Edward Abbey

Desert Solitaire

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  • Features 18 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
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Desert Solitaire Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 39-page guide for “Desert Solitaire” by Edward Abbey includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 18 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The Glory of Nature and The Harmony of Nature.

Plot Summary

Desert Solitaire is Edward Abbey’s 1968 memoir of his six months serving as a park ranger in Utah’s Arches National Park in the late 1950s. Throughout the book, Abbey describes his vivid and moving encounters with nature in her various forms: animals, storms, trees, rock formations, cliffs and mountains. He communicates an uncommon reverence for nature, and an unmistakable disdain for tame, cultured humanity, including the vast majority of the tourists who visit the park.

During his six-month sojourn, Abbey resides in a small, government-supplied house trailer, infested at first with mice, though their population soon recedes thanks to the intervention of one or two gopher snakes whom Abbey “befriends” in an ambiguous fashion. Abbey is determined to experience nature in all its raw simplicity, yet his imagination cannot help but project certain qualities onto the desert’s virtues and vices, which causes him to feel fond of some aspects of desert life and to dislike others aspects thereof.

Abbey’s abundant descriptions of natural phenomena, such as flowers, trees and rock formations, are lengthy, highly-detailed, and reverent. Wherever he explores within the sprawling parkland–and he goes nearly everywhere–he seems to know the names of even the most obscure plants and creatures. These names themselves become a kind of poetry in the book, and Abbey often meditates on the music of nature, such as birdsong, frogs croaking, and the sounds of the wind, though his narrative voice, overall, is decidedly unsentimental.

Throughout the book, Abbey seeks a deeper communion with, and immersion in, the forces and elements of the wild. It is for this reason that he largely eschews the human company that might be available to him and, whenever he has a chance, takes himself off to distant reaches of the park area that have been little explored by others and that offer particularly moving sights and uncommon natural artifacts, or that represent some degree of challenge and/or danger.

Abbey takes the reader with him on various adventures, including an excursion to recover a neighbor’s herd of wandering cattle, a manhunt for a lost (and deceased) tourist, a private search for a semi-mythical horse, and explorations of a number of remote and arguably perilous areas within the region.

This is a very solitary tale. There are no human relationships per se that play a major part in Abbey’s story, other than, perhaps, one consequential conversation with an unnamed tourist/visitor. Abbey’s sporadic companions are all men, stoic like himself, not given to elaborate conversation or sharing of thoughts and feelings, other than succinct exchanges of necessary information and flinty sparks of rough-hewn humor.

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Chapters 1-3