Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 241

Desert Solitaire is the first non-fiction book by author Edward Abbey. The book was published in 1968. The most prominent theme in Desert Solitaire is the battle between nature preservation and the progression of modernity. Abbey uses the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona as an example of how men have reconfigured, or disfigured, landscapes and ecosystems. The essays in Desert Solitaire are not only love letters to the American landscape but a philosophical inquiry into the future of the nation's unspoiled land.

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Another theme in the book is the exploitation of America's natural resources for profit. Abbey observed that the national park system initially served its purpose—the preservation of fragile environments—but later became a capitalistic venture in which national parks became similar to theme parks.

While recognizing the importance of funding the national park system via tourism, Abbey concluded that mass tourism would be detrimental to the environment in the long-run. In this context, the overarching theme or subtext is the critique of modern America's overall culture of consumerism.

A theme that is not as pronounced in the book is the underlying theme of nature-as-paradise. Philosophically, Desert Solitaire is a descendant of Henry David Thoreau's Walden in that both portray nature as a divine sanctuary where humans can attain enlightenment. Throughout much of the book, Abbey praises the American wilderness as if it is the biblical wilderness that the Hebrews journey through to reach the promised land.

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