Jon Krakauer’s biography ‘Into The Wild’ examines the true and famous story of Chris McCandless, an incredibly ascetic man that extemporaneously ventured across the American wilderness. Despite being a promising university graduate, McCandless was discovered four months later in an emaciated condition, shrouding his life and adventure in international controversy as to the beliefs he held that ultimately drove him to perish prematurely. In analyzing his journey, critics found a clear connection to his firm beliefs and actions to that of two of the great pioneers of the philosophical movement transcendentalism, a philosophy that promotes intuitive and spiritual thinking: Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.
Throughout this compelling biography, Emerson and Thoreau were indeed of evident influence to McCandless and his adventure. Consequently, he significantly embodied the key transcendentalist ideals stressed in their literature: individual supremacy, opposition to conformity and respect and inspiration towards nature.
First of all, Chris McCandless adhered to the transcendentalist belief of individual supremacy as he purposefully kept himself away from wealth and resources that he felt were excessive. For instance, he attempted this feat by donating most of his money and discarding the rest by burning it. Krakauer described that “he saw the flash flood as an opportunity to shed unnecessary baggage”. Burning his remaining cash revealed that money held no power in his life and clearly relates to Thoreau’s view that one must live their life by simple means if they are to experience fulfillment: “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity”. Additionally, in exploring the Alaskan wildlife extemporaneously, McCandless sustained himself of very basic or even insufficient means. Describing his resources, Krakauer states that his supplies “seemed exceedingly minimal for the harsh conditions” and that he brought “no ax, no bug dope, no snowshoes, no compass”. In doing this, McCandless aimed to live a solitary life in order to delve into himself and nature. This corresponds with Emerson’s views that “a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society” to “separate him and with what he touches” in which he encouraging his readers to pursue nature. It is evident that in this transcendentalist concept, McCandless embodied the same beliefs that Emerson and Thoreau preached in their writings that ultimately contributed in inspiring his adventure.
Secondly, McCandless is demonstrated in this biography to have also viewed confornment as being incorrect, claiming that it resulted in a person’s spirit becoming lost. For example, he attempted to cross the United States border without an ID as he considered it his moral duty to “flout the laws of the state”. Krakauer references that he justified this illegal activity on Thoreau’s essay Civil Disobedience. In conducting this illegal action, it manifests that McCandless was strongly opposed to how society operates and that he would remain a nonconformist even if it meant him getting in severe legal trouble. Most notably, McCandless demonstrated his lack of conformity through the disrespectful and saddening ways he treated his parents in which he ultimately cut them out from his life: “Their fraudulent marriage and our father’s denial of his other son was, for Chris, a murder of every day’s truth”. Eliminating contact with his parents conveyed that he lived how he desired and avoided negative external influence: a clear transcendentalist principal. Emerson also thoroughly stressed that conformity is erroneous and that it results in a complete loss of individuality in his essay Self-Reliance: “Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist.” Citing Thoreau and Emerson’s work as justification for his protests further reinforces that they embodied and shared identical transcendentalist beliefs.
Finally, respect and inspiration shown toward nature is an additionally evident transcendentalist principal portrayed by McCandless and is seen celebrated extensively by Emerson and Thoreau in their writings. As to the reasoning of McCandless venturing into the Alaskan wilderness, Krakauer remarks that “McCandless went into the wilderness…to explore the inner country of his own soul”. He further cites that he sought the wilderness as a gateway to gaining knowledge, inner-understanding and a chance for spiritual reflection. Comparatively, Emerson indeed states that the “the rays that come from those heavenly worlds, will separate him from what he touches”. In writing this, Emerson suggested that we should pursue nature to form a deeper connection with ourselves and God. Furthermore, Thoreau was known to have been unable to write without direct inspiration from nature. McCandless’s views on nature were central to his beliefs and his adventure and clearly demonstrate a resemblance to Emerson and Thoreau’s writings.
McCandless significantly embodied the ideals of the philosophical leaders Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau through the key principles of transcendentalism: individual supremacy, opposition to conformity and extreme respect toward nature. I am quite opposed to the shared views presented by Emerson, Thoreau and McCandless and I find particularly incorrect their insistence that conformity is erroneousness. This essentially encourages readers to pursue their most ridiculous fantasies even if, in the instance of McCandless, it involves cutting out your parents from you life. This will likely result in emotional, social ridicule and is not effective advice for young people growing up in an increasingly insecure world. I also strongly disagree with the transcendentalist belief discussed above of individual supremacy as I personally care more for my family and those I love than I do for myself. I do, on the contrary, respect and appreciate that nature can be used as a gateway to spiritual awareness and a closer relationship with God. I may even try this in an attempt to tackle my future studies as it will allow me to be more calm and in control. Ultimately however, Chris McCandless was a promising young man that lived by transcendentalist means and subsequently perished prematurely; I would thus never endorse or fully embrace this philosophy. I have thoroughly enjoyed studying these writers over the summer and learning of the compelling yet saddening story of Chris McCandless.
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