The work of Henry David Thoreau’s “Where I Lived and What I Lived For” had a profound influence on Christopher McCandless’s life. After venturing for over two years to find himself and escape his life as he knows it, McCandless was found dead in a bus Alaska. In the bus, there was a heavily marked up copy of Thoreau’s book. There is clear correlation between Thoreau’s work and how McCandless lived his life.
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Further, in “Where I Lived and What I Lived For,” Walden quite proudly announces that he resides far from the post office. He says “for my part, I could easily do without the post office. I think that there are very few important communications made through it.” While all others were communicating through the post office, Thoreau did not think this was necessary. He did not have many people to contact, and those he was close with, he visited in person. A pillar of society is communication. Thoreau could not understand that maintaining a relationship involves communication. By not communicating, he showed how he rejected society. The idea of Thoreau rejected society was appealing to McCandless. Consequently, McCandless cut ties with everyone he knew from before his journey and most people from during his journey. McCandless contacts very few of the people he met along his journey at different times in his adventure. Furthermore, another pillar of society is possessions. People are judged in a society on their possessions. “What nobody knew was that he would shortly donate all the money in his college fund to OXFAM America, a charity dedicated to fighting hunger,” said author Jon Krakauer. McCandless rejected this aspect of society by giving away all of his possessions before his journey. He believed materialistic things such as money drive people mad.
Moreover, one of Thoreau’s lasting impressions on McCandless was that living without commitment was a positive thing in life. He said “as long as possible, live free and uncommitted.” Thoreau believed that living a life without responsibilities tying one down made for a successful life. One of the places Thoreau almost settled was the Hollowell farm. After the owner’s wife unexpectedly decided to keep the house, Thoreau gave up his claim on the property. This farm would have required constant upkeep and attention. Forced to make his life simpler, this ended up being just what Thoreau needed. This was the point where Thoreau realized that living on the farm would have taken away his freedom and the farm would have consumed his life. Instead of being tied down to a farm, Thoreau was now free to live a life of leisure. At his new dwelling, he had no responsibilities and was not constrained to anything. Likewise, when McCandless changed his name and set out for adventure, he showed that he was not committed to his life. He wanted to escape a materialistic life and become free, reflecting Thoreau’s life. He wanted to find himself, and the only way to do so was to live this free and uncommitted lifestyle. By giving away his money, he was no longer tied to it, he could start over and live any way he wanted. McCandless said “we just have to have the courage to turn against our habitual lifestyle and get engaged in unconventional living.” McCandless urged everyone to turn their backs on the traditional lifestyle to find themselves. Parallel to Thoreau, McCandless rejected constraints and a sense of responsibility. McCandless’s actions and mindset were those that showed resemblance to Thoreau’s.
In addition, Thoreau wanted his audience to make it through their everyday lives and struggles “till we come to a hard bottom and rocks in place, which we can call reality, and say, this is, and no mistake; and then begin, having a point d’appui, below freshest and front and fire, a place where you might have found a wall or a state, or set a lamp-post safely, or perhaps a gauge, not a Nilometer but a Realometer” stated Thoreau. The term Realometer is a spin-off of the term Nilometer, which measured the depth of the Nile River in Egypt. To further explain, the point of the Nilometer was to hit rock bottom to get a grasp on the reality of life. Before McCandless’s death, he achieves this this. McCandless is able to reach his rock bottom as he was dying alone in the bus. As a result, he could finally understand the reality of life and figure out what he had spent his whole journey in search of. In the bus where he died, McCandless wrote in his journal that “happiness is only real when shared.” This shows how when McCandless hit the wall Thoreau was talking about, he was able to finally realize the reality of life. He had a grasp on the reality of things from this new point of view.
Although I believe there were better choices McCandless could have made along his journey, such as becoming more educated about his surroundings, I do understand why he ultimately embarked on his journey. He did not agree with the constraints society put on him, and he wanted to break free from that. I can sympathize with him in that sense, although I wish he did not have to completely hit rock bottom in order to gain a grasp on reality. If he could have realized what made him happy at a different point in his journey he could possibly still be alive today. His life choices still resonate years later because viewpoints on his life decisions are so divided. People are either inspired at the thought of McCandless leaving a conventional life for an unconventional one or they do not agree with his decision of exploring un-prepared and inspiring others to do the same. Many are inspired by him because they know that they are not brave enough to venture into his lifestyle. McCandless was inspired by Thoreau in the same way that he inspires others. There is clear correlation between Henry David Thoreau’s work and how Christopher McCandless lived his life.
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