The Environmentalist Western

In Paolo Bacigalupi’s “The Tamarisk Hunter”, we find a dystopian fictional society where environmental degradation has wreaked havoc on the earth. What is interesting about “The Tamarisk Hunter”, is not so much the dystopia but the way it inverts the Western genre. Similar to the western, we follow the adventures of a lone ranger, Lolo, as he struggles to survive in the Utah dessert. Unlike, the conventional western heroes, Lolo does not find in the west a realm of freedom, adventure and possibilities. Instead, the west is a place of misery, unfreedom, and decay. The west, once a placed for those who wanted to start a new life with bountiful resources and land, is reduced to a place where no one owns anything and where drinking the water could get you arrested. As Bacigalupi described it “there was water; they just couldn’t touch it” (174). Bacigalupi also provides interesting descriptions the extreme disparity in wealth and power. This was conveyed most vividly with the description of the National Guards’ helicopters as “thud-thwap of a guardie chopper” in contrast to its appearance as “black-fly dot” (177). The extreme loudness of the chopper representing the high amounts of power and influence the Californians have over those on the outside, while its small appearance representing the Californians numerical insignificance. Through the theme of inequality, we can also see Lolo’s replanting of the tamarisk along the river as an attempt at rebellion, similar to Robin Hood stealing from the rich and giving to the poor (172). However, even here, there is a tragedy in Lolo’s rebellion. Not only does it end in failure, it was also not a true rebellion. Unlike Robin Hood, who rebelled in order to provide for the welfare of the community, Lolo rebelled solely to serve his own interests. Despite his “rebellion”, Lolo has wholly given up the struggle for freedom. Whereas Travis looked with fond memories back to the early struggles against the Californians’ dominance, Lolo shivers in fear (177). Ultimately, what makes “The Tamarisk Hunter” a dystopian is precisely its inversion of the Western genre. Through it, we can see that the worst thing about the end of the world is not the suffering, the violence, or the inequality. It is the impossibility of a better future. After all, Lolo’s defeat at the end of the story comes with one final realization: “Big Daddy Drought’s here to stay” (190).

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