How did Chris McCandless develop his philosophy of life?

Do Now:
 Open your books to the author’s note and
read the 3 pages it covers.
 Write down some important notes, then prepare to
answer some following questions…
Author’s Note
How long did Chris McCandless’ journey in the Alaskan
wilderness last?
Immediately after graduating from Emory
University in 1990, Chris McCandless dropped out of
sight. List 5 things that he did to support his “plan”.
What are some themes Krakauer mentions are the result
of his “meandering inquiry”?
What do you think Krakauer means when he states “I
won’t claim to be an impartial biographer”?
What reason does Krakauer offer for writing this book?
(and how did it go so wrong?)
McCandless’s Major Literary
 Jack London and Naturalism
 Henry David Thoreau and Transcendentalism
 Leo Tolstoy and Realism
Jack London (1876-1916)
 Born in San Francisco
 As an adolescent, London worked at various hard labor
 pirated for oysters on San Francisco Bay
 served on a fish patrol to capture poacher
 sailed on a Pacific sealing ship
 travelled around the country as a hobo
 attended high school at age 19
 Chose to become a writer to escape horrific prospect of
working in a factory
Jack London Bio Continued
 Very famous figure in adulthood; used fame to endorse
political movements such as socialism, women’s suffrage
and prohibition.
 Although his socialist views can be seen in his writing,
there is also a strong drive toward individualism and
capitalistic success.
 London died November 22, 1916, in a sleeping porch in a
cottage on his ranch. He was in extreme pain due to
complications from kidney stones and taking morphine.
 It is possible that a morphine overdose, accidental or
deliberate, may have contributed to his death.
Jack London’s Works
 His novel The Call of the
Wild was thought to be
McCandless’s biggest
 The Call of the Wild
 London intended to write about
a dog who merely reverts to the
 He states that he unconsciously
wrote “the human allegory
(extended metaphor) in the
dog’s life-and-death struggle to
adapt himself to a hostile
Jack London and Naturalism
 Naturalism:
 A type of literature that uses realism to suggest that
social conditions, heredity and environment shapes the
individual and determines his fate
 Directly contrasts Romantic works like Anthem where
the individual shapes his own environment and is
master of his fate
 Expose the dark harshness of life
 Characters can be studied through their relationship to
their surroundings
Naturalism Continued
 Characters in Naturalistic works are often ill-educated
or lower class whose lives are controlled by outside
 Characters try to exercise free will and find they are
powerless to outside forces beyond their control
 Exposed the dark harshness of life including: poverty,
racism, sex, violence, prejudice, disease, corruption,
prostitution, and filth.
How did this inspire Chris
McCandless’s philosophy?
 He believed that environment shaped the individual
and sought out an environment that would better
shape him; sought to leave what he felt were negative
 He took The Call of the Wild quite literally as a call to
live in the wild to seek one’s true potential
 London’s socialism may have contributed to
McCandless’s disdain of money and anti-materialism
Where did it go wrong?
 Naturalism was a literary movement, not a fact of
reality. Few truly believe that individuals are powerless
to the influence of their environment.
 Likewise most environments are not completely pure
or completely corrupt.
 His hero, Jack London, obviously realized his works
were fiction and not a plan to follow. He chose to write
to avoid hard labor and died among the conveniences
of modern life.
 Did McCandless mistake fiction as a literal guide for
Henry David Thoreau- 1817-1862
 Lived at a time of increasing
modernity—business and technology
beginning to dominate American life
Grew up in a liberal family in Concord,
Regarded as an oddball
Attended Harvard and became a
Emphasized more reverence for nature
(cabin for 2 years)
Published only 2 moderately successful
books during his lifetime
Died of tuberculosis
Transcendentalism: What did they believe?
 Most people “lead lives of quiet desperation” (HDT). In day
to day modern life, we simply go through the motions and
never stop to truly live.
 In order to live deliberately, one must become self-reliant,
intuitive ,become reflective, and get in touch with nature.
 Example: HDT left his life to live deliberately in a cabin in
the woods. His experience turned into Walden
Walden Pond and
a Replica of
Thoreau’s cabin
Transcendentalism (continued)
 When a person lives deliberately
and follows his intuition, he
“transcends” everyday life and
experiences the sublime.
 The sublime is beauty, wonder and
awe. An overpowering feeling of
respect for life and nature.
The transcendent person becomes
god-like. She trusts and relies on
herself and her instincts.
Why did this backfire on Chris McCandless?
 Although following your own intuition is a major part
of Transcendentalist belief, total solitude is not.
 Thoreau did go to Walden Pond to live deliberately,
but he was not a hermit. He entertained many visitors.
 Additionally, self-reliance does not require refusing all
help and advice. One might argue that an aspect of
self-reliance is recognizing when to seek help.
 Was McCandless self-reliant or merely stubborn?
And Finally…Leo Tolstoy (18281910)
 Russian writer of primarily novels
and short stories
 His two greatest works, Anna
Karenina and War and Peace,
considered to be the pinnacle of
realist fiction
 Born into Russian nobility
 Dropped out of university after
teachers called him “unable and
unwilling to learn”; ran up huge
gambling debts and joined the
army to escape
Tolstoy’s Political Beliefs
 After viewing a public execution, Tolstoy wrote, "The truth
is that the State is a conspiracy designed not only to
exploit, but above all to corrupt its citizens ... Henceforth, I
shall never serve any government anywhere.“
Led to his belief in non-violent anarchy as the only way for
people to get along
Believed in equality among all social classes and opened a
school for the children of serfs
Opposed private property and the institution of marriage
(despite being married himself)
Valued chastity and abstinence
Tolstoy’s Religious Beliefs
 Considered to be a Christian ascetic, meaning he believed
he must reject all worldly pleasures in order to find
spiritual fulfillment
 Took Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount literally which guided his
belief in pacifism, nonviolence and nonresistance
 Believed that a true Christian could find lasting happiness
by striving for inner self-perfection through following the
Great Commandment of loving one's neighbor and God
rather than looking outward to the Church or state for
 Died of pneumonia in a train station at age 82 after giving
up all worldly possessions (including his family) in order to
live as a wandering ascetic
And in case you thought you had
nothing in common with Leo Tolstoy…
Tolstoy on Shakespeare…
 "I remember the astonishment I felt when I first read
Shakespeare. I expected to receive a powerful aesthetic
pleasure, but having read, one after the other, works
regarded as his best: King Lear, Romeo and Juliet,
Hamlet and Macbeth, not only did I feel no delight,
but I felt an irresistible repulsion and tedium...".
 Works that depict contemporary life and society "as
they were."
Realist writers try to capture everyday activities
The character is more important than action and plot;
complex ethical choices are often the subject
Plots are generally plausible
Characters diction is natural, not heightened or poetic
(This is why Tolstoy did not enjoy Shakespeare.)
What did McCandless take from
Tolstoy and Realism?
 A disdain for money, worldly
possessions, and romantic
relationships (asceticism)
 A belief that lasting happiness
could be found only by
achieving inner self-perfection
 Desire for realism and a life
based on strong ethics
What went wrong?
 As McCandless writes, “Happiness only real when
shared.” Are human relationships equal to worldly
possessions? Is asceticism really the best way to live?
•Are basic survival tools
“worldly possessions”? Where
does survival end and luxury
•Did McCandless’ beliefs set
him up to fail?

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