The Concept of Transcendentalism and Seclusion in Into the Wild
Marcus Aurelius Flores Period-5 AP English Summer Reading 2019 Into the Wild (Page 3) ‘In April 1992, a young man from a well-to-do East Coast family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. Four months later his decomposed body was found by a party of moose hunters. Shortly after the discovery of the corpse, I was asked by the editor of Outside magazine to report on the puzzling circumstances of the boy’s death. His name turned out to be Christopher Johnson McCandless. He’d grown up, I learned, in an affluent suburb of Washington, D.C., where he’d excelled academically and had been an elite athlete.’ ‘Immediately after graduating, with honors, from Emory University in the summer of 1990, McCandless dropped out of sight. He changed his name, gave the entire balance of a twenty-four-thousand-dollar savings account to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet. And then he invented a new life for himself, taking up residence at the ragged margin of our society, wandering across North America in search of raw, transcendent experience. His family had no idea where he was or what had become of him until his remains turned up in Alaska.’ ‘I was haunted by the particulars of the boy’s starvation and by vague, unsettling parallels between events in his life and those in my own. In trying to understand McCandless, I inevitably came to reflect on other, larger subjects as well: the grip wilderness has on the American imagination, the allure high-risk activities hold for young men of a certain mind, the complicated, highly charged bond that exists between fathers and sons. The result of this meandering inquiry is the book now before you.’ This passage stuck out to me because it’s supposed to be the hook, and it presents the possibility of reading an interesting story. Off the bat, I could tell that this was going to be a mystery kind of book, and im looking forward to it. This passage impressed me by how much it makes me want to figure out why a very successful teenager would just throw away his life and disappear.
But this passage was meant to explain what the plot is and what the author has in store for the readers. I also really enjoyed the language the author used in the passage, he got straight into it, no fancy words, just directly into the plot. ‘Then he left the highway and started walking south through the desert, following the river-bank. Twelve miles on foot brought him to Topock, Arizona, a dusty way station along Interstate 40 where the freeway intersects the California border. While he was in town, he noticed a secondhand aluminum canoe for sale and on an impulse decided to buy it and paddle it down the Colorado River to the Gulf of California, nearly four hundred miles to the south, across the border with Mexico.’ ‘This lower stretch of the river, from Hoover Dam to the gulf, has little in common with the unbridled torrent that explodes through the Grand Canyon, some 250 miles upstream from Topock. Emasculated by dams and diversion canals, the lower Colorado burbles indolently from reservoir to reservoir through some of the hottest, starkest country on the continent. McCandless was stirred by the austerity of this landscape, by its saline beauty. The desert sharpened the sweet ache of his longing, amplified it, gave shape to it in sere geology and clean slant of light.’ In this section, Jon is telling the reader the travels of McCandless. What Jon describes in these pages shocked me. I couldn’t believe that McCandless was so determined that he bought a canoe and tried paddling 400 miles. But this is important because now it’s starting to show the irrationality of McCandless’s actions. Later on in the chapter, Jon suggests that McCandless may have lost touch with reality, which would explain the strange decisions that Christopher McCandless is doing. Into the Wild(Page 48) ‘By mid-April, Westerberg was both shorthanded and very busy, so he asked McCandless to postpone his departure and work a week or two longer. McCandless wouldn’t even consider it. “Once Alex made up his mind about something, there was no changing it,” Westerberg laments. “I even offered to buy him a plane ticket to Fairbanks, which would have let him work an extra ten days and still get to Alaska by the end of April, but he said, ‘No, I want to hitch north. Flying would be cheating. It would wreck the whole trip.’”
McCandless is futher revealed to be determined at his journey. This excerpt “I even offered to buy him a plane ticket to Fairbanks, which would have let him work an extra ten days and still get to Alaska by the end of April, but he said, ‘No, I want to hitch north. Flying would be cheating. It would wreck the whole trip,’” tells me that McCandless is looking for something more than just the destination. This part of the story helps me to understand Christopher McCandless more, so me and Jon can solve this mystery. I would highlight this portion of the book as a character building moment so that the reader is more familiar with the kind of person McCandless is. Into the Wild(Page 53) ‘At the age of forty-nine, he cheerfully announced that he had “recast” his goals and next intended to “walk around the world, living out of my backpack. I want to cover 18 to 27 miles a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.” The trip never got off the ground. In November 1991, Rosellini was discovered lying facedown on the floor of his shack with a knife through his heart. The coroner determined that the fatal wound was self-inflicted. There was no suicide note. Rosellini left no hint as to why he had decided to end his life then and in that manner. In all likelihood nobody will ever know.’ Jon describes other people who have the same mystery as Christopher McCandless.
At this point confirmed my suspicions that Into the Wild was dealing with psychological ascpects. This part ‘There was no suicidenote. Rosellini left no hint as to why he had decided to end his life then and in that manner. In all likelihood nobody will ever know,’ is the same idea for the plot of the story. I assume because this idea is being repeated in the book, that this could tie into the theme. Into the Wild(Page 74) ‘Chris was placed in an accelerated program for gifted students. “He wasn’t happy about it,” Billie remembers, “because it meant he had to do extra schoolwork. So he spent a week trying to get himself out of the program. This little boy attempted to convince the teacher, the principal—anybody who would listen—that the test results were in error, that he really didn’t belong there. We learned about it at the first PTA meeting. His teacher pulled us aside and told us that ‘Chris marches to a different drummer.’ She just shook her head.” “Even when we were little,” says Carine, who was born three years after Chris, “he was very to himself. He wasn’t antisocial— he always had friends, and everybody liked him—but he could go off and entertain himself for hours. He didn’t seem to need toys or friends. He could be alone without being lonely.” When Chris was six, Walt was offered a position at NASA, prompting a move to the nation’s capital.
They bought a split-level house on Willet Drive in suburban Annandale. It had green shutters, a bay window, a nice yard. Four years after arriving in Virginia, Walt quit working for NASA to start a consulting firm— User Systems, Incorporated—which he and Billie ran out of their home.’ Chapter 11 is more to understand where McCandless is coming from. This chapter futher confirms that McCandless was a very successful person, futher pushing me and Jon’s question as to why Chris McCandless apperantly committed suicide. In this area of the text, Carine tells me that McCandless wasn’t going through any depression ‘ He was very to himself. He wasn’t antisocial— he always had friends, and everybody liked him—but he could go off and entertain himself for hours. He didn’t seem to need toys or friends. He could be alone without being lonely.” At this point I felt like I was reading a biography, but the author does a good job at making the book push forward. I feel like me and Jon are one step closer to solving the mystery. Into the Wild(Page 84) ‘Many aspects of Chris’s personality baffled his parents. He could be generous and caring to a fault, but he had a darker side as well, characterized by monomania, impatience, and unwavering self-absorption, qualities that seemed to intensify through his college years.
“I saw Chris at a party after his sophomore year at Emory,” remembers Eric Hathaway, “and it was obvious he had changed. He seemed very introverted, almost cold. When I said ‘Hey, good to see you, Chris,’ his reply was cynical: ‘Yeah, sure, that’s what everybody says/ It was hard to get him to open up. His studies were the only thing he was interested in talking about. Social life at Emory revolved around fraternities and sororities, something Chris wanted no part of. I think when everybody started going Greek, he kind of pulled back from his old friends and got more heavily into himself.”
At this point I felt the climax hit me like a truck. This is where we see the turning point of McCandless. Now he is being described in a more negative way, like ‘-but he had a darker side as well, characterized by monomania, impatience, and unwavering self-absorption, qualities that seemed to intensify through his college years,’ and ‘it was obvious he had changed. He seemed very introverted, almost cold. When I said ‘Hey, good to see you, Chris,’ his reply was cynical: ‘Yeah, sure, that’s what everybody says/ It was hard to get him to open up. His studies were the only thing he was interested in talking about. Social life at Emory revolved around fraternities and sororities, something Chris wanted no part of.’ People are starting to notice that McCandless is acting differently, expanding my futher thought’s on why McCandless behaves strangely in other chapters.
‘The repugnance to animal food is not the effect of experience, but is an instinct. It appeared more beautiful to live low and fare hard in many respects; and though I never did so, I went far enough to please my imagination. I believe that every man who has ever been earnest to preserve his higher or poetic faculties in the best condition has been particularly inclined to abstain from animal food, and from much food of any kind…. It is hard to provide and cook so simple and clean a diet as will not offend the imagination; but this, I think, is to be fed when we feed the body; they should both sit down at the same table. Yet perhaps this may be done. The fruits eaten temperately need not make us ashamed of our appetites, nor interrupt the worthiest pursuits. But put an extra condiment into your dish, and it will poison you.’
This chapter was a little tough to read because of the knowledge of McCandless’s death. At this point, we’re starting to realize why McCandless was unable to survive in the wild. The messy segment of Chris trying to preserve the moose meat was foreshadowing Chris’s inevitable starvation. Chris then tries to go back into civilization but then is met by unforgiving nature that wont let him escape. A dark tone set’s this chapter’s finale giving me a bleak feeling for McCandless’s situation.
Into the Wild(Page 132)
‘McCandless, I came to believe with increasing conviction, scrupulously steered clear of the toxic H. mackenzii and never ate its seeds or any other part of the plant. He was indeed poisoned, but the plant that killed him wasn’t wild sweet pea. The agent of his demise was wild potato, H. alpinum, the species plainly identified as nontoxic in Tanaina Plantlore.
The book advises only that the roots of the wild potato are edible. Although it says nothing about the seeds of the species being edible, it also says nothing about the seeds being toxic. To be fair to McCandless, it should be pointed out that the seeds of H. alpinum have never been described as toxic in any published text: An extensive search of the medical and botanical literature yielded not a single indication that any part of H. alpinum is poisonous. But the pea family (Leguminosae, to which H. alpinum belongs) happens to be rife with species that produce alkaloids— chemical compounds that have powerful pharmacological effects on humans and animals. (Morphine, caffeine, nicotine, curare, strychnine, and mescaline are all alkaloids.) And in many alkaloid-producing species, moreover, the toxin is strictly localized within the plant.’
It is the resolution of the book and we now know how McCandless died. McCandless ‘-was indeed poisoned,’ but he didn’t die without learning something from all of this. He left behind a note saying that happiness is only real when shared with other people. McCandless then writes a goodbye note saying he had a happy life. Chris went through a psycholigical journey that cost him his life, but he learned a valuable lesson. Even his mom would’ve found his adventure to be admirable if he hadn’t died. I think that some of the themes have to do with discovering who you are, forgiveness (Like with McCandless’s parents.), and freedom.
“NATURE/PURITY,” he printed in bold characters at the top of the page. Oh, how one wishes sometimes to escape from the meaningless dullness of human eloquence, from all those sublime phrases, to take refuge in nature, apparently so inarticulate, or in the wordlessness of long, grinding labor, of sound sleep, of true music, or of a human understanding rendered speechless by emotion!
This quote summarizes the book for me. I understand the quote as a relation to the plot of the book, which I thought was about restoration. McCandless was trying to purify himself through the means of isolation in the wilderness. In the quote it talks about ‘how one wishes sometimes to escape from the meaningless dullness of human eloquence, from all those sublime phrases, to take refuge in nature,’ which explains my idea of what I think the plot was about.
Overall the book presented an interesting concept that I enjoyed. The book had my attention most of the time trying to piece together the reason McCandless died. Sure, there were some parts like chapter three that went pretty slow. Overall, I thought the book was inpirational with some strong themes that shined through. At first I was annoyed that this book was going to be boring and painful to read over my peaceful summer break, but now im blessed I got to read Into the Wild’s incredible premise. I would definitely recommend this to a friend.
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