Theme of Nonconformity in the Works of Chris McCandless: A Wandering Fighter Against the Social Norms
Pressure, perfection, and ideals are some of the dangers in society. Chris McCandless did not want to be a victim of the social norm, he wanted to live the life he wanted without allowing others to influence his decisions. The novel, Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer, reveals the life of a young intelligent man, Chris McCandless, who was found dead in Alaska in August of 1992. While hitchhiking, moving to small towns and changing his name, McCandless made sure he was living the life wanted. Krakauer follows the short life of Chris McCandless throughout the great American Wilderness.
Parents have a huge influence on what we become in life, they input their ideas and vision in us at a young age on who they want us to be. Parents want us to become successful and amount to great things. Before McCandless adventure out into the wilderness, he was from a family who practiced traditional middle-class values. His father believed that college was the only way to go he even told his son, “If you really want to make a difference in the world….. Go to college, get a law degree, and then you’ll be able to have a real impact” pg 116.
However, McCandless completely changed that idea because he felt that his parent’s ideals of success were not his at all. His parents were unable to provide him with the life on nonconformity and resistance of the outside world, but nature was. Nature did not have a set of rules and traditions you had to follow in order to feel you made an impact in the world. When he finally made it to Alaska he was at peace, “..,he was unencumbered, emancipated from the stifling world of his parents and peers, a world of abstraction and security and material excess, a world in which he felt grievously cut off from the raw throb existence.”(pg 22) Chris had finally escaped from the world of materialistic needs and was finally able to detach himself from the inside world.
This adventure allowed him to find himself of who he truly was as a person without the influence of his parent’s beliefs. Nature was able to fulfill the place of his parents and be able to teach him what he needed to succeed and thrive through life. Although Chris was an intelligent college graduate he was not going to conform to their vision of their success, instead create his own individual success to find himself. He wanted to make his own name for himself he went as far as changing actually changing his actual name, “ To symbolize the complete severance from his previous life, he adopted a new name… Alexander Supertramp, mater of his own destiny” (page 23)
Chris was weary of his family values and materialism when his parents or sister tried to send him gives he did not want to accept them because he does not want his parents to buy his respect. He was not going to conform to their way of buying love and respect, and not allow them to have control on how to live his life. McCandless felt trap and was suffocating in his parent’s materialistic values, he needed to escape from their world and the surrounding world.
Money has a huge impact on everyone’s life. If you do not have enough you work for more, and if you do have enough you still work for more. McCandless hated the idea of money because he felt as if money controlled every step of his life. Chris at the beginning of the trip, “ more than twenty-four thousand dollars remained… he would shortly donate all the money in his college fund to OXFAM America” (page 20) The only reason Chris took upon a couple of jobs was to help him get to Alaska. Chris did not want to get caught up in the fact money is an essential of life, like many of us believe.
Society makes us believe we need a new car or the new phone in order for us to feel good enough. However, no one is completely satisfied with the amount of money they have, because there is always going to be room for more. Money is an escape to happiness however McCandless was able to find his own happiness with barely anything, only a couple pounds of rice, and a journal. He was not going to be a victim of dependency.
In a letter McCandless wrote to Ron Franz he states, “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” When Chris wrote this letter to Franz was so mesmerized and impressed by Chris’ way of living, explaining how people stay in unhappy situations however they do not do anything about it. Society teaches us that everyone has problems and you will eventually get over it. However, McCandless was able to make a significant change in his life in order to feel content. Society teaches us to not take a risk and to settle for average. However, Chris was unable to take apart in that he needed to take risks in order to find the true meaning and perception of life. No one would walk into Alaska with barely enough to survive voluntarily but Chris did. Chris defeated the system that everyone follows. He did not want the 9-5 job. He did not want a new car and house or family. All he needed was a couple of pounds of rice, the Great American Wilderness, and himself.
There are those who seek fulfillment through materialistic things hoping to fill that void in their lives. But there comes a point where you realize it’s only temporary and you crave a deeper meaning for life. This is true for both Siddhartha in the novel Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse and Christopher McCandless in Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer. Coming from a background of wealth, he seemed set, having a life that was desirable for many. Siddhartha seemed discontent with life so he left his family and riches behind in order to find enlightenment through nature ‘When someone is seeking…it happens quite easily that he only sees the thing that he is seeking; that he is unable to find anything, unable to absorb anything…because he is obsessed with his goal.
Seeking means: to have a goal; but finding means: to be free, to be receptive, to have no goal. pg. 113 Throughout his journey he slowly gets closer to that desire, encountering many people and enduring experiences he could not get from his old life, in the end becoming one within himself through nature. Like Siddhartha, Christopher also leaves his old life revolved around materials but with no plan, he goes on with no direction. Although he ends up dead at the end “…it’s not apparent from the photograph. He is smiling in the picture, and there is no mistaking the look in his eyes: Chris McCandless was at peace, serene as a monk gone to God. “(199), Siddhartha and Christopher’s journey are very much alike when it comes to what they were trying to escape from.
Both characters upbringings are similar in a way that they both had some type of wealth and were able to live without any struggles. Like Siddhartha, Christopher had everything you could want but decided to leave that behind to escape the pressure of parents and society in general that set them up to a certain standard. Not knowing what lies ahead they go through with it, facing any obstacles they encounter that would make them reconsider the purpose of their journey to escape reality. Whether it’s money, lust, or an electrician who tries to convince them to forego their plan, they don’t let the outside world determine what is good for them and stay persistent. Determined to accomplish their goal, they both make sacrifices. Leaving everything behind, giving their possessions away. Their journeys were both very difficult to endure but they persevered with the help of others along the way. The people they allowed to partake along the journey helped them in ways others couldn’t. Both had some type of father figures that enabled them to pursue their goal. For example, Franz helps Chris by supplying him with equipment, rides, and the support he never got from his actual father, which Siddhartha had the same problem with his father. But he fulfilled his absence with Vasudeva who helps him seek his enlightenment.
These two novels are connected by the practice of being a nonconformist to society in order to seek a more meaningful life even if it means having to leave everything behind, even your family. Both characters endured challenges and although they did not end the same, they both experienced what it was like to live away from society and not depend on the materialistic things to make them happy.
The Wanderer by Scarlett McCall connects to the theme of nonconformity by showing the relationship between man and nature. The wanderer was not like your average citizen, they decided to go their own route instead of living a normal life. They traveled throughout the wild in search of something more than what society can give them. The wanderer walked, dazed by nature’s beauty and chaos. The wanderer becomes one with the land and puts all their hope in its hands. At one point the wanderer has consumed animals and the land, in an ongoing cycle of life.
Chris McCandless is a wanderer just like the speaker (the wanderer) in the poem. “On my back, I will carry, like a snail, my home,” (The Wanderer)Chris traveled throughout America as a nomad with nothing but the objects in his backpack. He lives off the land hunting, scavenging, and growing food. The wanderer uses whatever is in their bag and adapts to the environment. “I will walk on, walk on, and die alone,” (The Wanderer). The wanderers walk until they have no energy left and are devoured into the environment. Chris walks across America, into Mexican territory, and eventually Alaska. He finds an abandoned bus in the woods where he makes a base camp and continues to explore. When Chris starves he lays down and dies alone in the bus. “A bed of pine needles and the wind’s lullaby. Star-studded night breaks to dawn pale sky,” (The Wanderer) Both the wanderer and Chris used the surrounding environment to create shelter.
Ever since man walked this earth they had to rely on the world for survival. “High rocky ridge reached by steep forest trail grey mist casts a veil. Miles, I will travel, destination unknown…Let the bids eat my body; let the sun bleach my bones,”(The Wanderer). The wanderer had no problem being lost and possibly being hurt. They welcome nature’s embrace and lose themselves in it. Many people go into the wilderness searching for a safe haven but don’t realize how dangerous it can be. McCandless admired the wild and tried to live off it as best as he could. McCandless endures the most devastating features of the wild and in the end, loses the battle. His fate is similar to that of the wanderer.
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