The Last American Man
Increasingly, too, he began to take issue with the Christian cycle of
It seemed obvious to him that this was nothing more than a moral cop-out,
writ large. You sin; you are
immediately forgiven; you go out and sin some more, armed with the understanding
that you will be forgiven once again. He
found it stupid, weak, and cheap. Why
was there this assumption that people were destined to sin, anyhow?
If people loved the Bible so much, Eustace wondered, why couldn’t they
just obey the clear instructions it offers and quit lying, cheating, stealing,
murdering, and whore-mongering? How
many times you gotta read the friggin’ Ten Commandments before you get them
right? Stop sinning!
Live the way you have been taught to live!
Then you won’t have to come to church every Sunday and kneel and weep
and repent. And you’ll have a lot
more time to spend outside in the forest, where, as Eustace believed, “there
is only truth to be found—no lies, no shams, no illusions, no hypocrisy.
Just a truthful place, where all beings are governed by a set of perfect
laws that have never changes and never will.”
probably don’t want to live off the land in any way that would involve real
discomfort, but they still catch a thrill from Eustace’s continual assurance
that “You can!” Because that’s
what most of us want to hear. We
don’t want to be out there in a snowstorm on the Oregon Trail, fixing the
broken axle of a covered wagon; we want to feel as though we could do it if we had to. And
Eustace lives as he does in order to provide us with that comforting proof.
it is that the incompetence widens with each generation.
Still, Eustace feels he could handle this incompetence if it weren’t
for the one big flaw he sees in modern Americans of all ages:
people don’t listen. They
don’t know how to pay attention. They
don’t know how to focus. Even if
they claim that they want to learn, they have no discipline.
so that he could hear a twig snapping the forest and know by the sound the
diameter of the twig, which told him whether it had been stepped on by a heavy
deer or a squirrel. Or was the snap
merely the sound of a dry branch falling out of a tree in the morning breeze?
Eustace learned to tell the difference.
[Eustace little brother] discomfort in his own skin seemed to me typical of many
young American men, who see their female peers soar into anew world and often
have trouble catching up. When Jason
looks out into American society, after all, what does he see?
Aside from the environmental and consumer crisis that so offends his
sensibilities, he is facing a world undergoing a total cultural and gender
upheaval. Men are still largely in
charge, mind you, but they are slipping fast.
Modern America is a society where college-educated men have seen their
incomes drop 20 percent over the last twenty-five years.
A society where women complete high school and college at significantly
higher rates than men, and have new doors of opportunity opened to them every
day. A society where a third of all
wives make more money than their husbands. A
society where women are increasingly in control of their biological and economic
destinies, often choosing to raise their children alone or not to have children
at all or to leave an identifiable man out of the reproductive picture entirely,
through the miracles of the sperm bank. A
society, in other words, where a man is not necessary in the way he was
customarily needed—to protect, to provide, to procreate.
another long day in Virginia, when he ended up hiking late at night to make his
allotted daily miles, hiking along a dark country road in the most rural
countryside. It was a Friday
evening, so all the local rednecks were driving around in their trucks,
listening to music and drinking and heading to parties.
They kept stopping to see what Eustace was up to.
“You need a ride, son?” the good ol’ boys asked.
“Where you walkin’ from?”
That answer didn’t
make much of an impression on the good ol’ boys.
“Well, where you headed to?”
told them, and the guys positively flipped out, whoopin’ in disbelief.
“This damn fool’s walking all the way to Georgia!”
Clearly, then had never heard of Maine.
Then, feeling sorry
for Eustace, they gave him a beer and drove off.
Eustace walked along in the dark, drinking the beer and humming to
himself and listening to the night insects of Virginia sing.
About the time he finished the beer, along came another truckload of
“You need a ride, son?”
And the conversion was
repeated, word for word, right down to the punch line.
“This damn fool’s walking all the way to Georgia!”
One evening, I
went to a distant field with Eustace to watch him teach Twig how to use a disc
plow. They had to drag the plow out
to this field about half a mile through the woods with a mule and draft horse,
using a sturdy old Appalachian sled to carry the machinery.
Every aspect of the job spoke of potential physical danger—the ungainly
and willful animals, the unsteadiness of the sled, the flying chains and leather
straps and ropes, the razor-sharp edges of the heavy old plow.
And yet knowing all this, and having lived at Turtle Island for six
months, Twig elected to show up for this job wearing flip-flops.