Chris meets the wild Giavanna Villano


Transcendentalism is a philosophical movement that developed in the 1800's in the United States. It believes in individuality and self-reliance. Transcendentalism followers believe that nature teaches them most of what they need to know and man-made institutions like organized religions, laws, government, and money are all unnecessary and misguide people. It believes in the inherent good of all people and that society corrupts people as they age. It also teaches that it is useless to think people can learn from history or from those who became before them because individuals only learn from their own experiences.

Summary of Into the Wild

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer is a 1996 non-fiction book about a young man named Christopher McCandless. Christopher McCandless was a graduate of Emory University who gave up everything he had and went to live in the wilderness of Alaska in 1992. He did not heed the warnings of those he met and thought he was ill-prepared for it and after 16 weeks in the wilderness, he starves to death and is found in an abandoned bus that he used for shelter.

In accordance to the philosophy of Trancendentalism, Chris McCandless believes he could be self-reliant in the wilderness and not need those things created by man. He believed he would not have to depend on anyone else or have any need for money. He gave his savings of 24,000 dollars before embarking on this adventure. He would live off the land and learn what he needed to know from nature.

Chris McCandless Biography

Christopher McCandless came from a well-to-do family and grew up in Oregon. As a teen, he found out that his father left his original family for Chris' mother who was his mistress when she became pregnant with Chris. Chris graduated with honors from Emory University and instead of perusing a career, he gave all his money to charity and drove out West. He did eventually reach his main goal of living alone in the wilderness of Alaska. He was successful in being self-reliant for 16 weeks. He was able to survive during this time without the help of others. Similar to Transcendentalism, Chris was not dependent on anyone during this time and was not involved with any one of institutions. After the 16 weeks, Chris died alone of starvation.

In Ralph Waldo Emerson's Nature, Emerson states "To speak truly, few adult persons can see nature. Most person do not see the sun. At least they have a very superficial seeing. The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and heart of the child." This relates to Transcendentalism in that it teaches its followers that it is important to let nature teach us what we need to know and the best way to view nature's beauty is how a child would. A child, because of their innocence, is able to find the beauty and appreciate nature unlike adults who are corrupted by society.

Another example of Transcendentalism is evidenced in the work by Ralph Waldo Emerson titled Self-Reliance. Emerson states "Society is a joint-stock company in which the members agree for the better securing of his bread to each share holder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. " This means that as individuals, we give up a lot of independence and liberty to have the security and protection that our societal institutions provide.

Henry David Thoreau also was greatly influenced by the Transcendentalism his movement. This is apparent in his work titled, Civil Disobedience. In there he states, " There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly." Thoreau is implying that the government needs to realize that its people are more important than its function in society. According to Thoreau, government will not be successful at governing its people until it recognizes that its people need to come first. Also in his work named Walden, he states " 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." He explains that it is important to learn all you can about life from nature so you don't regret it at the time of your death.

In Much Madness is divinest Sense by Emily Dickinson also relates to Transcendentalism in that it speaks of individuality. The lines "Much Sense--the starkest Madness--Tis the Majority" centers around being yourself and not caring what other people think. Some people may be considered crazy by society but they may actually be the sane ones.

Walt Whitman, who was influenced by Transcendentalism, states in his work When I heard the Learn'd Astronomer he states, "In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time, Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars." Whitman gets bored with the lecture he is listening to and leaves to look at the stars. It ties into Transcendentalism in that man should not try to dominate or interfere with nature, just experience it.


Created with images by Giorgio Galeotti - "Into the Wild - Andalo (TN) Italy - December 28, 2014" • Madeleine_H - "The replica of the school bus that Chris McCandless lived in, this one was used for the filming of Into the Wild" • Paxson Woelber - "Brett at the bus" • skeeze - "landscape mountains snow"

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