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Many people have theories and philosophies about life in general. There have been countless amounts of books published by countless amounts of people on the ideas of people in the past and the present. Transcendentalism falls into a sector of all of these ideas. Transcendentalism has affected many people since the philosophy was first introduced. Henry Thoreau is a name that is always associated with transcendentalism through one of his famous novels,Walden. John Krakauer is able to explain how transcendentalism has affected Chris McCandless in the novel Into The Wild. McCandless's life is comparable to Thoreau's in a variety of ways such as motives, however both McCandless and Thoreau's lives are much different by means such as their reasons for traveling, and what they did.
Both Thoreau and McCandless were against materialism. Thoreau feels that “Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind” (Thoreau, Walden 28). He thinks that dependance of worldly possessions hidera ones chance of finding their true self. McCandless had a similar mentality, and acted upon that belief. An example of this is when “…he saw the flash flood as an opportunity to shed unnecessary baggage. He concealed the car as best he could beneath a brown tarp, stripped it of its Virginia plates, and hid them” (Krakauer 29). McCandless was not tied to his own possessions, he was happy to leave them in the middle of no where. Through reduction of worldly possessions and materials, the message that both McCandless and Thoreau throw at the readers is to have a simplistic life without the concerns coming from worldly possessions. These possessions deter one from the true meaning of life.
Both Thoreau and McCandless had a deep appreciation for solitude in nature. In Walden, Thoreau explains how he’d “... love to see Nature that is so rife with life that myriads can be afforded to be sacrificed and suffered to prey on one another; that tender organizations can be so serenely squashed out of existence..” (Thoreau, Walden 238). While being on his “adventure”, Thoreau was able to observe all of the little things in nature, and appreciate all of the little things. While in civilization, one would not be able to notice such things because there are much too many people around to notice. While on his journey, McCandless “No longer.
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Both Thoreau and McCandless had a disregard for authority when it went against their beliefs. For example, Thoreau in Civil Disobedience was able to explain the story of all that happened to him because he refused to pay taxes toward the Mexican War. He stated that “the only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think is right” (Thoreau, Civil Disobedience 12). Though the tax was very cheap, Thoreau did not proceed to pay his tax to get out of jail, someone else had to do it for him. This shows how Thoreau is willing to stand for what he believes in no matter what the penalty is. For McCandless, him disregarding authority was due to the fact that there was a rule that he would have to pay and wait for a long time in order to cross the river that he wanted to. While disregarding the rules for the river, he crossed it, and “ McCandless was not deterred in the least” (Krakauer 33). Both of these men do not feel authority is as important as most people do, and it is evident that this is because they both believe that their own views are more important.
Thoreau went into the wild as a social experiment, while McCandless sought to begin his new way of life. In Walden, Thoreau explains his motives, and he says: “I went 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 die, discover that I had not lived” (Thoreau, Walden 143). Thoreau wanted to go on his trip not only because he appreciated nature, but also because he wanted to find himself and potentially have some of his questions about life answered. “He explained that he wanted a ride as far as the edge…where he intended to walk deep into the bush and ‘live off the land...’” (Krakauer 4).
Thoreau was seeking to find himself, so he did not go very far from home, while McCandless was running away from his past life so he went very far. “By the beginning of August 1990, Chris’s parents had heard nothing from their son since they’d received his grades in the mail…” (Krakauer 22).
Thoreau’s “adventure resulted in a new outlook on life, while McCandless’s resulted in his death.
Chris McCandless and Henry Thoreau both were transcendentalists who had a disregard for authority, deep admiration for nature, extensive unmaterialistic qualities and an enjoyment for solitude. However, Thoreau only did it as a social experiment, stayed in his own state, and was well prepared for his trip while McCandless left home to to create a new way of life in a completely different side of the United States, and was not as well prepared. Despite these differences, these men believed that they could find themselves through being out in the wilderness which is a major part of transcendentalism.