Edward Abbey’s Brave Cowboy and Industrialization

The novel portrays the main character struggle with 20th century industrialization. He yearns for a different life that is more agrarian in nature. Someone said that it he represents a struggle between city and country folk but I think that he actually represents a struggle against the suburbs. I’m not sure that it is New York City or Boston that he’s really against but rather the suburban strip mall America in search of a city/town. Personally, it is this part of America that I despise. There are so many places in the country that look like suburbs around DC with the nearest city being 500 miles away. This is sad because strip malls are an awful way to organize. Large Cities and small towns have more in common than both of them do with strip malls. Cities and towns allow people to come to one place to socialize and shop while strip malls make them drive from one store to another within the same complex. This facilitates anti-socialism, detachment, and discontent without really providing the tranquility of a quiet country life.

The Sheriff is a dynamic character who is somewhat conflicted over his feelings toward the cowboy but not really. “Johnson spat; his instinctive sympathy for the hunted man was darkened by a scornful pity closer to disgust than compassion.” I think this conflict comes from the fact that he sees him as a symbol of America but also as a symbol of anti- government rebel. In that time, antigovernment meant leftist but in today’s world antigovernment means the right wing. What is ironic is that today, members of the Republican Party are both highly organized and “traditional” in their values and also anti-government.

Edward Abbey’s Brave Cowboy

I love the way that Edward Abbey describes setting in the Brave Cowboy by incorporating it into the action. He has a connection with nature and incorporates the main character into that world. As the reader, we see what he sees in a realistic and authentic way. It isn’t romanticized which is what makes the process of industrialization even more tragic. Someone had said that his descriptions of Mexicans make them seem lazy. This might be true of his true intentions, I’m not sure, but I also think that it is a natural product of a detached style of narration. Burns is in getting too involved with the people or industrial world around him, he just observed in the distance, as an outsider. Therefore, he makes observations that someone is fat or skinny or tall or short.

Burns is resourceful and independent with a strong sense of right and wrong. He is wild in the way that he can live in the wild but not in his demeanor or judgment. He lives a solitary life but one of an individual and an outsider.

He reminds me a little bit about this guy I read about online.


I encountered the Horseman in Laguna Beach riding along the Pacific Coast Highway. He was ahead of me moving at horse speed. The traffic, hurried as always, slowed to a pause and then pulled around him. As I pulled past him, I could hear the clip-clop of the hooves of his mount and his pack horse. I glanced into the rear view mirror after I got ahead of him and saw the blinking red and blue lights and heard the short bleep of a siren tapped once. He had been pulled over by the Laguna Beach police for an interview. I pulled in around the corner, walked back, and joined a group of citizens already watching this encounter. The Horseman was riding to Texas. He said he’d started at the Canadian border. The cop asked him why he wasn’t driving. He said he didn’t have a truck and a horse trailer, just a horse, a pack horse and a dog. His plan was simply to ride the coast to San Diego and turn left.”