Transcendentalism is the way of thought that society corrupts the individual and to escape this evil, corrupting society, man must live off the land and be self-reliant in nature. In the investigative report, Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, Chris McCandless chooses to live as Thoreau did during Walden, engulfed in nature, with little outside influence, living off the land like the natives and being self-reliant. To some, this way of living is appealing as it offers unlimited freedom at the expense of not being in society, however, this should not be the way to live. The threat of death is always looming, because absolute self-reliance is impossible and nature is truly unpredictable.
The one of the main ideals of transcendentalism, is to be self-reliant. Living off the land and in nature, like Thoreau or Chris did, is indeed an act of self-reliance. However, this self-reliance while living in nature is composed of the desperation to kill, eat, and most of all, survive. This is represented by Chris’s journal, nearly every single day, Chris wrote about what he ate, rather than exploring the inner country of his soul. (183). Chris set out with the idea to find and let his true self-reliant identity shine while he escapes the society that limited his freedom, however as his journey progressed, Chris’s priorities changed. His main priority was to find something that provided him with enough to survive everyday, which still happens to be living off nature, however even though he was surviving, living off nature, and being self-reliant, his mentality weakened over his journey. Eventually, he longed to be back in the evil, corrupt society, the exact same community that he desperately wanted to get away from. Man is truly at nature’s disposal. Nature is invincible and unpredictable, the beauty of nature attracts people and yet this beautiful nature can’t be controlled by man. People who venture out into nature are at nature’s will, because controlling nature is impossible.
Both Thoreau and Chris aren’t truly living by the ideals of transcendentalism, they both are still connected to society. In Thoreau’s Walden, Thoreau explains how his life at the Walden Pond is actually very close to society: I was seated by the shore of a small pond, about a mile and a half south of the village of Concord.(Walden, II). Thoreau, being a ‘transcendentalist’, lives in nature, ‘away’ from society, however he never really escapes society, thus not making him a true transcendentalist. Again, one of the main ideas of transcendentalism is to escape the corrupt society that takes away people’s freedoms, but he stays so close to a populated village. Thoreau could have explored for miles and miles and truly lived by the ideals of transcendentalism, and yet didn’t. Men can’t escape society. In someway society had such an effect on Thoreau, that he had the desire to be near not one, but two villages. Thoreau only lives about a thirty minute walk away from the village of Concord. Chris, just like Thoreau, had the desire to get himself back into civilization. Krakauer infers, … McCandless decided to return to civilization. and get himself back into the world of men and women, where he could could chug a beer, talk philosophy, enthrall strangers with the tales of what he’d done.(168). Men who have lived in a society can never escape its influences and values. Living in nature and being self-reliant requires man to be alone and accompanied by only himself. This way of living is unrealistic since men naturally want to stray from situations that are too uncomfortable or tough.
Being lonely for any amount of time, no matter what, will cause man to have the desire to be back in a society surrounded by people. So the idea of transcendentalism is not the way one should wish to live by and is impossible to truly live by. Eventually, the goal of rebelling against a corrupt society by escaping and living off nature, only results in the desperation to survive by any means necessary. Essentially, the mental attitude about society changes and a society that once limits one’s freedoms and was the corrupt enemy, now becomes an appealing place to live, a safe-haven. It is truly impossible to properly live by the ideals of transcendentalism, as self-reliance eventually turns into desperation, and the evil, corrupt society transforms into an appealing utopia.
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