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    The Path to Transcendentalism in the Literary Works of Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Jon Krakauer

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    Transcendentalists view society as evil. In order to transcend the corruption of society, a person must reject material pursuit and social conformity.

    First of all, a person must overcome their material desires to truly experience the joys of life. Society has developed to where money dominates everything. Transcendentalists view material possessions as insignificant if they play no role in human survival. For example, Thoreau writes in Walden, “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone” (para.1). Many people live their life with the hopes of one day becoming rich. The desire for wealth, however, detracts a man from the true pleasures of life. A man cannot enjoy life if he continually grieves in disappointment for everything he does not own.

    Thoreau suggests that less is more. Humans need basics such as food and shelter in order to survive, but everything beyond these necessities is just a luxury. By letting go of the hunger for wealth, a person becomes “richer” mentally and emotionally. Once money is no longer the objective, a person can live a happier, simpler life. For example, Chris McCandless, another person who exhibited transcendentalist ideals, wrote, “My days were more exciting when I was penniless and had to forage around for my next meal” (Krakauer 33).

    McCandless owned few possessions, living without the certainty and security of typical urban life, yet he preferred this lifestyle. He was rich in happiness, experiencing the thrills of life, never quite knowing what would happen next. He was also rich in thought, for living with only the bare necessities strengthened his will and determination. Although money forms the foundation of society, material possession hinders a person from enjoying life.

    In addition, a person must resist conforming to the demands of society. For instance, in the essay “Self-Reliance” Emerson says, “Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist… Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind” (para. 7). Society corrupts an individual, requiring conformity and standardization. It is difficult to be unique when others respond with ridicule and discouragement. Society wants people to behave the same, because it results in uniformity, consistency, and order.

    Following a crowd, however, can only get a person to be average at best. “To be great,” as stated by Emerson, “is to be misunderstood” (para. 14). The pressures of conforming to society hold a person back. He must fight through others’ doubt and opposition to achieve his full potential. Chris McCandless would not allow himself to be held back by others. With a vision of his future in mind, he was determined to remain unchanged by what others said. Chris was going to live the life that he wanted, not what his parents or anybody else wanted.

    A typical person in Chris’s situation would finish law school, find a secure job, and raise a family, Chris instead chose to become “master of his own destiny,” tramping and hitchhiking place to place before venturing out into Alaska’s wilderness (Krakauer 23). This was his dream, and no matter how absurd or unreasonable society claimed it to be, he followed it. Few people possess the mind and character to withstand societal conformity.

    A person falls victim to society’s corruption by succumbing to material desires and conformity. He must let go of his hunger for wealth and remain true to himself.

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    The Path to Transcendentalism in the Literary Works of Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Jon Krakauer. (2022, Dec 13). Retrieved from

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