Transcendentalism was a philosophical belief, which thought that nature held the key to the greater truths of mankind. Jon Krakauer in his book “Into the Wild” may not have been a transcendentalist himself, but it is apparent that the subject he writes about in the book, Chris McCandless, shared the same ideas as the transcendentalists which lead him on the journey that it did, across the United States, into Mexico, and into Alaska, where eating poison potato seeds led to his death. But though he died, during the last years of his life while he was freely moving across the country, it seems that he showed the transcendentalists right by discovering higher truths from the community of nature that he chose to be apart of instead of choosing to pursue things like money, wealth and possessions. Like the transcendentalist, the protagonist of this true story believed that there was beauty in nature, chose nature of human company, and finding himself renewed in the presence of nature.
After Chris graduates from college, he makes a radical decision to burn everything that he owns, cut off his ties with his family and to search for higher meaning outside of the bounds of society. This may have seemed an irrational thing to do to many, but it was inline with what it means to be a transcendentalist. Transcendentalism was developed as a way to escape the pure logic and rationality of the word. Chris did not believe that inside society he could discover his true nature, and this was why he made the decisions that he made. This is a true story, and since the person it is about died, we cannot hear his thoughts outside of a few journal entries. So the information comes second hand, but the author Jon Krakauer does a good job piecing together the motives that led to Chris seeking higher realities outside of society. Even when the state of Alaska was set to kill him, he wrote about its beauty, because Chris found his meaning in the beauty of nature. The narrator writes, “I have a lot of reasons for disliking Alaska, OK? But I admit it—the place has a certain beauty. I can see what appealed to Chris” (Krakauer, 202).
The transcendentalist chose nature of humanity. Chris clearly chooses this, since he decided to be with nature instead of with other humans. There are other people that he comes across in his journey, but they are less important than the open road and the beautiful nature of his surrounds. Krakaur writes, “McCandless was thrilled to be on his way north, and relieved as well—relieved that he had again evaded the threat of human intimacy, of friendship, an all the messy emotional baggage that comes with it” (Krakauer, 55). The things that bring most people comfort within the society—a family, security, friends, and emotional ties—were things that made Chris uncomfortable. The transcendentalists were most happy out in nature, and they had this in common with Chris.
For Chris nature was not just something outside of civilization. For him it was the civilization that he chose to be part of instead of society. He was an outsider to society, and never felt like he belonged there. Instead he felt like he did belong in nature. Krakauer writes about climbing, “A trancelike state settles over your efforts’ the climb becomes a clear-eyed dream. Hours slide by like minutes. The accumulated clutter of day-today-existence—the lapse of conscience, the unpaid bills. . .” (Krakauer, 142). While it is obvious that Chris has a close relationship to the way of life of the transcendentalists, it seems that the author of the book aslo has an affinity for them. He after all chose to write the book, and rather than decrying Chris as an outsider of society, there is a respect that he has for him for making the choices that he did. There is beauty in nature, renewal and nature, but also danger in nature, and it is through this danger that the transcendentalists have a great respect for it. It is the thing that brought them into existence and it is the thing that, without any notice, can take them out of existence. The author talks about this feeling that Chris was maybe old enough to recognize the beauty of nature, but too young to understand the danger of it, “It is easy, when you are young, to believe that what you desire is no less than you deserve” (Krakauer, 155).
Though Chris did not live to tell his own tale, his story does live on through the research that the author did. While the transcendentalist school of thought belongs to several centuries ago, it still lives on in some outsiders of society today. Chris was one such outsider. But the lesson he learned, about the sheer beauty of nature should not be forgotten, nor should we forget the dangers that nature poses when a person faces them alone.
Krakauer, Jon Into The Wild