Transcendentalism

“Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”

― Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self Reliance

“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

I love these quotes. In school, we have just finished our unit on transcendentalism and within the unit, read the non-fiction book Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer. Transcendentalism according to the stanford encyclopedia is: “Transcendentalism is an American literary, political, and philosophical movement of the early nineteenth century, centered around Ralph Waldo Emerson.” In our literature book (which weighs more than me) we read excerpts from a few transcendentalist pieces including: Self Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Resistance to Civil Government by Henry David Thoreau, and the poem Thanatopsis by William Cullen Bryant. Of these three I was most inspired by Emerson. Taking what I learned throughout this unit, I analyzed the text in that Krakauer called Chris McCandless a “pilgrim,” and wrote a short essay on the word that I would use to describe him.

After Jon Krakauer’s article on Chris McCandless was published in Outside magazine, “it generated more mail than any other article in the magazine’s history,” and many people fulminated that he was a wacko and a narcissist, while others admired him for his “courage and noble ideas,” (Author’s Note). Chris McCandless was so much more than one word. I do not think he was anything close to a “nutcase, sociopath, or outcast,” to me he was eager for adventure as well as a traveler, a hunter, a dreamer, and an inspiration. I loved reading this book during our unit on transcendentalism because it taught me a lot about myself, and gave words to some of my beliefs, especially Self Reliance by Emerson. Chris is an inspiration to me because he followed his path.

Like Chris, we are both misunderstood, are people who know their path in life, and are determined to follow it, while yearning for adventure and change. Unlike Chris, I have no life-changing family secrets pushing me away; which I am grateful for. Chris had his family struggles, and as he got older his need to leave became more apparent. His one goal to get to Alaska pulled him away from home, and his conflicts with his father and mother pushed him even further. Whether Chris perished in the Alaskan wild or not, I admire that he studied novels by Emerson, Tolstoy, London, and Thoreau, and went for his dream wholeheartedly. When McCandless’ journey is coming to an end, he has just finished reading Doctor Zhivago, and in the margins that he had been bracketed, starred, and underlined, he noted: “HAPPINESS ONLY REAL WHEN SHARED,” (189). Those five words say it all: Chris learned something that he never expected to get out of his experience in the wild – he realized that to be happy you need human companionship. That alone is what inspires me the most, in that moment, Chris’ life changed. When you follow a dream, you have such a clear and vivid image of what you are looking for and expecting, and to get something out of it that was not expected, and that is such a life-altering realization, is something I look forward to experiencing in my own life.

 

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