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Analyze one short story from Edward Abbey's nonfiction work Desert Solitaire with...
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Elementary School Teacher
According to Edward Abbey's Introduction to Desert Solitaire, the stories, which is a term loosely used in this work, are drawn from the journals he kept during his months as a park ranger in Utah. He specifies that he believes that "simple fact" provides truth and "a kind of poetry," so Abbey's descriptions aren't literary descriptions built from literary style to create a point, theme, metaphor, mood etc., they are descriptions of "simple fact" that have literary merit and qualities. As a consequence, when Abbey writes "lavender clouds," he means clouds that are lavender--in fact.
This is not to say that Abbey's creative mind hadn't seen below the surface and found metaphor and meaning and theme within the experience of "simple fact" that he is telling, but it is to say that he intends for his words--his descriptions, his experiences, his characterizations of people then around him--to be taken as fact and truth and, moreover, as the poetry of fact and truth.
On the topic of author intention, many theories of literary criticism ignore, or even reject, author intention, but Abbey made his intention in writing Desert Solitaire quite clear in his Introduction. He says: "Do not jump into your automobile next June and rush out ... to see some of that which I have attempted to evoke ...[M]ost of what I write about in this book is already gone or going under fast, This is not a travel guide but an elegy. A memorial. You're holding a tombstone in your hands. A bloody rock." Abbey makes it clear that his large point, theme, objective is to eulogize that which was--that which preceded tourism-attracting improvements--so that it may be remembered in its untrampled state. The significance of the above discussion is that while examining Desert Solitaire for the display of standard stylistic devices, structures and forms, it is important to realize they are constructed of "simple fact" for the purpose of creating a memorial of what--in fact--once was.
Having said this, a brief analysis of the opening story "The First Morning," which tells the "story"--or the facts--of Abbey's arrival at his ranger station twenty miles from anywhere, anyone, and anything civilized, introduces the theme of home, an idea or vision that Abbey says every human carries within their heart. Structurally, Abbey builds from this thematic opening to describe his new home in contrasting terms of frozen boots, improbably inadequate heating, and mice scurrying or watching from safe places, versus "Lavender clouds" that "sail like a fleet of ships across the pale green dawn," "the peaks of the Sierra La Sal, ... all covered with snow and rosy in the morning sunlight," and "fogbanks ... scudding away like ghosts, fading into nothing before the wind and sunshine." Thus, as support for his theme, he introduces early on the idea of the poetry of "simple facts."
As to style, Abbey's descriptions are replete with simile: "clouds sail like a fleet of ships." Some phrases may sound like metaphor at first until one recalls that Abbey is writing a memorial of fact, so when fogbanks "fade into nothing before the wind and sunlight," they literally dissipate under the joint physical influence of wind and sunlight. Which leads to his stylistic use of imagery, illustrated by trading "dissipate" for "fade." Part of the "poetry" of "simple fact" is embedded in strong sensory language, which also contributes to an atmosphere of splendor and the authorial tone of awe-struck pleasure.
Posted by kplhardison on August 28, 2010 at 2:04 AM (Answer #1)
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