How do Chris McCandless' writings relate to Ralph Waldo Emerson?
In his essay "Self Reliance," Emerson tells his readers to trust themselves and to look into their own hearts and souls to find their unique destinies. For Emerson, self-reliance was the opposite of conformity. It meant finding the path that God meant for you to follow when you were born. If this put you at odds with societal norms, that was fine: none of us will have peace of mind until we follow the path we were meant to pursue:
Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you ... Great men have always done so ... And we are now men... obeying the Almighty effort, and advancing on Chaos and the Dark.
Chris McCandless takes this advice to heart. He trusts himself and follows his own path. After graduating from college, he gives an inheritance that was meant to pay for law school to Oxfam, hits the road, burns his money and gets rid of his car. He wants to own as few material goods as possible as he goes in quest of his own destiny. He writes about this to an older friend named Ron who he meets on the road, advising him to do the same. Chris echoes Emerson in telling Ron to break away from a life of security and conformity:
I think you really should make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt. So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.