The Monkey Wrench Gang: Eco-Terrorism

Edward Abbey’s book The Monkey Wrench Gang is a fictional book about 4 characters that are trying to save the environment. Throughout the story of this book Abbey gives the 4 main characters all wild personalities. The actions of the characters within this novel give representation to the “Eco-terrorist” movement throughout the book are extremely radical. The characters bring great destruction to infrastructure and destroy things for fun. Although this book is fictional the message provided from the action of the characters and plot represent  environmentalist Abbey’s political point of view.

The four main characters personalities within this book are all very different. Although these characters have their differences throughout the book they band together as misfits and bring destruction wherever they see fit. All of the destruction and demolition is not for nothing though, these characters share a common love for the environment and in their own way purge the land the way they see fit.

The first character introduced within this novel is Doc Sarvis, a middle aged man and academic. Sarvis a man with a medical doctorate enjoys the hobby of “highway beautification”. In the very first pages of chapter one Doc Sarvis is found on the side of a highway preparing to burn down a billboard. Sarvis enjoys this hobby because he enjoys being able to drive and enjoy the scenery, billboards are not something he enjoys gazing upon throughout his travels. “With a five-gallon can of gasoline he sloshed about the legs and support members of the selected target, then applied a match. Everyone should have a hobby.” (1) I concur with Doc Sarvis’s appreciation for nature on his drives through the country, I to enjoy the scenery and foliage and billboards and other structures obscure my view I enjoy this quote being at the beginning of the book because it really does well in setting the tone of the book and how it will unravel. The doctor’s political point of view is displayed well through one of my favorite quotes in the book, “We are caught,”Continued the good doctor,” in the iron treds of a technological juggernaut. A mindless machine. With a breeder reactor for a heart.” (64) This quote really says a lot about the book and about the environmentalist movement in general. We are all caught up in the development of the “modern world” where technology rules, and mother nature is dying. Doc Sarvis is the brains of the crew being an educated man and displays his knowledge throughout the book.

The second character to be introduced in the novel is the brute of the bunch. Hayduke, a younger man than Doc Sarvis and whole lot less brains and whole lot more brawn is the second member of the gang. “What’s more american than violence?” Hayduke wanted to know. “Violence, it’s as American as pizza pie.” (156) Hayduke a Vietnam War Veteran was captured by the Vietcong the last year of his four year deployment during the war. Hayduke also loves the environment and enjoys destruction of infrastructure. Hayduke also is a man who loves his beer. “Hayduke opened another can of beer. He was always opening another can of beer. And always pissing.” (103) “He drank another beer as he drove along. Two and a half six packs to Lee’s Ferry.” (25) Hayduke has an appreciation for nature but contradicts his fondness for the environment by littering his beer cans out his car window. “Tossing his empty beer can out the window, Hayduke races North, towards the Indian Country. By now you can tell Hayduke is a bit reckless and this next quote really displays it. “He was indeed a menace to other drivers but justified himself in this way: If you don’t drink, don’t drive. If you drink, drive like hell. Why? Because freedom, not safety, is the highest good. Because the public roads should be wide open to all- children on tricycles, little old ladies in Eisenhower Plymouths, homicidal lesbians driving forty ton Mack tractor-trailers. Let us have no favorites, no licenses, no god damn rules for the road. Let every freeway be a free-for-all.”(33) Although Hayduke’s actions may seem senseless and thoughtful, at the end of the day this  “simple minded” savage of a man knows what he’s in it for. “Hayduke thought. Finally the idea arrived. He said, “My job is to save the ****ing wilderness. I don’t know anything else worth saving. That’s simple right?” (203)

The third character to be introduced in the novel is Seldom Seen Smith. He also differs greatly from the two first men. SMith is a Mormon man with multiple wives who’s fondness for the environment lies with the rivers and mountains. Although not as much of a brute as Hayduke, Smith too enjoys the hobby of “Monkey-wrenching”, or destruction of infrastructure. “The blue death, Smith called it. Like Hayduke his heart was full of a healthy hatred.” (36) Smith’s love for the mountains and rivers is shown in his introduction in chapter three when he plots the destruction of the Glen Canyon Dam. “They stared at it. The dam demanded attention. It was a magnificent mass of cement. Vital statistics: 792,000 tons of concrete aggregate; cost $750 million and the lives of sixteen workmen. Four years in the making, prime contractor Morrison-Knudsen, Inc., sponsored by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, courtesy U.S. taxpayers.

“It’s too big”, she said

“That’s right honey,” he said “And that’s why.”

“You can’t.”

“There’s a way.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know. But there’s got to be a way” (37)

The last character to be introduced in the novel is a women by the name of Bonnie Abbzug. Bonnie and Doc Sarvis throughout the novel share a complicated relationship. Bonnie used to work for Doc Sarvas but they now share an interesting affair relationship. Bonnie is a young 28 year old women who also enjoys the hobby of “highway beautification.” Bonnie is given a hard tine frequently by Hayduke who initially refuse partnership in the gang with a woman. “No ****ing girls,” he hollered. :this is a man’s work.” (69)

Though all 4 of the main characters personalities are very different they all work well together sharing a “healthy hatred” for infrastructure and its detrimental effects on the environment.  Reading through this novel as a fictional story is quite enjoyable and highly recommendable but it contains a much deeper message. Edward Abbey’s compassion for nature is displayed in the fictional tale of these characters in the American mid west. Abbey knows that the construction of the modern world and infrastructure has both fragmented and destroyed the natural world. This story is action packed and very exciting which makes it easy and very enjoyable to read. Although the action of these characters may seem a bit radical, and quite illegal; the idea of “Eco-terrorism” is compelling. Instances in real life of “monkey-wrenching” have taken place all over the world where environmentalists have brought about destruction and protest to construction sites.

What Do We Do: Monkey Wrench Gang (In progress)

What do we do about the environmental crisis? Many people have tried to answer this through books, movies, and songs. Rachel Carson answered it in her 1962 book, Silent Spring, by saying we need to stop messing with nature and spread the word. Her claim is that if you fight nature, nature fights back, and will fight back so hard  you can’t win. Wendell Berry mentions his response in his 1977 book, The Unsettling of America. Berry explains the problems and poses possible to solutions to each one. He says that we are the problem and so is our culture. Gary Snyder brings attention to the environmental crisis through his poetry and poetic words. These are all positive ways of addressing the issue. But what if positivity doesn’t work? What does negativity do? What do we do?

Edward Abbey shows the negative side of fighting the environmental crisis in his 1975 book, the Monkey Wrench Gang. In the book, he jumps right into using violence as a solution. “Monkey wrenching” is the attack of machines and inanimate objects to prove a point, although the official Britannica definition is “nonviolent disobedience and sabotage carried out by environmental activists against those whom they perceive to be ecological exploiters.” But in  Edward Abbey’s book, we can clearly see that it’s violent. The first chapter is about people burning billboards. On page 9, Abbey describes the act. He says, “With a five-gallon can of gasoline he sloshed about the legs and support members of the selected target, then applied a match. Everyone should have a hobby,” (Abbey 9). The idea of burning something as a hobby sounds sociopathic and arsonistic.  In no way is that nonviolent. Edward Abbey brings about a provocative story and brings the idea in to mind that the environmental crisis can’t just be solved with kindness. Sometimes you have to fight fire with fire.

This is an interesting idea. What we see is a group of people destroying someone else’s property and hard work. But the people who do these kinds of acts believe they’re doing it for the greater good – to save the planet. On page 229, Abbey discusses Hayduke’s thoughts about his purpose and monkey wrenching. He says, “Hayduke thought. Finally the idea arrived. He said, ‘My job is to save the [expletive] wilderness. I don’t know anything else worth saving. That’s simple, right?’” (Abbey 229).

92 – “He struggled for a while with the plug, finally broke it loose and let out the oil. The great machine began to bleed; its lifeblood drained out with pulsing throbs, onto the dust and sand. When it was all gone, he replaced the plug. Why? Force of habit — thought he was changing the oil in his jeep.”

  • The idea that they’re making something inanimate seem alive
  • It’s second nature to use these mechanics that are making the world more unnatural
  • Also destroying things then fixing it is natural


P 84 – “Doc hates ants,” Bonny explained. “And they hate him.”

  • Followed by an ANTHILL METAPHOR
  • Basically saying if you hate nature, it will hate you back

“Let every freeway be a free-for-all,” (Abbey 28).

63 – “‘The wilderness once offered men a plausible way of life,’ the doctor said. ‘Now it functions as a psychiatric refuge. Soon there will be no wilderness…. Soon there will be no place to go. Then the madness becomes universal.”

So what do we do about the crisis? Do we create books and peaceful protests? Or do we protest with action? There are two sides to monkey wrenching, so there isn’t just one answer.

Monkey Wrench Gang Review/Recommendation

There are many great reasons why one should Edward Abbey’s environmental fiction piece “Monkey Wrench Gang”. For starters, it provokes the reader to think critically and analytically about the real life acts people are involved in that border this thin line of activism and terrorism. Deeper than that, it reveals the characteristics of human nature, exploring the reasoning behind why people do what they do, think, and believe. In response to an imminent threat or enemy, people can sometimes lose their selves or the reasons why they may do what they do or have done. Life is truly all about a matter of perspective, and Monkey Wrench Gang has quite a few of those. All though as humans we are generally on the same page of direction in terms of where we need and want the world to go. But it is crucial to remember even though one may have good intentions, doesn’t mean they aren’t susceptible to wrong doings.

They is an array of characters in this book that seem to intentionally touch upon a spectrum of different personality types in one group. Bonnie is a young and nervous-ish girl who has a secret relationship with her superior, Doc Sarvis. Doc is kind of odd but undoubtedly smart. After that, there is George Hayduke. This guy is interesting: very expressive and aggressive. He was in the Vietnam War with the Green Beret group, which is very intense and prestigious, which explains his demeanor more thoroughly. We then meet “Seldom Seen” Smith, who works on the Colorado River damn and loves it, so decides to participate in the group. He owns his own river touring business so he isn’t around too often and seems to prefer keeping to himself.

Within all their different personality traits, we basically see what it is like to try and compromise and efficiently do things in vast world of different characters. In essence, I feel like a big idea in the book was to implement this struggle on a smaller scale and how different groups may perceive a vast amount of different struggles. It is almost like a book of devils advocate to see which side one may tend to sympathize toward. An example of this specifically is when Doc Sarvis and Bonnie burn down the billboard because it was “blocking the scenery” of the natural environment. What is going to far in demonstration of protest? Where is the line drawn for doing something you may think is right?

This book is something I would strongly recommend to someone who is looking to commit eco terrorism or eco activism, for this seemed like it would be a great guideline for such acts! “When the situation is hopeless, there’s nothing to worry about.” (Abbey 294). This quote resonated with me for it really encapsulated the book, I felt like. The point of the book is they felt as if the environment was being wronged and simply it was looking so hopeless, that they were not worried too about doing all of these controversial things. But even more so than that, this book was quite funny and had quite a lot of social commentary (particularly so in regards to the environment). Anybody who has a liking for writing with quirky comedy or social commentary would absolutely enjoy this book.

All in all, I found this book to be well written with a lot of different aspects many readers would possibly enjoy. From the depth and versatility in the characters, to having a solidified purpose in the book of real life happenings, it was extraordinarily interesting reading this, for it was unlike anything I have ever read. Edward Abbey’s “Monkey Wrench Gang” would get a 3.5/5 from me, for it was not exactly my favorite reading (especially compared to Silent Spring or Turtle Island). However, if you like fictional novels that can also help you formulate a plan for eco-activism, look no further! “Monkey Wrench Gang” is for you!

The Monkey Wrench Gang: Wrecking Crew

The Monkey Wrench Gang is easily the most radical book we’ve read in class thus far. The mix of wild character personas and an action filled plot is a contrast from some of the scientific data and fact we’ve read in Rachel Carson or Wendell Berry. The identities and characters of the text are the best element of the text. Abbey uses these characters to create/simulate identities for the radical environmental counter-culture.

Edward Abbey also introduces a variety of characters, identities, and personalities that both feed off and destroy each other. Hayduke is a great example of an expansive character who undergoes major changes to his lifestyle when he joins the gang. The  text spends a little time with Hayduke in the beginning. You learn about his military past and how that has developed his persona into that of a hard worker with a rough edge.

“He had bought the jeep, a sandstorm-blasted sun-bleached blue, in San Diego from a team of car dealers named Square Deal Andy and Top Dollar Johnny. The fuel pump had given out first, near Brawley, and at Yuma, limping off the freeway with a flat, he discovered that Square Deal had sold him (for only $2795, it’s true) a jeep without a jack. Small problems: he liked this machine; he was pleased with the handy extras—roll bars, auxiliary gas tank, mag rims and wide-tread tires, the Warn hubs and the Warn winch with 150-foot cable, the gimbal-mounted beer-can holder screwed to the dash, the free and natural paint job” (33). I find this quote very funny, Abbey uses everyday misfortune and humor of a deceitful car salesman to justify Hayduke’s initial anger. Although the text is fictional, I find this quote to be major, without this weird hiccup in his plans, Hayduke may never have come across Smith as he did. The early origins of Hayduke also shown revealing his nasty and growing drinking problem. This is highlighted especially when Abbey notes Hayduke’s preferred method of keeping time while on the road.

“He drank another beer as he drove along. Two and a half six-packs to Lee’s Ferry. Out there in the open Southwest, he and his friends measured highway distances in per-capita six-packs of beer. L.A. to Phoenix, four six-packs; Tucson to Flagstaff, three six-packs; Phoenix to New York, thirty-five six-packs. (Time is relative, said Heraclitus a long time ago, and distance a function of velocity. Since the ultimate goal of transport technology is the annihilation of space, the compression of all Being into one pure point, it follows that six-packs help. Speed is the ultimate drug and rockets run on alcohol. Hayduke had formulated this theory all by himself” (35).

This quote stands out as a snapshot of a way of life that was far simpler than the world we know today. Although crushing beers on a desert highway is far from responsible, it is seen as a minor crime in comparison to half of the activities tied to the gang. In today’s world,  if such a gang were to come together, drunk-driving and binge-drinking would probably be a clear indicator that someone is unprepared or immature about the cause. But in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, our relationship with alcohol had not fully changed, as is shown.

Doc and Bonnie show an interesting relationship as well. With a noticeable age difference and appearance, the two make an odd couple. But, I believe Abbey did this on purpose, introducing a “couple”, who defy most cultural expectations about dating or love for that matter. Bonnie, exceeds her role as “employee” due to the sexual nature of her relationship with Doc. She exceeds to a point where it is obvious, that Doc has grown very dependent on his bright and beautiful partner. Unfortunately, Bonnie does not hide that the Doc’s financial stability is key in her presence, but not the extent of her feelings. She truly cares for the man, as she knows he is kind by nature and as the plot continues, a loyal member to his cause. Doc’s role as a pacifist is an interesting choice. It is for that reason, that climactic action doesn’t bury the protagonists early. The line between a violent and non-violent attack blurs throughout the book. Without Doc’s passive and anti-violence ways, the plot could have carried out much differently. For instance, if Hayduke had led the assaults, the safety of all the gang would certainly be in his hands, a risky move.

Abbey employs Smith as well as a median point between the other two Male protagonists. He possesses the energy and willingness of a Hayduke. Smith shares his dislike for the changing landscape and new construction, a clear indicator of what side he’s on. When it comes time to act and deliver their message, Smith has a reserved side that is similar to Doc.  His age allows him to keep up with the others with ease. The characters, together, create a perfect image of a non-violent resistance group, full of diversity and vitality. In short, I believe Abbey created the ideal gang for him, his associates and everyone who believed the things he did.


Thinking about Wildness

“My dream is that people will find a way back home, into their bodies, to connect with the earth, to connect with each other, to connect with the poor, to connect with the broken, to connect with the needy, to connect with people calling out all around us, to connect with the beauty, poetry, the wildness”

-Eve Ensler

The term wildness encompasses most everything in the physical universe—from the teeming microorganisms in our bodies to the unfolding realm of the cosmos. It is the real world, the world to which we belong. The phrase “search for wildness” describes the act of seeking awareness of this world–of seeking an understanding of the expression of the wild in nature and in culture.

The search for wildness takes many forms: it takes shape in individual questions about the meaning and purpose of human life; it gives rise to collective stories, myths, and purpose; it is organized in the cultural activities of natural history, spirituality, science and mathematics; it is pursued through historical and comparative studies of nature and/or culture; and it generates utopian and post-apocalyptic fictions about the ways human technologies are transforming the world.

Photo credit: Larry Miller, CC BY-SA 2.0

One might begin to think about wildness with Gary Snyder in The Practice of the Wild:

The word wild is like a gray fox trotting off through the forest, ducking behind bushes, going in and out of sight. Up close, first glance, it is “wild”-then farther into the woods next glance it’s “wyld” and it recedes via Old Norse villr and Old Teutonic wilthijaz into a faint pre-Teutonic ghweltijos which means, still, wild and maybe wooded (wald) and lurks back there with possible connections to will, to Latin silva (forest, sauvage), and to the Indo-European root ghwer, base of Latin ferus )feral, fierce), which swings us around to Thoreau’s “awful ferity” shared by virtuous people and lovers. The Oxford English Dictionary has it this way:

Of animals-not tame, undomesticated, unruly.
Of plants-not cultivated.
Of land-uninhabited, uncultivated.
Of foodcrops-produced or yielded without cultivation.
Of societies-uncivilized, rude, resisting constituted government.
Of individuals-unrestrained, insubordinate, licentious, dissolute, loose. “Wild and wanton widowes”-1614.
Of behavior-violent, destructive, cruel, unruly.
Of behavior-artless, free, spontaneous. “Warble his native wood-notes wild”-John Milton.

Wild is largely defined in our dictionaries by what-from a human standpoint-it is not. It cannot be seen by this approach for what it is. Turn it the other way:

Of animals-free agents, each with its own endowments, living within natural systems.
Of plants-self-propagating, self-maintaining, flourishing in accord with innate qualities.
Of land-a place where the original and potential vegetation and fauna are intact and in full interaction and the landforms are entirely the result of nonhuman forces. Pristine.
Of Food crops-food supplies made available and sustainable by the natural excess and exuberance of wild plants in their growth and in the production of qualities of fruit or seeds.
Of societies-societies whose order has grown from within and is maintained by the force of consensus and custom rather than explicit legislation. Primary cultures, which consider themselves the original and eternal inhabitants of their territory. Societies which resist economic and political domination by civilization. Societies whose economic system is in a close and sustainable relation to the local ecosystem.
Of Individuals-following local custom, style, and etiquette without concern for the standards of the metropolis or nearest trading post. Unintimidated, self-reliant, independent. “Proud and free.”
Of behavior-fiercely resisting any oppression, confinement, or exploration. Far-out, outrageous, “bad,” admirable.
Of behavior-artless, free, spontaneous, unconditioned. expressive, physical, openly sexual, ecstatic.

Or, one might read Henry David Thoreau’s 1862 essay “Walking,” in which he says that every tree “sends its fibers forth in search of the Wild.” For Thoreau, the wild is contrasted “with a freedom and culture merely civil.”

Thoreau identified the wild with the world of nature, human culture, and mind. In his essay “The Etiquette of Freedom,” published in 1990, Snyder locates the term “wildness” in a particular historical and cultural moment:

‘Wild and free.’ An American dream-phase loosing images: a long maned stallion racing across the grasslands, a V of Canada Geese high and honking, a squirrel chattering and leaping limb to limb overhead in an oak. It also sounds like an ad for Harley Davidson. Both words, profoundly political and sensitive as they are, have become consumer baubles. (5)

Snyder’s elaboration of the wild, and the relationship of wildness to the term nature, is rooted in a comparative literary and cultural method as well as, with Thoreau, an impulse to engage in much more than what Snyder calls “environmentalist virtue, political keenness, or useful and necessary activism” (“Preface” ix). The practice of the wild, as Snyder’s poetry and prose so artfully says, goes much deeper-and requires much more.

Snyder defines the search for wildness as a practice: a deliberate sustained and conscious effort to become more aware of yourself and the world. Who am I? What am I doing here? What is going on?

Resources: Literature, Film, Music, Criticism

Henry David Thoreau, Walking (1862)

William Cronon, The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong NatureUncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, New York: Norton (1995)

Gary Snyder, The Practice of the Wild. Berkeley: Counterpoint: 1990. (Rpt. with a new preface 2010)

Jack Turner, The Abstract Wild. Tuscon: U of Arizona P, 1996

The Etiquette of Freedom: Gary Snyder, Jim Harrison, and the Practice of the Wild. Ed. Paul Ebenkamp. Berkely: Counterpoint, 2010. (Companion to the film)

Gary Snyder on The Practice of the Wild. The transcript of the interview with Steve Paulson is also available in audio

Commentary and Documentary
The Practice of the Wild. Directed by John J. Healey.  Produced by Will Hearst and Jim Harrison. San Simeon Films. 2010

The Call of the Wild (2007) is a documentary by independent filmmaker Ron Lamothe that raises questions about the causes of Chris McCandless’s death

Into the Wild (2007), written and directed by Sean Penn, is an adaptation of the 1996 non-fiction book of the same name by Jon Krakauer that chronicles the travels of McCandless across North America and his death in Alaska. Features Emile Hirsch as McCandless with soundtrack by Eddy Vedder

Wild (2014), directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, written by Nick Hornby, is based on the memoir by Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, featuring Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern

The Ballad of Chris McCandless by the Folk Singer Ellis Paul from his 2003 The Speed of Trees. (Lyrics to  The Ballad of Chris McCandles)

Edder Vedder performing Society”used in the soundtrack to the film Into the Wild. (Lyrics to Society)

Excerpts in Literature and Criticism
“The theme running through this exposition — indeed, the basic premise on which the book is constructed — is that human beings exist wholly within nature as a legitimate part of natural order in every respect. To accept this unity seems to be difficult for ecologists, who assume — as many do, in understandable anger and despair — that the human species is an interloper in the natural order of things. Neither is this unity easily accepted by economists, industrialists, politicians, and others who assume — as many do, taking understandable pride in human achievements — that reason, knowledge, and determination make it possible for human beings to circumvent and outdo the natural order.”

Jane Jacobs, The Nature of Economies

“To lovers of wild, these mountains are not a hundred miles away. Their spiritual power and the goodness of the sky make them near, as a circle of friends. They rise as a portion of the hilled walls of the Hollow. You cannot feel yourself out of doors; plain, sky, and mountains ray beauty which you feel. You bathe in these spirit-beams, turning round and round, as if warming at a camp-fire. Presently you lose consciousness of your own separate existence: you blend with the landscape and become part and parcel of nature.”

John Muir, A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf (1916)

I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil—to regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society. I wish to make an extreme statement, if so I may make an emphatic one, for there are enough champions of civilization: the minister and the school committee and every one of you will take care of that.”

. . .

“The West of which I speak is but another name for the Wild; and what I have been preparing to say is, that in Wildness is the preservation of the World. Every tree sends its fibers forth in search of the Wild.”

. . .

“In literature it is only the wild that attracts us. Dullness is but another name for tameness. It is the uncivilized free and wild thinking in Hamlet and the Iliad, in all the scriptures and mythologies, not learned in the schools, that delights us. As the wild duck is more swift and beautiful than the tame, so is the wild—the mallard—thought, which ‘mid falling dews wings its way above the fens. A truly good book is something as natural, and as unexpectedly and unaccountably fair and perfect, as a wild-flower discovered on the prairies of the West or in the jungles of the East. Genius is a light which makes the darkness visible, like the lightning’s flash, which perchance shatters the temple of knowledge itself—and not a taper lighted at the hearthstone of the race, which pales before the light of common day.”

. . .

“The wildest dreams of wild men, even, are not the less true, though they may not recommend themselves to the sense which is most common among Englishmen and Americans today. It is not every truth that recommends itself to the common sense. Nature has a place for the wild Clematis as well as for the cabbage. Some expressions of truth are reminiscent—others merely SENSIBLE, as the phrase is,—others prophetic. Some forms of disease, even, may prophesy forms of health. The geologist has discovered that the figures of serpents, griffins, flying dragons, and other fanciful embellishments of heraldry, have their prototypes in the forms of fossil species which were extinct before man was created, and hence “indicate a faint and shadowy knowledge of a previous state of organic existence.” The Hindus dreamed that the earth rested on an elephant, and the elephant on a tortoise, and the tortoise on a serpent; and though it may be an unimportant coincidence, it will not be out of place here to state, that a fossil tortoise has lately been discovered in Asia large enough to support an elephant. I confess that I am partial to these wild fancies, which transcend the order of time and development. They are the sublimest recreation of the intellect. The partridge loves peas, but not those that go with her into the pot.”

-Henry David Thoreau, “Walking” (1862)

Monkeywrenching: The Tools of the Trade

Monkeywrenching is a term that has spread through the plane of eco-literature and into the broader plane of the centuries great cult classics. Edward Abbeys, The Monkey Wrench Gang has become a delighted book worldwide. This book is a spiritual journey as well as a pamphlet to promote the rebellious acts of the main characters.  The reason people want to read this book is because it has changed so many people’s ways of thinking about our relationship to the earth. While the characters and plot are purely fiction, the big questions that this book poses are essential to thinking about what we might do to fight back against the destruction of the natural world. This book gives people the spiritual, as well as the technical tools to wage war against environmental degradation.

The greatest things we can learn from this book are through the characters, their pasts and their actions. Hayduke is a man that is scarred from the ferocity of war. The “rape” of the natural land and all of its beauty sparks a fire in Hayduke that intends to burn every last excavator and chainsaw in Arizona. He is madly passionate about sabotaging bulldozers and knocking down billboards. He says that “freedom, not safety, is the highest good.” Hayduke provides a fair amount of technical knowledge including weaknesses in mining and logging equipment as well as ways to make improvised explosives. This is another example of how the book provides technical skills. Although Hayduke is a wild and eccentric war veteran, he has enough insight on sabotage that it almost seems as if Abbey is giving the reader a detailed list on how to commit these drastic acts.

Doc Sarvis is a very intelligent man and the most coherent character in the story. Although his knack for cigars makes it difficult for the reader to take his health concerns seriously, he often voices his opinion on why he Monkeywrenches. He says that environmental degradation is “seeing too much insulted tissue under the microscope…Acute leukemia on the rise. Lung cancer. I think the evil is in the food, in the noise, in the crowding, in the stress, in the water, in the air.” Sarvis gives the reader a medical perspective. He sees the increase in diseases like cancer and leukemia and wants to make a difference. This is another way that Edward Abbey puts the issue of environmental destruction “under a microscope.” To understand why things like chemical pesticides and genetically altered foods are bad, we need to hear it from someone who has the expertise to comment on these effects on the human body. Doc Sarvis provides us a talking point from a medical examiner, while also being an interesting and conflicting character as well. Although Sarvis relents the current field of medicine, his knowledge gives insight into a different way of seeing how our actions directly affect us.

Seldom Seen Smith has his own ideas about the environment. He is a wilderness guide and a Jack Mormon. He espouses libertarian beliefs and has simple reasons for wanting to help the gang. Smith believes that his way of life, his business and his prosperity is being threatened. Like the other characters in this book, Smith is mainly concerned with making an impression on large-scale industry.

This book is a novel first and an instruction booklet second. Need to know how to use thermite to blow up a bridge? This book can show you how. Want to know which piece of a Caterpillar bulldozer is the most prone to jamming? (It’s the crankshaft). Maybe you don’t necessarily care about sabotaging property and being a rebel. Even still, this book is madly entertaining because of how much detail the characters put into each act of sabotage and destruction. Things like throwing caltrops to pop the search and rescue team’s tires or lowering a jeep down a cliff with a winch are things that seem to be out of a comic book, but they are being used in the book as actual means of being rebellious. To be a Monkeywrencher like the characters in the book, you need to have a number of traits. You have to be courageous in order to continue your activism even if things look bleak or you feel you can no longer fight. You need to be resilient just in case Bishop Love picks up the tracks of your jeep. Finally, you need to be passionate.

Abbey often injects his own knowledge directly into the story. With Haydukes passion for explosives and machinery, and Sarvis’s medical expertise, we begin to see how adeptly Abbey painted these characters. Seldom Seen Smith contributes his knowledge about the surrounding area. He points out places for the gang to hide when a helicopter is bearing down on them. He even leads them through the maze of winding roads leading away from the search party. The characters are very different yet each of them compile their expertise in some way.

Edward Abbey

Edward Abbey’s 1975 novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang, follows the antihero, George Washington Hayduke who declares that his purpose in life is to “save the fucking wilderness. I don’t know anything else worth saving”. Abbey’s novel begins with an act of environmental terrorism, or activism, relying on the interpretation of the reader. After a dedication of a bridge spanning the Glen Canyon, an explosion destroys the new structure returning the landscape to its condition prior to man’s influence.

The novel tackles the issue of civilization’s impact on society. There are definite parallels between the work of Transcendentalist writer Henry David Thoreau and environmental author Edward Abbey. Thoreau’s writings condemning the impact of slavery on society and his strong abolitionist leanings mirror Abbey’s own cause of protecting the natural environment from human exploitation. Both authors were also not opposed to militant and aggressive measures to further their attempts to eliminate the encroachment of the influential members of society on the powerless minority. While both authors wrote during different time periods, each wrote with the intention of having a provocative effect on the reader.

In his essay “A Plead for Captain John Brown”, Thoreau outlines his argument for the radical, aggressive actions of John Brown to eliminate slavery from the South. While the actions of John Brown were illegal due to their militant, vigilante nature, Thoreau argues that sometimes violent protest is needed in order to change immoral societal institutions. Thoreau writes,  “I do not wish to force my thoughts upon you, but I feel forced myself. Little as I know of Captain Brown, I would fain do my part to correct the tone and the statements of the newspapers, and of my countrymen generally, respecting his character and actions. It costs us nothing to be just. We can at least express our sympathy with, and admiration of, him and his companions, and that is what I now propose to do” (Thoreau, 1). Thoreau’s emphasis on morally justification of Brown’s actions is directly related to Abbey’s support of environmental terrorism since both illegal acts prevent the marginalization of minority groups in society. During the days of slavery in the United States, African Americans did not have a sociopolitical voice to resist their oppression similar to how the natural environment does not have an avenue to voice its opposition to the encroaching acts of mankind on natural resources as outlined in Rachel Carson’s work, Silent Spring. Following the thesis of Carson to educate the reader on the impact of environmental damage, both Abbey and Thoreau attempt to inform the reader on the dangers of marginalizing the environment and individuals. Each author also demonstrates anarchist tendencies for the liberation of oppressed peoples and nature.

Both Abbey and Thoreau also share similar philosophies regarding the ownership (or lack thereof) of property. In in essays and longer works, Thoreau strongly believes that no living thing can be owned. Abbey takes the same argument regarding the natural environment-since the natural world existed before human existence and is a living entity that operates according to its own laws,  it cannot be governed by others. The protection and sanctification of property is central to American culture which is why the limits property ownership can be a recurring debate in American politics. According to Abbey, the wilderness represents an opportunity for humanity to escape the steadily increasing reliance of society on technology and industrialism.

Works Cited

Thoreau, Henry David. “A Plea for John Brown”. 1859.

Environmental Writing: What is Most Effective?

The biggest crisis facing our world today is climate change. The destructiveness of climate change, as a human-induced phenomenon, has its roots in environmental degradation—the speed at which the Earth is warming stems from our behavior as a species. Without the Earth though, we are nothing. What problem could matter more than one that will destroy the only home we have?

Why then, have we, as a species, not done more to avoid this monstrous problem? There are books that explain what it is exactly that we are doing to our planet, and the consequences this has—Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, for example. Books have been written that try to explain why it is that we behave this way, and why it is that we’ve done nothing to make a change—

Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America. There are books that tell personal stories of how environmental degradation impacts families and lives—Refuge: An Uncommon History of Family and Place by Terry Tempest Williams is an example. And while there are books that may provide us with steps to attempt to put a stop to this environmental degradation, these vary as well. Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang (1975) is one example of this that some may call “extreme” or “ecoterrorism,” while others may call it “activism” or “civil disobedience.” Along with these forms of environmental writing, there are many, many more. What, then, is the most effective form of writing if we are to stop or slow the path of environmental destruction we are currently on?

If Rachel Carson’s writing in Silent Spring is studied, one can learn a great deal about science and biology, while also learning of the real-world effects chemicals have had on humans, plants, animals, water, soil, etc. But perhaps one of the biggest reasons why Rachel Carson’s writing is so influential is because of the grace with which she writes. Rachel Carson, as opposed to a biology textbook, makes the process of cellular respiration sound like poetry—it becomes a complex, yet elegant process taking place within us all. Carson says,

The transformation of matter into energy in the cell is an ever-flowing process, one of nature’s
cycles of renewal, like a wheel endlessly turning. Grain by grain, molecule by molecule,
carbohydrate fuel in the form of glucose is fed into this wheel; in its cyclic passage the fuel
molecule undergoes fragmentation and a series of minute chemical changes. The changes are
made in orderly fashion, step by step, each step directed and controlled by an enzyme of so
specialized a function that it does this one thing and nothing else. At each step energy is
produced, waste products (carbon dioxide and water) are given off, and the altered molecule of
fuel is passed on to the next stage. When the turning wheel comes full cycle the fuel molecule
has been stripped down to a form in which it is ready to combine with a new molecule coming
in and to start the cycle anew.

It is through writing such as this that “average” people may not only become interested in the sciences, but also begin to think of their own bodies as part of the living, natural world. Perhaps this is the kind of writing that is needed to evoke feelings within people to make a change in their thinking of the natural world.

Wendell Berry, on the other hand, provides an equally honest form of writing in his novel The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture. So while Carson lays out the chemistry, biology, and social implications of how we are destroying our environment, Wendell Berry, very convincingly provides us with reasons why these events are occurring. In a way that seems to me, personally, one of the most effective forms of environmental writing, Berry provides strictly factual information in an organized and intellectual way. Perhaps most importantly, Berry dedicates part of the book to focusing on the “big picture.” For example, Berry convinces the reader that the universe is a whole, and for that reason, systems ca only be built “within one another” (Berry 51). Berry proceeds to explain the inherent problem surrounding our environmental crisis—a culture of specialization. The use of language within this text varies considerably from Carson’s poetic description of cellular respiration, but is just as effective. Both are fact-based pieces of writing attempting to convince the reader of the environmental damage the authors have in mind, but Berry’s Unsettling of America seems to differ in its lack of attempt to be “graceful,” with a heavier focus on scientific and concise. With a college-level reading ability, Berry’s The Unsettling of America may serve as an influence to those who are looking for evidence of large scale crises within the human population.

Next, Terry Tempest Williams provides a memoir—one that describes her personal experience of what environmental damage in the form of nuclear testing can do to an entire family’s health. The moving story of her mother’s battle with cancer is one that nearly everyone who reads it can relate to in some way or another. Perhaps the universal nature of this book is what can make it so effective as a tool to fight for environmental protection—something that evokes feelings is often time the most powerful of influencers.

With that said, Edward Abbey’s Monkey Wrench Gang is the perfect example of a piece of environmental literature that evokes a variety of emotions in the reader. The other interesting aspect then is that the emotions will vary from reader to reader. Some may feel a sense of excitement when reading Abbey’s novel, while others may feel anger. Either way, the end goal of the novel seems to be to convince people to take action against environmental degradation.

Like most of the previously described pieces of writing however, there exists quite a bit of controversy around Ed Abbey (specifically Ed Abbey as “an environmentalist.”) The controversy stems from the fact that Abbey is not an environmentalist in the sense that, say, Rachel Carson, Wendell Berry, or Terry Tempest Williams are. As Wendell Berry states in his essay on Ed Abbey, perhaps he isn’t an environmentalist at all. Berry says, “He is, certainly, a defender of some things that environmentalists defend, but he does not write merely in defense of what we call ‘the environment.’” As Berry points out, there are quite a few flaws that Abbey possesses, yet, at the same time, he has become an influential writer in the world of environmental literature. His writing has evoked in people an excitement and an anger, making them want to do something about the environmental crisis. And it seems as though this is the most important point nowadays—for people to take action.

So although Carson, Berry, Williams, and Abbey differ in their approach to environmental literature, the overall “result” is what matters most. Our only home is being destroyed, and whether liberals or conservatives, “environmentalists” or not, will speak out against it does not matter. What matters is that someone speaks out and that even more do something about it.

Monkeywrenching: Positive Protesting or Dangerous Protesting?

There are many ways in which one can try to save the Earth and while each one differs in approach the end goal is to protect what often cannot protect itself. While some chose to fight for the world from inside “The machine” by getting a job as someone who measures ecological impact or as an environmental lawyer, others chose different paths such as protesting such as promoting through art or even rarer as Monkeywrenching. This type of environmental protest is often rare, and it’s a good reason that it is rare because to Monkeywrench means to sabotage something as a way to protest. This sabotage often includes the destruction of industrial equipment or even billboards. Many call this form of protest a form of terrorism due to its destructive and sometimes possibly harmful results.

Monkey Wrenching is outlined best in the novel The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey. The novel does a superb job of showing off what is in the mind of the people who commit these acts and also details how these people are often flawed in their personalities. George Hayduke (who just goes by his last name) is the character that is often most attributed to this book and his flaws come in droves, he has a skewed view of the world and often takes things too far in unproportioned responses. One of his largest flaws is his anger, which often leads him to drastic measures such as the destruction of a police car by stealing it and leaving on train tracks after the police officer had arrested him for public intoxication. The scene is described as follows:

“Hayduke abandoned Hall’s care there in the crux of the crossing… As he hustled away from the scene of the crime, arms full and heart beating with joy, he heard – beneath the screech of brakes, the bellow of klaxons – one solid metallic crash, deeply satisfying, richly prolonged. He looked over his shoulder. The head locomotive, air brakes groaning… The car rolled once; the gas tank ruptured, exploded into saffron and violet flame…” (24-25).

This method of revenge was extreme and not only caused damage to the car of the officer but to the train and surrounding areas as well, in enacting his petty revenge against the officer who was doing his job the night he arrested Hayduke he put more than just property at risk, he put people at risk as well. Edward Abbey does an excellent job of fleshing out his character such as Hayduke and making you like them but still making you realize that they are quite human and in fact pretty fallible. The other characters in the novel like Doc, Bonnie, and Seen Smith are fleshed out like this as well.

The Monkey Wrench Gang is a good book and gives the reader a glimpse into the world of Monkeywrenching as well as the world of Ecological Protest. It gives the reader the insight into this often unthought-of or often unheard of world, a world that many try to hide away from the public. Although, the actions of the characters in the book should not be emulated or seen as a positive way to protest, what they are doing is dangerous and illegal. While Monkeywrenching is glorified in this novel it is important to remember how harmful and dangerous it can be. These sabotages are not harm free, they often come at a cost and those who are operating machinery after it has been sabotaged are often in danger of losing their lives because someone didn’t agree with the methods of their employer. These people that get hurt often have homes and families that they return to every night; they also often are not the bad guys but simply are trying to do their job to support their family. The real villains if any are the owners of these companies and corporations who make the decision to impact the earth, but one cannot get to these owners by destroying some of their equipment. Another issue with monkeywrenching is the fact that people often focus on the actions of those sabotaging and the damage it caused rather than the reason that the people did it, the message often gets lost in the act itself.

There are less harmful ways to protest and combat the growing threat of Ecological destruction. Though these methods often are more difficult than monkeywrenching, destruction of property is easy (not getting caught is another story) but to convey your message through non-violence is often difficult. So far in this class we have already seen the various ways in which other authors have conveyed their thoughts and feelings towards environmental destruction which range from a scientific pursuit like Rachel Carson chose in her book The Silent Spring all the way to a fictionalized story like Linda Hogan chose in Solar Storms: all these methods of conveying information through writing are just as poignant as monkeywrenching. Another way that we can protest is by switching our current self-centered thoughts which are Anthropocentric to more Biocentric or Ecocentric ideas. This is often the most difficult to do, it requires the citizen to change their way of thinking which has often been ingrained in them since birth. We often allow a lot to happen to our world when it can benefit us, we burn fossil fuels to travel and to keep our houses warm, and we allow strip mining in Africa in search of minerals like Coltan which is an ore that we use in the majority of our cell phones and electronics. We also have become a wasteful society where we will often throw away working technology just to get a new phone which has a few more bells and whistles (most of which is never actually used). This way of thinking is dangerous and as soon as we move on from a society obsessed with possession, control, convenience, and comfort we cannot truly begin to help our planet.

Environmental Violence (NOT FINISHED)

Edward Abbey’s 1975 novel, Monkey Wrench Gang is a thriving story about how the environment and experiences can change ones personal characteristics. I think that everyone has the ability to change when it comes to the various obstacles that life seems to throw at us. All of the characters in the book are involved with something that makes the world ‘go round’. Doc Sarvis is a surgeon who literally saves the lives of people who live on our earth. Seldom Smith is a river boat guide who lives his life on the water showing people the ways of the land. George Hayduke is a Vietnam Veteran who fought for our country and risked his life to save what we have. All of these characters have placed themselves in positions where they are all involved with the environment. As they move through their lives taking on each situation they are learning to move their ways through life. The real question is does violence solve these environmental problems?

Violence is not the answer but when it comes to anything, specifically in America, hurting things seems to be the main route. Our earth is filled with such beautiful things and when we as humans are slowly finding new ways to destroy what we have. The Monkey Wrench Gang follows through with this idea that ‘monkey wrenching’ is what needs to happen with our environment. Protesting or sabotaging the environment is what we all do whether it is apparent or subconsciously. We as humans have forced ourselves upon this earth and have created a serious footprint in the soil. We continue to step forward and leave our tracks on the ground. Sometimes we can say that this is a positive thing and we are moving into the future but in the end we are slowly ruining everything we have. This book discusses this in the eyes of violence.

Vlad Tchompalov- Unsplash

“What’s more American than violence?” Hayduke wanted to know.
“Violence, it’s as American as pizza pie.” (176)

Environmental violence is viewed very differently through the eyes of many different people. The controversy between what is hurting the world and what is helping will always be around. Considering the earth is changing so often it is all based around the adaptation of humans the the environment together. But more often than not, humans are changing the world at such a fast pace that evolution can’t seem to keep up. This is where the battle between humans and mother earth starts. Abbey makes environmental violence into an amazing story about his characters who are trying to save the world while in the end they end up just using violence to get what they think the earth needs/wants.

The industrial side of this novel tells a lot about the our current world that we are living in. Everything seems to be filled with this industry that needs to have things done in a timely manner while also making plant of money. This is another reason why we have come to environmental violence. The desire to have a mass production and extreme amounts of money will also cause violence. Not only towards the environment but also to the human race as well. Often in this world we find ourselves fighting over who is considered to be the middle class or the upper class and how do we get there. Human beings seem to have fuzzy vision when money becomes a factor of discussion. They will do anything, even if that means cutting down the forests, killing animals for only certain parts of their bodies, and hurting their own species. Industrial and environmental violence are smoothly linked together by the last word: Violence.