Robyn Davidson’s decision to undertake a solo journey across the desert seems at first to provide a dramatic example of individualism. However, as she plans and undertakes her trip, she quickly discovers that her trek is not as isolated from others as she initially expected. This tension between individualism and interconnection forms one of Davidson’s core struggles throughout the book, as she wonders about the value (or lack thereof) of acting alone and reflects on how best to involve other people in her journey. Though Davidson attempts to balance these two values against each other, she learns over the course of her trek that individuality and interconnection do not have to be mutually exclusive. Rather, individual effort and the involvement of other people can ultimately strengthen and reinforce each other.
Davidson’s life in Alice Springs provides a vivid example of her discomfort with the ideas of both individualism and interconnection. She longs to belong in her new community, but she also experiences her greatest joys when fending for herself. When her friends move away and leave her a crumbling farmhouse to live in on her own, Davidson is ecstatic, realizing that she is a true loner and that “this condition was a gift rather than something to be feared.” However, she soon realizes that living alone is part of what makes her vulnerable to the abuses of her manipulative boss, Kurt, and also leaves her house exposed to intrusion from men passing through town. Davidson struggles to cope with these challenges on her own, but when her friends Julie and Jenny come to live with her, her spirits revive and she feels able to face her life again. This early example shows how Davidson’s wish to rely on herself vies with her need to connect with others. Shortly before beginning her trip, a visitor accuses Davidson of being a “bourgeois individualist,” a charge which preoccupies her for several days. She wonders whether her wish to travel alone is self-indulgent, but also believes that her essential desire is simply to control her own life rather than being controlled by others. This sense of uncertainty about her own place in relation to other people follows Davidson as she begins her journey.
Davidson’s desire to be both alone and connected to others persists throughout her trip, as she attempts over and over again to define the boundaries of her journey and understand how other people fit into her essentially individual pursuit. Rick, the National Geographic photographer who meets up with Davidson several times during her trek, is perhaps the most dramatic example of Davidson’s ambivalence about involving other people. Although Rick is a steadfast friend who treats Davidson and her mission respectfully, Davidson nonetheless resents having allowed him and the magazine into her private pursuit, feeling several times that doing so has ruined the solitude she initially planned. Still, Davidson also appreciates Rick’s help and company, wondering throughout whether or not she was right to involve him. Davidson is also joined for a portion of the middle of her trip by Eddie, an older Aboriginal man who turns out to be an excellent guide and companion, despite the fact that the two have little language in common. Davidson describes Eddie as “healthy, integrated, whole,” and realizes that when two individuals are each secure in themselves, joining together can be a joy rather than a burden. Finally, during the parts of her trip that she is completely alone with her camels and dog, Davidson gains a new understanding that being alone does not have to mean being lonely, in part because the solitude allows her to connect more deeply with the world around her. Somewhat counter-intuitively, being alone and being connected go hand in hand during these later phases of Davidson’s journey. She finds that no matter how alone she is, her links to the land and to her animals continue to deepen and expand the boundaries of herself.
As Davidson approaches the conclusion of her trip, she encounters reporters and photographers from media outlets and realizes that, previously unbeknownst to her, the trek has become an international sensation. This abrupt intrusion of the outside world into her personal, private mission pushes Davidson to reckon once and for all with the ways that connection to others complicate—and balance—her individualist mindset. When Davidson realizes how well-known she and her journey have become, she is at first resentful of the attention and angry at herself for allowing the intended purity of her trek to be corrupted. She feels that the media accounts have simplified her into a symbol of exceptional courage that ordinary people won’t relate to, which she calls “the antithesis of what [she] wanted to share.” However, Davidson also receives countless letters from people inspired by her solo journey, which suggests that her initial insistence on going it alone ultimately gives her a uniquely effective way to connect with others. By emphasizing the importance of self-reliance, Davidson manages in the end to create a version of the community and interconnection that she has explored throughout her journey. Although Davidson remains uneasy about how she will balance these values going forward, her trip demonstrates that individualism and interconnection do not have to be opposites; rather, they can support each other in surprising ways.
Individuality and Interconnection ThemeTracker
Individuality and Interconnection Quotes in Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback
I hated myself for my infernal cowardice in dealing with people. It is such a female syndrome, so much the weakness of animals who have always been prey. I had not been aggressive enough or stood up to him enough. And now this impotent, internal, angry stuttering.
I wandered and roamed through my domain, my private space, smelling its essence, accepting its claim on me and incorporating every dust mote, every spider’s web into an orgy of possessive bliss. This sprawling, tattered old stone ruin…this was my first home, where I felt such a sense of relief and belonging that I needed nothing and no one.
This debilitating fear, this recognition of the full potential of Kurt’s hatred of me, and the knowledge that Kurt could and would hurt me very badly if I displeased him enough, was the catalyst which transformed my vague misery and sense of defeat into an overwhelming reality. The Kurts of this world would always win—there was no standing up to them—no protection from them. With this realization came a collapse: Everything I had been doing or thinking was meaningless, trivial, in the face of the existence of Kurt.
I was basically a dreadful coward, I knew that about myself. The only possible way I could overcome this was to trick myself with that other self, who lived in dream and fantasy and who was annoyingly lackadaisical and unpractical. All passion, no sense, no order, no instinct for self-preservation. That’s what I had done, and now that cowardly self had discovered an unburnt bridge by which to return to the past.
I made lists of lists of lists, then started all over again. And if I did something that wasn’t on a list, I would promptly write it on one and cross it out, with the feeling of having at least accomplished something. I walked in my sleep into Jenny and Toly’s room one night and asked them if they thought everything was going to be all right.
I began right then and there to split into two over Rick. On the one hand I saw him as a blood-sucking little creep who had inveigled his way into my life by being nice and by tempting me with material things. On the other hand I was confronted with a very warm, gentle human being who genuinely wanted to help me and who was excited by the prospect of an adventure, who wanted to do a good job, and who cared.
Some camps on those nights were so desolate they stole into my soul, and I longed for a safe nook out of that chill empty wind. I felt vulnerable. Moonlight turned the shadows into inimical forms and I was so glad of Diggity’s warmth as we snuggled beneath the blankets that I could have squeezed her to death. The rituals I performed provided another necessary structure. Everything was done correctly and obsessionally. Before I went to bed, everything was placed exactly where I wanted it for the morning.
They were gorgeous photos, no complaints there, but who was that Vogue model tripping romantically along roads with a bunch of camels behind her, hair lifted delicately by sylvan breezes and turned into a golden halo by the back-lighting. Who the hell was she? Never let it be said that the camera does not lie. It lies like a pig in mud. It captures the projections of whoever happens to be using it, never the truth.
We didn’t talk much on the way home. I did not know then that it was merely a rule of etiquette to give some little gift at the end of a dance. I felt it as a symbolic defeat. A final summing up of how I could never enter their reality, would always be a whitefella tourist on the outside looking in.
Aborigines. Warm, friendly, laughing, excited, tired Pitjantjara Aborigines, returning to Wingelinna and Pipalyatjara after a land rights meeting in Warburton. No fear there, they were comfortable with silence. No need to pretend anything. Billies of tea all round. Some sat by the fire and chatted, others drove on home.
The job is made more difficult by the fact that the adviser is more aware than the Aborigines of the possible consequences of their decisions, and wants to protect them. Not becoming a paternal-style protectionist means seeing catastrophic mistakes being made, and not being able to do a thing about it except advise, because you know that the only way the people can learn to deal with the white world is to make such mistakes. There will not always be kind-hearted whitefellas around to save the situation and be a buffer zone.
I was being torn by two different time concepts. I knew which one made sense, but the other one was fighting hard for survival. Structure, regimentation, orderedness. Which had absolutely nothing to do with anything. I kept thinking wryly to myself, “Christ, if this keeps up it will take us months to get there. So what? Is this a marathon or what? This is going to be the best part of your trip, having Eddie with you, so stretch it out, idiot, stretch it out. But but…what about routine?” and so on. The turmoil lasted all that day, but gradually faded as I relaxed into Eddie’s time. He was teaching me something about flow, about choosing the right moment for everything, about enjoying the present. I let him take over.
And as I walked through that country, I was becoming involved with it in a most intense and yet not fully conscious way. The motions and patterns and connections of things became apparent on a gut level. I didn’t just see the animal tracks, I knew them. I didn’t just see the bird, I knew it in relationship to its actions and effects. My environment began to teach me about itself without my full awareness of the process. It became an animate being of which I was a part.
And I thought I had done it. I believed I had generated a magic for myself that had nothing to do with coincidence, believed I was part of a strange and powerful sequence of events called fate and I was beyond the need for anything or anyone. And that night I received the most profound and cruel lesson of all. That death is sudden and final and comes from nowhere. It had waited for my moment of supreme complacency and then it had struck. Late that night, Diggity took a poison bait.
I danced until I could dance no more—I danced out everything. Diggity, the trip, Rick, the article, the whole lot. I shouted and howled and wept and I leapt and contorted my body until it refused to respond anymore. I crawled back to the camels, covered in grime and sweat, shaking with fatigue, dust in my ears and nose and mouth, and slept for about an hour. When I woke, I felt healed, and weightless, and prepared for anything.
I was now public property. I was now a kind of symbol. I was now an object of ridicule for small-minded sexists, and I was a crazy, irresponsible adventurer (though not as crazy as I would have been had I failed). But worse than all that, I was now a mythical being who had done something courageous and outside the possibilities that ordinary people could hope for. And that was the antithesis of what I wanted to share. That anyone could do anything. If I could bumble my way across a desert, then anyone could do anything. And that was true especially for women, who have used cowardice for so long to protect themselves that it has become a habit.
And here I was at the end of my trip, with everything just as fuzzy and unreal as the beginning. It was easier for me to see myself in Rick’s lens, riding down to the beach in that clichéd sunset, just as it was easier for me to stand with my friends and wave goodbye to the loopy woman with the camels, the itching smell of the dust around us, and in our eyes the fear that we had left so much unsaid. There was an unpronounceable joy and an aching sadness to it. It had all happened too suddenly. I didn’t believe this was the end at all.