

Fall 2010

Publisher

Penn State University Press

Abstract

While Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire has suffered no dearth of critical at tention since its publication in 1968, most of the discourse concerning this work has taken the form of literary criticism, with an increasingly ecocritical focus having been attended to over the course of the past decade. Little, if anything, however, has been published critiquing Abbey's masterwork from the perspec tive of rhetorical analysis. Such analysis, I will contend in what follows, casts new light on the work, and is instrumental in appreciating the more polemic elements of the text. I begin, therefore, with the observation that the author him self must have considered the book, at least partially, a polemic, having gone so far as grant the fifth chapter the less-than-romantic title: "Polemic: Industrial Tourism and the National Parks." Richard Shelton, in his essay "Creeping up on Desert Solitaire'' argues that the book was written by "an arch-romantic trying desperately not to be a roman tic" (102). The tension between Abbey's romanticism and his cynical realism becomes an integral part of the persuasion driving the chapters narrated in the voice identified as Abbey's. The rhetor's voice mirrors the tensions plaguing the landscape he describes, and this tension serves to propagate Abbey's polemic persuasively. Shelton opines, "No character in any of his novels has the depth, the believability, the absolute feel of a real person that Ed Abbey in Desert Soli taire has" (1 04)

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