Edward Abbey's Great American Desert

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Edward Abbey's Great American Desert

Environmentalist and desert-lover, Edward Abbey in his essay “The Great American Desert” warns readers about the perilous dangers of the American deserts while simultaneously stirring curiosity about these fascinating ecosystems. He both invites and dissuades his readers from visiting the deserts of North America through the use of humor and sarcasm. In this essay, he is rhetorically successful in arguing that the open spaces of the undeveloped deserts are sacred places in need of respect and protection through his clever use of pathos and logos.

Born in Home, Pennsylvania in 1927, Abbey worked as a forest ranger and fire look-out for the National Forest Service after graduating from the University of New Mexico. An author of numerous essays and novels, he died in 1989 leaving behind a legacy of popular environmental literature. His credibility as a forest ranger, fire look- out, and graduate of the University of New Mexico lend credibility to his knowledge of America’s wilderness and deserts. Readers develop the sense that Abbey has invested both time and emotion in the vast deserts of America.

His expertise may attract an array of readers, both newcomers and old-timers. It seems that his intended audience might be those who share his love of the desert and also those who want to know more. The essay is quasi-organized like an educational brochure or an expert interview with an inveterate desert denizen. An unintended audience of course might include the fledgling environmental activists who were emerging in the 1960s to fight for the protection of wilderness. Because of its focus on natural history, the article and the anthology, Desert Solitaire, in which it was published, might...

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... he is being interviewed, as if he has expertise


-ironic and sarcastic

Uses Irony


-Draws you in and makes you feel a part of the conversation

-pg. 17 – Im glad you asked


-Half-ripped, half-baked, half-cocked half-ripped pg. 18 - ethos

Langauge – uses long lists, swears “god-damn camel”


Pathos – we begin to feel his love for the desert.

-Talks about strip mines and power plants

-Uses we

-Describes his friends – characters pg. 18

-Tries to scare us again on page 20

- You should come and visit the desert but take care of it. Invites you as a recruit to come and protect what’s left of American wilderness.

Pg. 17 “Nevertheless all is not lost; much remains, and I welcome the prospect of an army of lug-soled hiker’s boots on the desert trails.”

Hiking might be too big of pain, too much preparation!

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