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Comparison : Wallace Stegner and Edward Abbey

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    Comparison Essay: Wallace Stegner and Edward Abbey


                The purpose of this analysis is to compare, contrast, define, and explain. Wallace Stegner’s essay, “Coda: Wilderness Letter” and Edward Abbey’s essay, “The Great American Desert” are the topics for discussion. Detailed information is presented on both essays and conclusions are made. The essay begins with a discussion on “Coda: Wilderness Letter”.

    Coda: Wilderness Letter

                Stegner suggests that the wilderness is an important part of American society and due to this factor, it should not be destroyed. He points out that Americans are not being humanitarian about the environment that they live in if they choose to deplete natural resources until nothing is left.  Stegner further mentions that the natural resources keep the environment living. Therefore, if those resources are gone, then so is society’s opportunity at a better tomorrow (Finch & Elder 1990, “Coda: Wilderness Letter”).

                Remarkably, Stegner did not hold back in his convictions of Americans. In fact, Finch and Elder (1990) emphasized Stegner’s beliefs as the authors wrote,

    Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed; if we permit the last virgin forests to be turned into comic books and plastic cigarette cases; if we drive the few remaining members of the wild species into zoos or to extinction; if we pollute the last clean air and dirty the last clean streams and push our paved roads through the last of the silence, so that never again will Americans be free in their country from the noise, the exhausts, the stinks of human and automotive waste. (“Coda: Wilderness Letter”, 564)

    Thus, Stegner’s viewpoints explain how Americans can lose their culture by destroying their surroundings. He further points out that in doing so America will no longer have separation from the rest of the world. Stegner’s essay suggests that Americans are becoming too reliant on technology (Finch & Elder 1990, “Coda: Wilderness Letter”).

                Due to this factor, natural resources are being used at rapid rates. For example, the wood from trees makes paper, plastic, and other items. However, for every tree chopped down, it is another step towards driving animals out of their homes into extinction or zoos. Also, for all the extra energy and fuel used for electricity, cars, homes, and technology America is polluting the environment, killing nature, and causing global warming. That is why Stegner desired for nature to be preserved. Moreover, Finch and Elder (1990) made known Stegner’s views as the essay pointed out that the wilderness needs to be preserved because it coincides with the human race’s well-being (“Coda: Wilderness Letter”).

                In this context, Stegner is referring to the first civilizations that hunted, planted, and gathered food from the land and water. Additionally, this passage refers to the first American Colonies that began to develop what has become known as the United States. Earlier generations cherished nature and coexisted with it. However, as time progressed, later generations found more innovative ways to utilize land, sea, and air. As a result, more advanced technologies were created and are currently being created. Thus, activist groups, environmentalists, and conversationalists are spreading the word on attempts to preserve nature and wild life. Stegner’s essay is an aggressive attempt to get Americans to see that the environment should not be destroyed.

    The Great American Desert

                On the other hand, Abbey’s essay, “The Great American Desert”, send a message that while nature is beautiful, it can create a painful experience. Abbey takes the approach of a person falling in love with nature. Despite that love, Abbey is very strong-minded in getting others to see that the desert can be the final resting place of all those who explore it (Finch & Elder 1990, “The Great American Desert”).

                In fact, Finch and Elder’s (1990) book expressed Abbey’s feelings, “…my next incarnation, my bones will remain bleaching nicely in a stone gulch under the rim of some faraway plateau…’ ‘An unrequited and excessive love, inhuman no doubt but painful anyhow, especially when I see my desert under attack’” (“The Great American Desert”, 685). Abbey wanted to let explorers and nature lovers know that many dangers existed in the desert. Dangers such as too much sun, poisonous snakes, insect bites, and limited drinking water are the life-threatening issues of the desert (Finch & Elder 1990, “The Great American Desert”).

                Abbey’s essay expresses the difficulties involved in loving the desert and exploring its lands (Finch & Elder 1990, “The Great American Desert”). For example, too much exposure to heat may cause skin cancer. A further danger in this is rashes, blotches, and sometimes even death. Bites from poisonous snakes and insects can lead to infections, fevers, and other serious problems. Little to no drinking water can lead to dehydration, weakness, hallucinations, and additional medical issues.

                Thus, Abbey desired his readers to understand that if they truly wanted to survive, the best way to do so would be by not going to the desert. Abbey also wanted vacationers and travelers to realize that the desert was not a popular spot for spending time with the family. Finch and Elder (1990) mentioned this factor through the passage, “The Great American Desert is an awful place.’ ‘People get hurt, get sick, [and] get lost…’ ‘Even if you survive…you will have a miserable time.’ ‘The desert is for movies and God-intoxicated mystics, not for family recreation’” (“The Great American Desert”, 685).

                As a result, Abbey sought to get right to the point in his essay. He wanted people to understand the ugly side of nature. On this side, nature can sweep a person away in a flood, cause a person to stumble over debris, or make a person lose their mind. All of these things cause pain. That is why Abbey suggests staying at home and never succumbing to nature’s wrath (Finch & Elder 1990, “The Great American Desert”, 685).

                In fact, Abbey goes on to name a number of canyons, holes, valleys, and rivers that can claim a person’s life in the blink of an eye. He talks about how the desert was not made to be a safe-haven for human beings. Moreover, Abbey points out that activists, environmentalists, and conversationalists who care about the deserts that exist in the world have learned to love the roughness in nature (Finch & Elder 1990, “The Great American Desert”). These characteristics of the human heart are the reasons why human beings can rough it and survive, press on when there seems to be nothing else to aim for, and climb to the mountaintop.

    Similarities and differences between Stegner’s and Abbey’s essays

                Significantly, many comparisons and contrasts in Stegner’s and Abbey’s writings. For example, both authors are concerned about protecting the environment. They each mention various things that should be done in order to achieve this goal. Stegner wanted people to understand that by destroying nature, people are only destroying themselves. Abbey sought to get people to realize that while they should be kind to the ugly side of nature, they should act wisely when threading upon those grounds (Finch & Elder 1990).

                In addition, Stegner desired for people to realize that a healthy environment is one that will last for a long time. However, at the same time, he desired people to realize it is able to destroy the beauty that is nature by depleting its natural resources. Abbey wanted people to see that the desert pre-existed them. Due to this factor, it cannot be destroyed. Yet, Abbey wanted people to realize that nature can harm them (Finch & Elder 1990).

                Furthermore, Stegner wrote with the idea in mind that everyone can make a difference. Abbey’s essay emphasized the fact that nature can cause a difference. Stegner’s essay pointed out that nature is the difference. In a sense, Abbey’s essay portrayed God as the difference (Finch & Elder 1990).

                Stegner believed that the natural resources exist to be put to good usage. Abbey thought that the desert’s extremities should not be utilized. Stegner emphasized that the environment could be intact for years to come if Americans took better care of it. Abbey felt that the nature of the desert is to serve as a death trap for anyone that seeks shelter therein (Finch & Elder 1990).


                The differences between Stegner’s and Abbey’s perceptions of the environment are compelling. On one side, Stegner desired for Americans to realize their ability to become one with nature. Yet, on the other side, Abbey tried to steer people away from the hot desert lands. One author (Stegner) felt that the beauties of the environment as well as a sustainable amount of natural resources were disappearing.

    However, the other author (Abbey) sought to display the evils that lurk in the desert and at the same time, portray it as a rough gem that has value to someone. Stegner’s article dealt with the wilderness which is defined as “An unsettled, uncultivated region left in its natural condition…” (“Wilderness” 2007). Only, Americans have not left it alone. Abbey’s article dealt with the desert which can be defined as “A wild, uncultivated, and uninhabited region” (“Desert” 2007). Yet, people are trying to learn the desert’s secrets so that the lands can be cultivated. Is it possible? Well, consider the states of Arizona and Colorado. They are climate (Phoenix) and altitude (Denver). Significantly, people have found ways to survive. Therefore, the even rougher desert lands could be next.


    “Desert.” 2007. 24 May 2007 <>

    Finch, Robert & Elder, John. The Norton Book of Nature Writing. 1990. W.W. Norton & Company.

    “Wilderness.” 2007. 24 May 2007<>

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