In Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey illustrates his fascination with the deserts of the American Southwest. He describes how the desert affects society and (more specifically) the individual on an emotional level. For Abbey, the desert is a symbol of strength and he is “comforted by the solidity and resistance” (109) of his surroundings. He describes, ” To me the desert is stimulating, exciting, exciting; I feel no temptation to sleep or to relax into occult dreams but rather an opposite effect which sharpens and heightens vision, touch, hearing, taste and smell (170).” Later on in the book, Abbey also sees the desert as “…a-tonal, cruel, clear, inhuman, neither romantic nor classical, motionless and emotionless…(319). We learn, through Abbey, that the desert represents a harsh reality unseen by the masses. It is the harshness that makes, “…the desert more alluring, more baffling, more fascinating (209)”.
One of the major themes throughout the book is Abbey’s distaste with mainstream culture and its effect on society. He argues that civilization and nature both have their own culture, and in order to survive, must be separate. “The personification of the natural is exactly the tendency I wish to suppress in myself, to eliminate for good. I am here not only to escape for a while the clamor and filth and confusion of the cultural apparatus but also to confront, immediately and directly if it’s possible, the bare bones of existence, elemental and fundamental, the bedrock which sustains us (7).”