An Analysis of the Life of Eustace Conway, a Naturalist

Eustace Conway is a man who was vehemently opposed to the materialistic life of humanity today. He wanted to escape from modern society to start a new life in the wilderness while living off the land. Most human beings in the late 20th and early 21st centuries see this lifestyle as foreign and undesirable. That is until 1978 when Eustace Conway began his new life: a life that was centered around nature and that is where my analysis begins. From South Carolina, Eustace Conway lived an interesting childhood. At the age of 17, he left to live in a teepee in the wilderness. He is regarded as antisocial and has no friends at school. He and his father have never had a good relationship and were often at odds with one another while he was growing up. Through evaluating Eustace, I have come to the conclusion that he has trouble fostering relationships due to his tendency to over-interact with nature, and the PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) he suffers as a result of his father's abuse. Eustace's love life could also be regarded as disappointing; although he has had many girlfriends, he has yet to find someone to settle down with. Nevertheless, Eustace persists to find the right girl for him. In my professional opinion, Eustace Conway comes from a tragic background of childhood abuse, alienation, and isolation; as a result of his damaging childhood, his only coping mechanism is seeking a sense of identity in nature away from humans and the modern life in which his grief is rooted.

Eustace finds solace by isolating himself in nature to explore his identity. Eustace's desire for isolation is caused in part by the domestic abuse from his father that he faces during his childhood, but also in part by his own personal belief that people "live in boxes"(19).His isolation is based on a desire that he does not want serve as a similar casualty to this lifestyle . Eustace explains that the lives of humans in modern society are comparable to a box (compares one's bedroom and an alarm clock to a box). Eustace is wholly opposed to the "box" lifestyle, and by living on Turtle Island, in the company of nature, he hopes that he will not fall victim to this cookie-cutter-society syndrome. Until Eustace takes on this new life, he was a part of the cookie-cutter-society syndrome that he heavily opposed. Eustace also proclaims that “this is not the way humanity lived for thousands and thousands of years, and it is not the only way you can live today” (19). In saying “this”, Eustace may be referring to the lifestyle of Americans today in contrast to the nature-oriented lifestyle on Turtle Island, comparable to how humans have "lived for thousands and thousands of years” (19). Willingly and knowingly, Eustace isolates himself from humankind to pursue a lifestyle resembling that of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Eustace's father imposes a sadistic discipline on his son by abusing him, fueling his desire to take refuge in nature, away from humans. I do not wish to argue that Eustace should turn his back on the principles that have guided him to this nature-oriented lifestyle ; on the contrary, it may be better suited for him. That being said, a major catalyst sparks Eustace's decision to relocate — his father's ongoing abuse. Eustace refers to his childhood as "an upbringing that was more like a stint in a POW camp than a real childhood" (33). His choice to compare the quality of his upbringing to that of a “POW camp” is a deeply troubling and extreme metaphorical comparison. Nature allows Eustace to relax knowing that he is in a safe environment and will not be abused. All evidence points to Eustace being genuinely scarred by his father's actions (as evident through his PTSD). Throughout the novel, he makes references to the pain and torture that he had to endure. Eustace's belief that he did not receive a real and fair childhood coupled with his sense of modern society being too materialistic fuels his desire to take refuge in nature on Turtle Island.

If Eustace remains on Turtle Island and gives up modern life as a coping mechanism for his past, he will enjoy his nature-oriented lifestyle much more than the typical modern American lifestyle. Eustace feels that Americans are too pre-occupied with their materialistic lives, and as he argues, they are living in boxes; their lives are so engulfed in and surrounded by artificiality that they forget to appreciate the true beauty of nature. Eustace's psychiatrist speaks to him, saying that “everything you need to make you happy, Eustace, is right here in this forest. Modern psychology isn't for you. You're the healthiest person I know” (145). I agree with this professional psychiatric evaluation of Eustace Conway. Eustace, despite living this bizarre life is very mentally healthy. The definition of “happy” in today's culture is owning as many artificial objects as possible whereas Eustace Conway believes that the definition of "happy", at least for him is being with nature. As Eustace loves nature, he tells us stories of traveling the Great Frontier, like 19th century explorers on a mission to explore the West. It is clear that the life of 19th century explorers like Daniel Boone is adequate for Eustace Conway, whereas life in the 21st century is far from on par.

After Eustace begins his new life, he is regarded as anachronism; he is living a life in a time warp. Eustace travels the United States with his brother, Judson, on horseback, adopting a life that may be considered foreign, as America has moved so far past the lifestyle of frontiersmen. We are now staring into rectangular devices that micromanage our lives. Eustace is a perfectly primitive example of a true American man who enjoys his daily life and does not dread going into work. He works to promote the mission of Turtle Island and his lifestyle, showing that one can effectively believe in the 19th century lifestyle of frontiersmen despite being in the 20th and 21st century. The author of The Last American Man, Elizabeth Gilbert, is very thankful to know that “somebody in America [is] still living this way” (125). By “this way”, she is referring to the nature-oriented life that was considered standard in the 18th and 19th century which Eustace Conway seamlessly adopts.

In my professional opinion, Eustace Conway has no major problems. He is unique in wanting to live off the land and does not need any major revamping in his life. I would suggest that he continues to live his life as is, and does not make any radical changes. Instead of pursuing interpersonal relationships with humans, he should pursue them with nature, and nurture them to the fullest possible extent. Eustace Conway does not pose any threat to himself or society, and people should aim to emulate his way of living instead of ostracizing him.