Easily Abbey's most famous fiction work, the novel concerns the use of sabotage to protest environmentally damaging activities in the American Southwest, and was so influential that the term "monkeywrench" has come to mean, besides sabotage and damage to machines, any violence, sabotage, activism, law-making, or law-breaking to preserve wilderness, wild spaces and ecosystems. It is the bible of what some critics call "eco terrorists".
The book's four main characters are ecologically-minded misfits — a Jack Mormon river guide, a surgeon, his young assistant, and a rather eccentric Green Beret Vietnam veteran, George Hayduke. Together, though not always working as a tightly-knit team, they form the titular group dedicated to the destruction of what they see as the system that pollutes and destroys their environments, the American West. As their attacks on deserted bulldozers and trains continue, the law closes in.
The book was praised for its erudition, flair, down-home wit, and the accuracy of its descriptions of life away from civilization. (Abbey made the West his home and was a skilled outdoorsman.)
Interestingly from a 21st-century viewpoint, the Gang in some ways bears little resemblance to the modern media's portrayal of environmentalists — they eat lots of red meat, own firearms, drink beer (and litter the roadside with empty cans), drive big cars, etc. (Abbey's habits were reportedly similar.) Also, Abbey's politics are not "bleeding heart" (as most of the characters dismiss liberalism): they attack Indians as well as whites for their consumerism, hold little regard for the Sierra Club, etc.
The Gang sees the 'enemy' as those who would develop the American Southwest: despoiling the land, befouling the air, and destroying Nature and the sacred purity of Abbey's desert world. The greatest hatred is focused on the Glen Canyon Dam, a monolithic edifice of concrete that dams a beautiful, wild river, and which the monkeywrenchers seek to destroy. Indeed, one of the book's most memorable scenes is that of Abbey's character Seldom Seen Smith, as he kneels atop the dam praying for a "pre-cision earthquake" to remove the "temporary plug" of the Colorado River.
The book may have been the inspiration for Dave Foreman's and Mike Roselle's creation of Earth First!, a direct action environmental organization that often advocates much of the minor vandalism depicted in the book. Many scenes of vandalism and ecologically-motivated mayhem, including a billboard burning at the beginning of the book and the use of caltrops to elude pursuing police, are presented in sufficient detail as to form a skeletal how-to for would-be saboteurs.
Literary significance and criticismEdit
- From the National Observer, "A sad, hilarious, exuberant, vulgar fairy tale... It'll make you want to go out and blow up a dam."
- From the New York Times, "Since the publication of The Monkey Wrench Gang, Mr. Abbey has become an underground cult hero."
- From the Washington Post, "One of the best writers to deal with the American West."
- From the Houston Chronicle, "What a thing of beauty is Edward Abbey's The Monkey Wrench Gang."
- Slovic, Scott. "Aestheticism and Awareness: The Psychology of Edward Abbey's The Monkey Wrench Gang." CEA Critic 55.3 (1993): 54-68.
- Cassuto, David N. "Waging Water: Hydrology vs. Mythology in The Monkey Wrench Gang." ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and the Environment 2.1 (1994): 13-36.
- Hayduke Lives - Continuing the story from where The Monkey Wrench Gang left off.
Film, TV or theatrical adaptationsEdit
A film adaptation of the book, to be directed by Catherine Hardwicke, is being planned.
- See Edward Abbey for a detailed list of Abbey's other works.
References in other mediaEdit
- "Monkeywrenchers" conduct sabotage against loggers in The X-Files season 1 episode "Darkness Falls"
- One of the sets of terrorists in 24 Declassified: Cat's Claw was an eco-terrorist group named and based on "The Monkey Wrench Gang."