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Christopher McCandless: True Transcendentalist


Transcendentalism is one of the most significant philosophical movements of the nineteenth century. Developed in the U.S., it was based on the idea of embracing idealism. Transcendentalists advocated for the innate goodness of humans, the prevalence of experience and insight over logical judgment, beauty and purity of nature, and unorganized religion. There were many representatives of this movement, but few of them were not recognized as transcendentalists by some people. For example, it is still arguable whether Christopher McCandless was a true transcendentalist. He was an American adventurer who decided to adopt a vagabond and then nomadic lifestyle after graduating from university. He traveled for some years, completed several wilderness hiking trips, and hitchhiked to Alaska in 1992, where he died later that year. The purpose of this paper is to provide two arguments that prove that McCandless is a significant and bright representative of this philosophical and literary movement because of his free thought and spirituality, and closeness to nature.

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Supporting Evidence

Christopher McCandless is a transcendentalist because his perception of some actions is spiritual, as well as his love and craving for nature – those are traits of transcendentalism that were present in McCandless and proved his belonging to this movement. First of all, he was not like his peers and never tried to hide that he saw spirituality in everyday actions. For example, according to Krakauer, “McCandless viewed running as an intensely spiritual exercise, verging on religion” (86). His friend said that McCandless wanted them “to think about all the evil in the world, all the hatred, and imagine ourselves running against the forces of darkness” (Krakauer 86). Finding spirituality in ordinary actions is a trait of transcendentalism. Thus, the fact that Christopher managed to do that proves his belonging to this movement.

Further, McCandless was very close to nature and sought solitude in it. In his book, Krakauer notices that “McCandless was a seeker and had an impractical fascination with the harsh side of nature” (66). For transcendentalists, nature is beautiful, and it is their pleasure and goal to be alone with it. Christopher’s nomadic lifestyle and wilderness hiking trips, as well as the irrational perception of nature’s dangers, prove that he is a representative of transcendentalism. Therefore, his unity with nature and vision of spirituality is the proof of this statement.

Opposite Opinion

Nevertheless, some people state that McCandless is not transcendentalist as his initial purpose was not to be united with nature but to avoid his family and unhappy life. For instance, after leaving, “he scrupulously avoided contacting either his parents or Carine, the sister for whom he purportedly cared immensely” (Krakauer 95). Therefore, a person who runs away from his problems and avoids their family while also trying to demonstrate his love for nature cannot be considered a transcendentalist. Nevertheless, this statement is not a strong argument since his attachment to nature actually manifested itself in childhood. Krakauer mentions that “when he talked, he was always going on about trees and nature,” and he also used to “find some animal in a trap, take it home, amputate the injured limb, heal it, and then let it go again” (33, 83). Nature and animals are at the center of the life of a true transcendentalist. Thus, the fact that McCandless paid significant attention to it in his childhood means that he is a representative of this movement, and the initial reason for his journey was not escaping.


To conclude, one may say that numerous facts prove that McCandless is a transcendentalist. Nevertheless, it is possible to suggest that other representatives of this movement, including Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman, would not approve of his unprepared hike into the Alaskan bush. They would advise him to connect with nature in more favorable conditions and think more about God. Overall, the death of McCandless is an example of how being too obsessed with transcendentalism may hurt people. At the same time, this is a rather healing movement since being close to nature and considering humans inherently good is beneficial for people.

Work Cited

Krakauer, Jon. Into the Wild. Anchor Books, 1997.

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