Thinking of Transcendentalism in Into The Wild

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McCandless’s motivation for his venture into the wild is to detach himself from a societal life and begin a new one within nature living off the land. These ideals line up with the thinking of transcendentalist minds such has Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau strongly.

In prominent transcendentalists Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden” or “Life in the Woods”, Thoreau detached himself from society and began a new life of solitude in the forest. He strongly expressed his views of society stating, “I want to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not when I came to rediscover that I had not lived” (193). By this Thoreau means that he decided to live a solitary life in the woods to lead a simpler one and in doing so he discovers that his life has not held true meaning until then. These convictions are almost identically shared with McCandless, whose rationale for his exodus from society being prominently for the beginning of a new life detached from the burdens of society and the “plastic” people within it. In Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Nature”, he defines going into solitude as, “a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society”. By this he means that just simply being alone is not being in solitude, and that one must completely disown their ties to society to be truly isolated. Chris’s ideals and actions throughout the novel follow these ideals of Emerson closely and are indistinguishable at times.

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Two main transcendentalist ideas from “Nature” and “Life in the Woods” that are expressed by Chris McCandless in “Into the Wild” include being contempt in nature and detachment from society to achieve true peace. McCandless’s belief of ultimate freedom is expressed throughout the novel, in his own words meaning true freedom by escaping from reality and no longer having to follow the rules created by other people. In the novel, Chris states that, “The very basic care of a mans living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joyed life comes from our encounters with new experiences and hence there is no greater joy than new experience to hear an endless changing. For each day to have a new and different sun” (50). In this quote, Chris explains that this level of freedom is achieved through a life in nature and in the world as opposed to one bound to the laws of society, reinforcing his deeply rooted transcendentalist ideals. When Ralph Waldo Emerson states, “These are the voices which we hear in solitude but they grow faint and inaudible as we enter into the world. Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. Society is a joint-stock company in which the members agree for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater” (186), this quote directly relates to Chris McCandless’s beliefs of society, who believes that there is no meaning in a societal lifestyle and that a life in nature is far superior. Chris views life in society as extremely boring and believes that the fullest life can only be achieved by living off the land in nature. Chris stood with these ideals, leaving his successful societal life for one in the wilderness- eventually leading him to his death. Standing with his ideals until his very last breath, deciding on a death of his own fruition in the wild than that of one in society.

The very foundation of transcendentalism is the belief that society and its institutions corrupt the purity of the individual. Throughout the book, Chris McCandless is exposed to these ideals and embraces them- often attempting to impose them upon others. For example, when Chris is speaking to Rob Franz he states, “make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt. So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservation, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future” (40), his reasoning for his quest into the wild is revealed. Chris’s ideals are almost by definition transcendentalist in nature as at his core, Chris believes that to lead a truly happy and satisfactory life, one must shed themselves of all societal burdens and life a free life. These ideals are shared with renown thinkers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, reinforcing them as being transcendentalist.

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