Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Self Reliance and Chris McCandless

"In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself..."
That is an excerpt from the book Into The Wild, written by Jon Krakauer about Chris McCandless. Chris, after being inspired to be 'self-reliant' by transcendentalists like Thoreau and Emerson, abandoned his nice life to hitchhike all over North America. And he was happy about it.
Sadly, McCandless died in the wilderness of Alaska. He had eaten moldy seeds, and that mistake was enough to end his life.
Nevertheless, McCandless inspires me to lead a life outside of the norm.
This is an essay I wrote analyzing McCandless and his transcendentalist qualities.


     Many people think that Chris McCandless was crazy, and they have enough evidence to back up their thoughts. But Chris McCandless strived to be a transcendentalist like the great Ralph Waldo Emerson and David Thoreau, and even though he went to the extremes of his adventures and dreams, his name lives on in our hearts and memories; Chris McCandless, the Transcendentalist.
     "We Americans are titillated by sex, obsessed by it, horrified by it. When an apparently healthy person, especially a healthy young man, elects to forgo the enticements of the flesh, it shocks us, and we leer. Suspicions are aroused." (Krakauer 66). This is a fantastic quote, and Jon Krakauer really described the culture of our youth dead on. He's right, many people do raise suspicions when a young male does not seem to care about the opposite sex. But Chris McCandless was doing better things with his life than others of his age. He was trying to simplify his life like Thoreau was talking about in his journal Walden. "I learned this, that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours." (Thoreau 408). Chris McCandless did not have time to fritter away his life being 'titillated and obsessed' by sex like many people in today's society. This also describes the second basic premise of Transcendentalism, 'that the physical factors of the natural world are a doorway to the spiritual of ideal world.' Chris spent his high school days feeding the homeless, not going to parties; these small steps led to his bigger dreams of trekking across America, not worrying about the weather, food, going to jail, or money. He was living his life as simply as he could, like a true transcendentalist.
     Also, in Jon Krakauer's book Into the Wild, he describes Chris's life in college, before he disappeared to the American wilderness. "During that final year in Atlanta, Chris had lived off campus in a monkish room furnished with little more than a thin mattress on the floor, milk crates, and a table. He kept it as orderly and spotless as a military barracks. And he didn't have a phone, so Walt and Billie [Chris's parents] had no way of calling him." (Krakauer 22). This quote from the novel describes very well how simply Chris wanted to live. Chris's family had money, so he could've furnished his room however he wished. But being the true transcendentalist that he was he refused to do so; He also refused a new car that his parents tried to give him as a graduation present. When Chris graduated, he even donated the rest of his college fund, 24 thousand dollars, to the OXFAM America charity. Money, as well as material possessions, simply did not mean anything to Chris. "Is it so bad then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood..." (Emerson 392). Emerson's "Self-Reliance" describes Chris McCandless perfectly. Chris did not care whether people understood him or not; like the fourth basic premise of Transcendentalism which states, 'self-reliance and individualism must outweigh external authority and blind conformity to custom and tradition.' Jesus and Galileo, among many others, were ridiculed and persecuted for their beliefs during their time. But now, we see these men as something great and extraordinary that brought something wonderful to us. It is just the same with Chris McCandless, people may have ridiculed and persecuted him for his beliefs in 1992 when he was still alive but now, people see him as something much more, a true transcendentalist.
     Chris said it best, "The only person you are fighting is yourself and your stubbornness to engage in new circumstances." (Krakauer 58). If you studied Chris's life, like much of the book Into the Wild  does, you can see that Chris would never let himself of his life stand in the way of something he wanted to accomplish. Like a true transcendentalist, Chris McCandless let his individualism flow through his dreams and adventures and refused to conform to our society.

1 comment:

  1. Very well written in a style that's interesting yet easy to follow.

    I've seen the movie 100's of times and read/listened to the book just as much....so I guess you could say "obessed by it"...the movie had a deep impact on a personal level...almost to the point where it changed something inside me.

    Your summary creates yet another avenue of thoughts...thanks very much.