Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water Literary Style

Marc Reisner

Literary Style

In Cadillac Desert, rivers and the land are repeatedly personified in descriptions; this way, Reisner creates more empathy in the reader for nature as it undergoes tremendous change with numerous water projects. For example, when he describes the changes in the Colorado River flow due to silting, Reisner writes that ‘‘the Colorado slipped out of its loose confinement of low sandy bluffs and tore off in some other direction, instantly digging a new course . . . The river went on such errant flings every few dozen years.’’ He then describes the many water projects built on the Colorado River, and sadly notes:

Today, even though [it] still resembles a river only in its upper reaches and its Grand Canyon stretch . . . it is still unable to satisfy all the demands on it, so it is referred to as a ‘deficit’ river, as if the river were somehow at fault for its overuse.

The tone of Cadillac Desert is set by the Percy Bysshe Shelley poem Ozymandias in the book’s beginning, as well as with the chapter titles: ‘‘A Country of Illusion,’’ ‘‘Rivals in Crime,’’ ‘‘Those Who Refuse to Learn . . ., ’’ ‘‘Things Fall Apart,’’ and ‘‘A Civilization, if You Can Keep It.’’ Reisner sounds didactic throughout, and his rhetoric reveals a strong environmentalist agenda. In repeated evaluations of the American West development, he discusses some benefits of the development but always counterweights them with judgmental statements such as: ‘‘The cost of all this, however, was a vandalization of both our natural heritage and our economic future, and the reckoning has not even begun.’’ He refers to certain key figures in the massive water...

(The entire section is 734 words.)