Solitude and Violence Essay: Desert Solitaire vs River Runs Through It

violence / solitude / family / loneliness / nature / wilderness


1. Introduction

            a. Special bond between the two brothers in “A river runs through it”.

            b. Unity with the world of nature in “Desert solitaire”.

2. The theme of solitude in “A river runs through it” by Norman Maclean.

            a. Fly-fishing is “family time”.

            b. Paul Maclean – the family rebel.

3. The theme of violence in “A river runs through it” by Norman Maclean.

            a. Paul’s violence to himself and to others.

            b. Violence as the compensation of loneliness.

4. The theme of solitude in “Desert solitaire” by Edward Abbey.

            a. Six-month season solitude of Edward Abbey.

            b. Thirst for the wilderness as  a necessity.

5. The theme of violence in “Desert solitaire” by Edward Abbey.

            a. Violence of the wilderness as something inevitable and normal.

            b. Violence of the materialistic world.

6.  The relation between the themes of solitude and violence in the writings.

            a. Violence and solitude are both consequences and premises.

Not all the things and facts seen on the surface correspond to the message of the book! This is a law that should be always kept in mind in order to get the right understanding of the author’s thoughts, especially in terms of non-fiction. The writings “A river runs through it” written by Norman Maclean and “Desert solitaire” by Edward Abbey are bright examples of such phenomenon. On the surface they seem to depict one definite thing whether it is fly-fishing or description of wilderness but both posses the depth of the human soul and its conflicts which may result in isolation or even violence.

The story “A river runs through it” written by Norman Maclean is actually a story about his brother Paul and fishing. The story has a semi-biographical character. It is a story of a special bond between two brothers which becomes their joy and their curse.  “A river runs through it” is a story of two boys, Paul and Norman - two brothers growing up in a family of a Presbyterian minister. Norman is a “metronome” having the same “rhythm” as his father had. Paul is a walking rebel, he opposes everything his father teaches him and tries to find a new way of ding everything. Nevertheless he loses his path and gets lost in the world of alcohol, and violence caused by deep dissatisfaction with life and impossibility to be who you really are. Norman is more attached to the old way of doing everything and to what he was taught as a child. Their only bond, which has been mentioned above is fly-fishing.

Edward Abbey's book “Desert solitaire” in its turn is a unique writing due to extremely natural descriptions of the wilderness of the Colorado Plateau desert and Edward’s life within it for half a year. Edward Abbey decides to become a solitaire for half a year and manages to achieve unity with the world of nature and survive in it in the most difficult circumstances.  Such isolation results in the understanding of the fact that the civilization has lost a lot of lessons that could be learned in the wilderness. Edward Abbey also experiences the violence that the nature may sometimes reveal but takes this violence as to something given which deserves respect as a higher power. It may also be interpreted as a defense reaction to the spreading of civilization or in other words violence of nature as a result of violence of people over it as over something they do not understand anymore and cannot control by any means.

The theme of solitude in “A river runs through it” by Norman Maclean is observed through the life of Paul Maclean who is actually the main character of the story. In the very beginning of the story Norman Maclean tells: “In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing” (Maclean 1). This phrase makes a good contribution into the theme of solitude of the writing. From early childhood till they became grown-up men, Norman and Paul, his younger brother, worshipped fly-fishing. Paul “…had those extra things besides fine training—genius, luck, and plenty of self-confidence” but was getting more and more lost from day to day (Maclean 3).

In site of all the differences they had, the only place they could be “brothers” and a “family” was during fly-fishing. The rest of the time they were “alone” and could not speak to each other. Paul was so lonely inside, so isolated from the actual life. His childhood rebel was delayed and converted into an inner psychological conflict. Even when Norman was extremely worried about Paul, he just could not find the right words…They just went fishing! And this was the moment when isolation for a short time converted into a family reunion. In his story, Norman Maclean writes that they two brothers “had to be very careful in dealing with each other” and emphasized the fact that Paul “…did not want any big brother advice or money or help, and, in the end, I [Norman] could not help him” (Maclean 6).

As for violence in Norman Maclean’s “A river runs through it”, it is mainly represented as a Paul’s reaction of opposition to his father. Paul wanted a completely new way of fishing and therefore living and was ready to take it even being violent. Paul was violent to himself (his inner conflict and his wrong path), to others (his constant physical fights) and both of the brothers were violent to each other (they could not find an adequate way of interacting and sharing their brotherly love).  Paul becomes an artist of fly-fishing due to the dissatisfaction with life, due to his solitude in the out-of-fishing world. The inability to talk to his brother causes him to lean for at least tactile contact which he finds in fights. This violence is a sort of compensation of his loneliness. His fights are a sign of lack of contact with an important individual, a consequence of his solitude.  Violence in the story appears as a consequence of lacking respect for something which is greater than Paul – the mob and the fate. He had respect to nature owing to fishing and this is why it was the only place he felt harmony in as the brothers “prayed” together as they were fishing.

The theme of solitude in “Desert solitaire” by Edward Abbey is strongly revealed and deals with Edward Abbey decision to spend a six-month season as a ranger in the Arches National Monument. In the “civilized world” as observed in Chapter 6, Edward Abbey faced the greed, and the pursuit of material comfort which pushed him to the decision of leaving the monetary world. He makes his own choice to face solitude in order to forget what he was before and to learn what he really is.  In Chapter 10, Edward Abbey gives this solitude a name – “a need for wilderness” and seems to consider it as the only source of inner harmony and realization of real values of any human being as a part of nature.  He becomes a lonely wild beast which gets whatever he wants like in the examples with Mackie letting Abbey take the horse if he manages to catch it. Chapter 14 “The Dead Man at Grandview Point” reveals that the wilderness is a place for only prepared individuals, otherwise solitude will lead to death. Abbey in his solitude gains powers, strength and learns to save his life and be a fighter on his own, with no help. The solitude of the wild nature restores the thirst for life, increases the feeling that the person is mortal and therefore makes the individual think more about what he actually does in his life.

In terms of Edward Abbey’s “Desert solitaire” it is not quite appropriate to talk about pure violence but more about accepting the violence of the wilderness as something inevitable and normal. The inability of the human being to understand and accept this fact is a sign of a lack of contact with the nature. For Abbey the wilderness is a higher power which he respects and he completely agrees to play its rules in the world of the wild.  The isolation of Abbey was also the result of the violence of people within the materialistic word: “…wilderness, wilderness… we scarcely know what we mean by the term, though the sound of it draws all whose nerves and emotions have not yet been irreparably stunned, deadened, numbed by the caterwauling of commerce, the sweating scramble for profit and domination” (Abbey 207).  This domination it is the violent act that forces Abbey to escape to the solitude of a desert. For Abbey if a person can do something, can help and does not do it – it is also violence.  The spread of the civilization is also a violent act as it damages the nature and leaves many people without a place to escape from the material world because a man will always “love flowers best in openness and freedom”( Abbey 31). This is the only place where his solitude can bring him harmony.

The question of the relation of solitude and violence in “A river runs through it” and “Desert solitaire” is very accurate as it touches the very essence of the two writings presented by Norman Maclean and Edward Abbey correspondingly. Sometimes violence leads to solitude and sometimes solitude leads to violence: these are the two situations described in the two listed above writings. These two notions in terms of the writings are both consequences and premises of one another therefore creating a unique pattern of interrelations of different dimensions of life.


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