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The Ideas Of Thoreau And Emerson Refuted Or Accepted In Biography Of McCandless

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A transcendentalist ideal presented by Emerson in his essay Nature is his extreme respect and love of nature. Emerson discusses in his essay that “to go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society” which stresses that one must pursue nature in order to experience solitude and fulfillment. Emerson further reports that in nature, he feels immersed, one with God and that all objects in nature are spiritually connected. Similarly, McCandless’s appreciation of nature is central to his beliefs and adventure into the Alaskan wilderness. For instance, an employee at a McDonalds he briefly worked at described how he would often express his love of “trees, nature and other strange topics”.

An additional character that evolved into this ideal was Ronald Franz, an elderly man that became very attached to McCandless; he even began to recognize him as his grandson. Franz learned to appreciate nature and live a nomadic lifestyle through McCandless suggestion: “Move around, be nomadic, make each day a new horizon”. Corresponding to another transcendentalist ideal of keeping oneself away from wealth, McCandless also suggests that he adapt an “economy style” life and to spend as “little as possible. I find is strange that McCandless encouraged Franz and others to follow his ideals as it could of created a mini-sort of nomadic society, society is what McCandless firmly dislikes.

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Emerson also stressed in his essay Self-Reliance that living your life in status quo, as most people do, will never lead to innovation or change, comparing it to “studying a shadow on the wall”. He alluded to some of the great pioneers of human advancements such as Newton and Pythagoras who thought outside the box and were misunderstood at the time. Comparatively, McCandless spent his school days feeding the homeless and not going to parties which led him to dream about trekking across the american wilderness. McCandless also began to not worry about the weather, food, going to jail or money.

Emerson also urged his readers in Self-Reliance to trust themselves and not to conform in society. He claimed that they would be taken advantage of and made docile. McCandless demonstrated his lack of conformity when 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”. In addition, McCandless also eliminated contact with his parents: “Their fraudulent marriage and our father’s denial of his other son was, for Chris, a murder of every day’s truth”.

McCandless’s strong and independent work ethic also correlated with Emerson’s views on what a self-reliant man should be. Krakauer described McCandless as the “hardest worker” and that it “didn’t matter what it was, he’d do it: hard physical labour, mucking rotten grain and dead rats”. Emerson identically believed that a true man should do his own work and put in his blood, sweat and tears: “a man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work”. Wayne Westerberg was also described with this transcendentalist ideal and was a hardworking grain elevator operator.

In his essay Walden, Thoreau claimed that he “went into the woods because I wished to live deliberately.” In saying this, Thoreau is stressing that he wants a live of simplicity, independence and nature. This was indeed identical to McCandless in which Krakauer remarked that “McCandless went into the wilderness…to explore the inner country of his own soul”. Krakauer further cites that he sought the wilderness as a gateway to gaining knowledge, inner understanding and a dhance for spiritual reflection.

McCandless also adhered to the transcendentalist belief of individual supremacy by purposefully keeping himself away from wealth. In venturing into the Alaskan wildlife extemporaneously, McCandless lived of what is considered expertly as insufficient means. Krakauer indeed states that his supplies “seemed exceedingly minimal for the harsh conditions” and that he brought “no ax, no bug dope, no snowshoes, no compass”. McCandless also brought with him only 10 pounds of rice. Although this appears to be an act of foolishness, McCandless solely aimed to live a solitary life so he could delve into himself and nature. This is a view shared by Thoreau in which he stresses that materialistic items and wealth corrupt individuals. He also stresses that “I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand”.

Jon Krakauer also described Chris’s living conditions and residence in university as: “a monkish room furnished with little more than a thin mattress on the floor, milk crates, and a table.” McCandless indeed kept his room as “orderly and spotless as a military barracks.” He also stresses that he did not have a phone, so his parents could not contact him. This correlates with Thoreau’s firm view that one must live a simple life in order to experience fulfilment: “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity”. McCandless also donated the rest of his education fund amounting to 24 thousand to charity as money, as well as material possessions, did not mean anything to him. Further evidence to support this is that McCandless burnt money to symbolise that it held no power over his life and that he was in control.

When Chris McCandless began his journey into the Alaskan wilderness, he also changed his identity to Alex Supertramp in order to start a new lifestyle. This is because McCandless shared a hatred of society with Thoreau and wanted to escape its negative influence. Explaining why he left his job at McDonalds, McCandless attributed it to not wanting to work with “plastic people” who he felt were corrupt and docile people. Similarly, Thoreau directed a hostile attack at people that claim “moderns…are intellectual dwarves” and urged his readers to take control and make their own choices.

Chris McCandless also burned all the money he brought with him on his adventure in order to symbolize that it held no power over his life and that he was in control. In order to improve himself as a person and delve into his own soul, he discarded all material objects that served as a distraction to his pursuit of nature. Additional evidence to support their similarity is that McCandless even decided to abandon his car in order to completely focus his energy on his adventure. Krakauer described that “he saw the flash flood as an opportunity to shed unnecessary baggage”. Thoreau was also strongly opposed to materialism and abandoned all his belongings in order to live a live of solitude in Walden.

Walt McCandless refutes the ideal presented by Thoreau on materialism in his work What I Lived For and Conclusion. Thoreau’s objection to materialism is central to these pieces and he often stresses that one cannot assess their live by the material objects they have acquired and that they will ultimately not grant one fulfillment. Thus, he encourages people to discard of such items and to pursue nature as a route to improve themselves as a person. Walt McCandless is a successful businessman with plenty of money, refuting this ideal. Walt could also not understand the motivation behind his son’s adventure.

A piece of writing by Thoreau that appears to contradict McCandless and his adventure is his statement in Conclusion that one mustn’t “build castles in the air”. Even though he encouraged his readers to pursue their dreams and take control of their own lives, like McCandless, this phrase appears to put emphasize on stability; Thoreau may have suggested to us that we must have foundations and security before we pursue our dreams. McCandless, on the other hand, did not have security as he brought only 10 pounds of rice with him for his entire adventure. Krakauer described his supplies as “exceedingly minimal for the harsh conditions”. Thoreau was indeed strongly opposed to materialism but certainly not to the extent of McCandless.

Another example of McCandless refuting a view presented by Thoreau is his lack of political interest. Thoreau wrote heavily on his political beliefs and evidently had an interest in the field, directing a political attack at conservatives who claim that “moderns…are intellectual dwarves.” Thoreau indeed states in Conclusion that he had liberal views and wanted people to mind their own business and to “endeavor to be what he was made.” Thoreau would also protest against certain political policies that were in place and even refused to pay taxes. Though McCandless is also against conformists, Krakauer did not reference an incidence in which he vocally spoke about politics. McCandless instead chose to forget about society completely and to commence with his adventure.


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