Compare Chris McCandless from Into the Wild to Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

One Emersonian element that Chris possesses is his reverence for freedom.  This is seen in his foray "into the wild."  At the same time, part of Chris's rejection of his parents comes from the belief that they are too controlling and repressive of the spirit of freedom that exists within him.  This reverence for freedom is a quality that Emerson displays in his work, especially concerning individuals and their relationship to external structures.  Freedom is a part of the Emersonian ethos, something that the individual cannot sacrifice under any circumstances.

Chris's attitude towards a transcendental notion of truth is something that drives him throughout the narrative.  He is more serious than his fellow college students.  He understands that there might be something more than what is presented in front of him.  This is a quality that Emerson himself would have embraced in so far as stressing that what is in front of us might not be the immediate defining element to being in the world.  An "insatiable quest for something more" is a way to describe both Emerson and Chris, especially with regards to their own belief systems in light of what others see as "truth."  Chris is driven to do what he does because he is in search for something more meaningful.  Emerson would praise this quality.  It is this quality that defines individualism, non- conformity, and a passion to explore what can be in the face of what is.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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. 

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on