In “The Great American Desert,” Edward Abbey attempts to convince his readers that the desert is a very undesirable place to visit, but should be preserved as it is now. According to Abbey the American Desert is place full of dangers and there is no reason to visit it, however he also presents his own emotions that keep him in it and inspire him to protect it. In this article Abbey utilizes the rhetoric strategy of logos through his use of examples of the many dangers in the desert. Abbey brings credibility to his argument by providing the reader with information on his own experiences in the desert. These same experiences that he presents to give himself credibility are alternatively used in a way that provides the opposition to his argument on avoiding the desert. Another strategy Abbey brings into his work is emotion, which is mostly presented in his love of the desert and his desire to protect it. This desire to protect it may be the reason behind him writing this article to discourage people to visit the desert, but the way he shows his own longing for the desert encourages the reader to visit the desert. Abbey appears to recognize that he is unable to separate his emotions from his writing, thus unable to entirely discourage the audience from stepping into the desert, by giving advice to the reader on how to go about visiting the desert if the reader is still desires to after reading about the desert’s dangers.
“The Great American Desert” is an excerpt from Edward Abbey’s book The Journey Home: Some Words in Defense of the American West, which is a collection of articles and short stories that was published in 1977. The title of the book that this excerpt appears in helps to explain the strategies Abbey uses in his effort to preserve the desert, which is the object of his “unrequited and excessive love” (489). The main strategy that appears in this article is an appeal to the reader’s logic. Abbey presents examples of the dangers of the desert from the sun to the wildlife, in order to discourage visitors to visit his desert and in a way protect it from them. In case the reader is not deferred by the dangers, Abbey offers his advice on how one should act in the desert from the traditional idea of leaving nature the way you found it to the more radical idea of removing everything non-natural that you come across. This second strategy that he employs persuades the parts of his audience that still want to go into the desert to not go in and ruin it, but instead help protect it.
The author establishes credibility by showing an awareness of his audience. He avoids jargon as his audience may not be environmentalists per se, but may only just be interested in nature. Abbey assumes that his audience has an interest in visiting the desert, which is why Abbey tries to discourage the reader by giving his “Survival Hint #1: Stay out of there. Don’t go” (489). This article is further directed towards visitors interested in hiking based on the many references Abbey makes to hiking in the desert and his advice on how to go about, which appears throughout the article. Although Abbey assumes the reader already has an interest in hiking, he also assumes that the reader is not very experienced, especially when it comes to desert hiking. Abbey’s appears to include information on how to hike in the desert without harming the ecosystem because he assumes that that not everyone will heed his warnings and avoid the desert.
Abbey begins his argument by utilizing a logical strategy of providing evidence of dangers to appeal to the audience in a way that attempts to discourage them from visiting the desert, thus helping obtain Abbey’s goal of protecting the desert. Before going into detail about the dangers of the desert he tries to jolt the reader into being afraid of the desert by stating that “people get hurt, get sick, get lost out” in the desert and “even if you survive, which is not certain, you will have a miserable time” (Abbey 489). This not only serves as a warning for the audience to avoid the desert, but also encourages them to read on, where he describes in depth the dangers of the desert from the dangerous bugs and snakes to the arid climate that “induces overexertion and an insufficient consumption of water, even when water is available” (Abbey 490). One of the dangers he describes in depth is the assassin like kissing bug that causes reactions that vary from a hive breakout that last several hours leaving “a hard, itchy swelling, which may endure for a week” to “becoming seriously ill, in many cases requiring hospitalization” (Abbey 489). This logical appeal sways all except for the most brave of the audience to agree to never venture anywhere near the desert by making them fear the dangers of the desert.
Throughout the article Abbey brings in stories of his own experiences in the desert in order to give himself credibility and authority to speak on topics relating to the desert and protecting it. While discussing the different dangers of the desert he emphasizes the point that the arid climate causes health problems by bringing in his own personal story. He describes how he passed his kidney stone by saying “I was lucky; I passed mine with a groan, my forehead pressed against the wall of a pissoir in the rear of a Tucson bar that I cannot recommend” (Abbey 490). This scenario gives him the credibility to say that the arid climate tricks one into mild prolonged dehydration, which can cause kidney stones, by not just stating the fact, but describing his own experience. Abbey also describes a time when he discovered an arrow made from rocks at the rim of a canyon that pointed out into the desert, “but there was nothing out there. Nothing at all. Nothing but the desert” (Abbey 494). This personal experience adds to his argument that there is no reason for anyone to visit the desert, while also giving him the credibility to speak on the subject because he has been there.
The another strategy that Abbey almost reluctantly resorts to in order to convince the reader to protect the desert is to explain how one should go about visiting the desert if for some reason they do decide to visit. This is a strategy of acknowledging the opposition that still desires to visit the desert. He starts by bringing in more examples from personal experience. This time he brings in the examples of two friends, John Du Pay wearing only “J.C. Penny hightops on his feet and a plastic pack on his back” and Douglas Peacock carrying “a ninety-pound canvas pannier on his back” (Abbey 492). These two examples are meant to give the readers the two extremes before Abbey goes into his “tips on desert etiquette,” which includes “carrying a cooking stove, if you must cook” and “do not bury garbage” (492). This list of etiquette is aimed at the reader who is still convinced that he wants to visit the desert and attempts to convince them to be environmentally friendly. Abbey offers the more traditional environmentally friendly ideas of hiking including not burning precious desert wood and not using more water than necessary, but he also offers some radical advice. The most radical of his etiquette tips is “always remove and destroy… seismic exploration geophones, and other such artifacts of industrialization” because Abbey believes that “the men who put those things there are up to no good and it is our duty to confound them” (493). In this last piece of etiquette advice Abbey’s true emotions of protecting the desert comes out in a way that not only stuns the reader, but makes them seriously consider following at least most of his other etiquette rules if not all including this radical one.
Edward Abbey employs two specific strategies in order to persuade all of his audience to protect his beloved desert in one way or another. The first strategy he employs is meant to instill fear of the desert into his readers. His examples of dangerous animals and the sun’s effects are presented in a way that all but the most courageous will not want to visit the desert. This strategy includes a logical appeal based on scientific facts, as well as a strategy of proving his credibility to speak on the subject by bringing in his own experiences with the dangers of the desert. Abbey recognizes that there are some that will still venture into the desert, so he approaches these readers to protect the environment by giving them desert etiquette tips. These tips are the way Abbey protects the desert from those who will still visit, either by the visitors following the etiquette or parts of their damage being corrected by those who follow his etiquette fully. Overall, Abbey successfully addresses all of his audience by either convincing his main argument that the desert should be avoided or that if not avoided it should still be protected.
Abbey, Edward. “The Great American Desert.” The University Book: Third Edition. Eds. Carol Nowotny-Young, Thomas P. Miller, Patrick Baliani, and Ellen L. Price. US: Pearson Custom Publishing, 2003. 489-494.