Into The Wild - Rachel Lin          

Into The Wild Essay

Rachel Lin
English 3 Period 1
11 December 2013
The Transcendent Follower

Transcendentalism is the philosophical and literary movement that highlights themes of nature and spirituality while going against society and materialism. Following these Transcendentalist ideas is a young adventurer named Christopher McCandless- the main character in Jon Krakauer's nonfictional text Into the Wild. McCandless travels throughout North America, following three main Transcendentalist ideals: a minimalist lifestyle, the disconnection of society, and a reverence for both God and nature.

A minimalist lifestyle is an austere way of living by getting rid of everything except for the fundamental needs. McCandless follows this to heart for he does not accept any kind of luxury or materialistic opportunity. When his car becomes stuck in the aftermath of a flash flood, instead of feeling devastated, he is excited: “He saw the flash flood as an opportunity to shed unnecessary baggage....he arranged all his paper currency in a pile on the sand...and put a match to it. One hundred twenty-three dollars in legal tender was promptly reduced to ash and smoke” (29). McCandless's loss of his once beloved car is tossed away in a second because he has the fortunate accident that allows him to get rid of a materialistic object that makes his journey easier. Money is also considered a gateway to acquiring luxury and practicing materialism, which is why McCandless wastes no second of destroying it. Any opportunity to stray away from a minimalist lifestyle must be promptly avoided in order to follow the ideas of Transcendentalism. McCandless practices the idea of minimalism again when Jan Burres, a friend McCandless has met during his trip, urges him to take some long underwear and other warm clothing when he is getting ready to leave: “'He eventually took it to shut me up...but the day after he left, I found most of it in the van. He's pulled it out of his pack when we weren't looking and hid it up under the seat'” (46). McCandless proves that even good friends cannot sway him away from his austere lifestyle. He gives up something that could help him survive in the name of Transcendentalism and as an act against materialism. His strong and committed way of living a minimalist lifestyle helps him become a closer to the ideal Transcendentalist man.

Christopher McCandless, who also goes by Alexander Supertramp, often alienates himself from society; such as avoiding intimate relationships with other people. For example, he strays away from Robert Franz's offer of adopting Alex to become his grandson, after the two of them form a close relationship: “'So I [Franz] asked Alex if I could adopt him, if he would be my grandson.' McCandless, uncomfortable with the request, dodged the question: 'We'll talk about it when I get back from Alaska, Ron'” (55). McCandless shields himself from any sign of attachment to other people he encounters in order to follow Transcendentalist ideals. He treats human bonding as a distraction from his real goal, which is to achieve total independence and a spiritual connection with nature. Charlie, a man who McCandless has briefly acquainted himself with during his journey, reports his observations that McCandless is not much of a people person: “'Didn't like to be around too many people, though. Temperamental...He'd get moody, wouldn't like to be bothered'” (42). Being normally antisocial becomes a trait for McCandless because he values and follows the Transcendentalist ideal of minimizing human contact. He instead often becomes invested in reading books, especially books by Jack London and Henry David Thoreau, who are both writers that talk a lot about nature, which is something that McCandless takes a great amount of interest in. McCandless mirrors the typical Transcendentalist because he prefers solitude over socializing, believing that being alone is a much more meaningful and spiritual experience.

This philosophical movement also has a major religious and nature aspect. Transcendentalists believe in a core spiritual connection, which is between God, Man, and Nature. McCandless values both the supreme deity above and the natural environment around him to an extent that it is of veneration. He has a great respect for nature and its spiritual connection with God, and therefore talks about it often. In a letter to Franz, McCandless shows his excitement for God and nature by mentioning how much there is to life, encouraging Franz to explore more often: “You are wrong if you think Joy emanates only or principally from human relationships. God has placed it all around us. It is in everything and anything we might experience” (57). McCandless tells Franz that friends and relationships are not needed, and instead a taste for adventure is the secret to happiness. He mentions that God is the one that has placed all these possibilities of happiness around people, and that Franz must seize the moment in order to make his time on Earth worth it. McCandless shows this reverence in one of the last days of his life, when he writes a short goodbye to the world: “I HAVE HAD A HAPPY LIFE AND THANK THE LORD. GOODBYE AND MAY GOD BLESS ALL!” (199). In the final moments of McCandless's life, he expresses his true feeling about his long journey by praising his God along with everyone else in his life. This shows his deep respect to God for his adventurous and fulfilling life by thanking the heavens. McCandless often talks about his religion because he believes that God has taken a large part in making his life so exciting and therefore feels grateful for it.

Christopher McCandless follows the Transcendentalist lifestyle by detaching himself from society, living with only essentials, and following his religion full-heartedly. His life choices and philosophical ideas he brings up throughout his journey to Alaska follows the ideal Transcendentalist life to a sufficient degree, which is why so many Transcendent followers alike and not-alike become infatuated with his character and his story in Krakauer's Into the Wild.

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