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An introduction to The Monkey Wrench Gang

by David Barnhill last modified Aug 14, 2010 01:38 PM

Below is a brief snyopsis of the first five chapters of Edward Abbey's novel The Monkey Wrench Gang.

The Monkey Wrench Gang is Abbey’s novel about four wilderness defenders who join together to attack those who are wrecking the wild. It is an exuberant, ribald, and humorous work, a wild ride into one type of response to environmental degradation. The novel helped spawn the Earth First! movement, and both the book and the movement are highly controversial. Just before he died, Abbey completed a sequel: Hayduke Lives!

Characters and the introductory chapters.

Chapter One introduces A. K. Sarvis, M.D., whose hobby is highway beautification – in the form of burning or chainsawing billboards. He is rather middle-aged and professor-like.

Chapter Two introduces George Washington Hayduke. He is a twenty-five year old former member of the U.S. Army Special Forces (Green Berets) who spent three years in Vietnam, the last one as a prisoner of the Vietcong. He returned home to find his beloved desert Southwest getting “developed.” Hayduke is gruff, burly, and impatient, a sexist, beer-guzzling gun-lover who is skilled in demolition. (His character is based on the real-life Doug Peacock.) In chapter 2 he returns to his hometown with a long-standing grudge at a local policeman. He steals his patrol car, parks it where a freight train takes it for a ride, and heads into the wilderness, “the heartland of his heart” (26).

Chapter Three introduces Seldom Seen Smith, on a “lifetime sabbatical from his [Mormon] religion” (29), but enough of a traditionalist to practice polygamy (without his wives knowing it). “Like Hayduke his heart was full of a healthy hatred” (31) at the degradation of the sacred lands of the Southwest. He worked as a professional guide on rivers and in the back-country. In chapter 3 he is at the infamous Lake Powell, thinking about how he can destroy the Glen Canyon Dam.

Chapter Four introduces Ms. Bonnie Abbzug, twenty-eight years old, who has a “loose and partial relationship” (41) with the much older Doc Sarvis. She appeared with him in chapter 1, and they are working together on highway beautification in this chapter as well. But they conclude that they “we’re meant for finer things” (49).


The “Wooden Shoe” Conspiracy (Chapter Five)
“Wooden shoe” is the root meaning of “sabotage,” a term that arose several centuries ago to indicate the willful destruction of the machinery and production capability of the Industrial Revolution that oppressed the workers and peasants. Chapter Five depicts our four characters (and two unidentified women from San Diego) in a trip down the rapids-churned Colorado River and into the Grand Canyon. At night by a fire, the three men talk about what is wrong with the world, and begin to think about doing sabotage against the forces that are destroying the wilderness and its wild rivers.

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by David Barnhill last modified Aug 14, 2010 01:38 PM