Transcendentalism and “Into the Wild”

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Into the Wild recalls the story of Chris McCandless and his journey into the Alaskan frontier. Throughout this experience Chris’s values, choices, beliefs and lifestyle are all examined. McCandless’s ideals and actions mirrored that of the transcendentalism.

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Transcendentalism was a movement in the 1830-40’s. This group led by Ralph Waldo Emerson had a unique set of beliefs and values. The group’s views were transfixed on individuality, the limitless potential of humans, emotion and feeling over intellect, “Transcendentalists believed in numerous values, however they can all be condensed into three basic, essential values: individualism,idealism, and the divinity of nature” (CITE), all of which are apparent through McCandless’s life. Chris was a nonconformist who found himself in solitude, and nature. Chris wanted to find and fill a transcendent experience.

Transcendentalism was a movement in the 1830’s and 40’s in New England. They believed everyone could transcend limits and had limitless potential. They also believed that routine and constancy was never good for anyone and avoided it. Individualism was a priority for them, and they held this belief towards many topics including government. They did not believe in big-government but rather in self government. The transcendentalists valued self-reliance has a way of life that mirrored their sporadic lifestyles.

The first sign of Chris McCandless’s lifestyle, beliefs and values mirrored the transcendentalist philosophy, when upon graduating from college Chris changed his name. “… he intended to invent an utterly new life for himself, one in which he would be free to wallow in unfiltered experience. To symbolize the complete severance from his previous life, he even adopted a new name.” (Krauknaur 18). He name himself Alexander Supertramp. This completely defies what society puts in place as a guideline for traditional life. By stripping himself of his birth name, it was representative of him starting a new life. He was longer following the blazed by his parents or society. He was going against the grain.

Chris’s “‘great Alaskan odyssey…’” (Kraunaur 33) was completely representative of the transcendentalist philosophy. One concept the transcendentalists believed was that personal experience led to the deepest truth. By going to Alaska by himself and experiencing it without restrictions, Chris was able to fully obtain his own personal truth and find himself as a person. This is evident through the journal excerpt left by Chris.

Chris disregarded rules as pointless and did not follow them unless he thought necessary. Even in his teenage years he showed a strong disregard of the restrictions imposed by others. His highschool teacher had specific rules on the format of a lab reports, “Chris thought it was a stupid rule and decided to ignore it” (Krakauer 76), and as a result he received an F in the class. Similarly, the transcendentalists believed that each person had the right to make decisions for themselves without influence from higher authority.

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