Character Development in Edward Abbey's The Monkey Wrench Gang
Search and Rescue, Utah State Police, and Bishops of the Church of Latter-Day Saints chase a group of bridge destroying, billboard burning, bulldozer mutilating eco-terrorists through the desert of the Southwest. The group known as the Monkey Wrench Gang consists of four very different characters: Seldom Seen Smith, also known as Joseph Smith, George Washington Hayduke, Doctor A. K. Sarvis, and Bonnie Abbzug. Each character has his own opinion of why nature needs to be saved. The group decides to make their mark on nature by "taking care" of the different machines, roads and bridges that are destroying it. With all the destruction the gang is causing, being caught is expected. However, the gang narrowly escapes the law numerous times. After finally giving in to the pressures of being good citizens and serving time in jail for destroying public property, the gang reunites for their final destructive mission: Glen Canyon Dam. Edward Abbey, author of The Monkey Wrench Gang (1975), uses language, appearances, actions and opinions to make each character likable to the conservative reader.
Abbey uses his strong feelings about the beauty of the Southwest to shape the opinions of each of his characters. Doc Sarvis, a medical surgeon from Albuquerque, has no strong or lasting relationships. "His few close friends were always sent away, returning rarely, the bonds of affection no stronger than the web of correspondence" (12-13). Doc?s closest friend, and coworker, is Ms. Bonnie Abbzug. Doc and Bonnie spend most of their downtime destroying billboards with economic meanings, because "Somebody has to do it" (43). Such billboards worthy of destruction read "Marine Corps builds MEN," and "If trucks stop America Stops" (13). All the while, Bonnie drives Doc?s Lincoln with the slogan "God Bless America. Let?s Save Some of It" (14) plastered on the back bumper.
George Washington Hayduke, Vietnam veteran from Tucson, Arizona, has a distaste for the way the Southwest is becoming industrialized. He found it, "no longer what he remembered, no longer the clear and classical desert. . . . Someone or something was changing things" (15). "That ultimate world . . . of meat, blood, fire, water, rock, wood, sun, wind, sky, night, cold, dawn, warmth, life. Those short and irreducible words which stand for almost everything he thinks he has lost" (355). In Hayduke?s opinion, "This is my country. Mine and Seldom?s and Doc?s - yeah, hers too" (336) and anyone who would want to mess with it is in trouble.
Seldom Seen Smith, a Mormon and husband to three women all from Utah, guides river trips down Lee?s Ferry for a living. Smith, like Hayduke, remembers the Southwest to be something different. He recalls, "the golden river flowing to the sea. . . . He remembers the canyons. . . and the amphitheaters" (31). What he doesn?t remember is "all these things lay[ing] beneath the dead water of the reservoir"...