Heroic Criminals Essay
Paper type: Essay
Words: 1458, Paragraphs: 16, Pages: 6
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All throughout childhood we are taught that breaking the law is bad and the people who do are criminals and should be punished. Edward Abbey, author of The Monkey Wrench Gang, and Carl Hiaasen, author of Sick Puppy, alter these thoughts. Both novels focus on adventuresome environmentalists who stir up trouble in means of standing up for their beliefs. Both Abbey and Hiaasen construct higher and natural laws over the traditional justice system that gives characters justification for their actions.
Ethically we as humans should not side with these rebellious characters, but the theme is so central in the books cover-to-cover that we, as readers, lose sight of morals as the authors manipulate us to become completely invested in these heroic criminals.
With sharp uses of characterization and description, Edward Abbey glorifies the art of law breaking and leaves his readers cheering for the heroic criminals. Throughout The Monkey Wrench Gang, the group of four activists set out to destroy bridges, signs, bulldozers and anything else harming the American southwest.
From the very beginning, Abbey illustrates a scene full of the workings of the justice system in his prologue. When describing the ceremony to open the bridge he states, “the bridge stands clear and empty except for…a symbolic barrier of red, white and blue ribbon stretched across the bridge from rail to rail” (3). If the sense of patriotism wasn’t evident enough through images of children eating ice cream cones and people drinking Coca-Cola before that, Abbey drapes the bridge in the colors of our nations flag.
His portrayal of the project seems to be adored and almost sponsored by America. He uses the writing technique of verisimilitude throughout the prologue to captivate readers and make them anxious to see who disapproves the project. This is a true introduction and welcoming to rebellious characters. As the novel progresses, we become familiar with the gang: Hayduke, Bonnie, Seldom Seen and Doc, as they are driving through billboard signs. Some readers might lose respect for the characters because their actions seem hypocritical and pointless.
Their actions are against the law. But then Abbey slowly develops the characters and gives them justification for these criminal actions. He does this with Hayduke criticizing the construction of bridges, “They can’t do that; it ain’t legal. There’s a law against it. A higher law” (27). The phrase “higher law” justifies the gang’s destruction because they are taking a stand to save the environment, the beautiful American southwest. As destruction projects get bigger, we find ourselves rooting for these criminals because they are heroes.
And we find ourselves captivated in the novel with Abbey’s clever use of an episodic plot. He arranges plot elements into a story and although we aren’t deep into the character’s lives, the focus on episodes drives us forward. As Abbey slowly develops the protagonist characters, he introduces the character, Bishop Love, who we as readers coin as the antagonist. Once again Abbey manipulates our morals as we begin hating the character who could possibly bring down our rebels. Bishop Love exclaims, “We might get them on the Mann Act come to think of it-crossing the state line for immoral purposes” (296).
The fact that the Mann Act was first established to regulate prostitution across state lines cleverly draws us against the bishop’s character and law in general. Abbey’s use of an actual law brings the entire chase back to reality as we still see ourselves siding with the heroic criminals. Abbey actually creates this chase into a war and the heroic criminals become heroic war veterans. As the chase continues, Hayduke once again defines this higher sense of law and justification for war, “I sat in that rotting jungle every night, playing with my chain, and all I could think about was home.
And I don’t mean Tucson…I thought about the canyons” (359). This is a very lively twist on the patriotic term war because when we think of war we think of Americans going into another country. Here, Americans are in a war in America against other Americans. And because of this, someone is breaking the law or going against the law. As true as that statement is, we find ourselves naming the criminals as the war heroes through Abbey’s manipulation. Although in the end these heroes are captured and the project seems to be brought to an end, the denouement proves to serve poetic justice.
The epilogue consists of Doc, Bonnie and Seldom being almost immediately bailed out of jail, Bishop Love in slow recovery, and the survival of the most prominent environmentalist, Hayduke. Such a fitting ending for our manipulated beliefs. Similarly to Edward Abbey’s manipulation of our morals through characterization and development, Carl Hiaasen uses the same techniques within the theme of criminal heroes. Right off the bat, we meet Twilly who is the definition of activist. We quickly learn that if he doesn’t like something, he takes immediate action.
And it’s not with anger that he takes action, but disappointment, “…if I was really pissed, I would’ve done it on a Monday morning, and I would’ve made damn sure my uncle was inside at the time” (19). This is in response to his therapist asking if the reason he blew up a bank was due to the fact that he was angry his uncle made a loan to some “rotten people” (18). We aren’t really introduced to the proper sense of law as we were in The Monkey Wrench Gang, but such grotesque images of the characters in political positions make us see them as the bad guys and the person who blows up a bank as a hero.
More grotesque images develop as we learn about Robert Clapley and his Barbie dolls and Palmer Stoat and his trophies. So even though we want to hate the main characters, we hate who Hiaasen wants us to hate more. With this manipulation technique and Hiaasen’s rapid tonal shifts between parallel characters, we find ourselves not being able to put the novel down. He creates a sense of higher law that gives us a place to go and pretend we’re there with Twilly being a heroic criminal and activist. Hiaasen also does not overstep his boundaries with this sense of higher law as characters are able to resist destruction.
In the scene where Twilly and Desie are driving behind a lady in a Lexus who threw her cigarette butt out the window, Twilly wants to put her car up in flames, but he lets off (219). Although we are already on Twilly’s side, the fact that he can resist gives him more respect as a “criminal. ” Once again, in the reader’s eyes, what makes him a hero is how Hiaasen develops the negative characterization of characters like Clapley, Gash and Stoat. In a very grotesque scene between Clapley and Stoat, Stoat explains, “The important thing is, that nutty kid is finally out of the picture.
And, oh yeah, Desie and Boodle are OK, too. Not that I give a shit” (360). Immediately after this is said, “Clapley finds himself gazing past Stoat, at a dancer performing in a nearby booth…’if only she was taller’” (360). As illustrated, Clapley and Stoat are both sick people and we want them to be punished and destroyed. We are pulling for Twilly to torture them and win. The novel takes shifts towards a focus on the greed of politics where nature is just a victim and Twilly is standing up for it. In another beautiful example of poetic justice, the epilogue is used as a framing device to bring the novel full circle.
In one example, the novel begins with Stoat hunting a rhino and ends with him being impaled by one (429). The ending of our other hated character, Robert Clapley, comes full circle as his most prized possessions, Katya and Tish, become, “…a trademark symbol; this order to include but not expressly be limited to such oral and visual depictions as ‘Goth Barbies’, ‘Undead Barbies’, and ‘Double-Jointed Vampire Barbies’” (445). This is a direct occurrence of what Clapley didn’t want to happen and we find ourselves giggling about the fact.
The sense of the novel as a political cartoon truly adds to our enjoyment as readers and superb justification of higher law and love for heroic criminals. In conclusion, both Abbey and Hiaasen create a new definition of criminal through manipulating our morals in their development of characters and justifying it with the sense of a higher law. Adventuresome environmentalists deface and destroy many things, yet we find ourselves as readers cheering for them to do so and get away with it. Ethically we should not side with these rebellious characters, but we truly are completely, 100% invested.