West of Everything

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Chris McCandless was intoxicated with the myth of the West. He lived for all it’s ideals and identified with Emerson and Thoreau and many of Jack London’s fictional characters, as he believed whole-heartedly in Transcendentalism and Romanticism. McCandless imagined the West to be a place away from the banal and conforming society from which he was raised. He was thrilled by the idea of finding this imagined place, and in turn finding who he really was. “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth,” a quote from Thoreau’s Walden underlined in McCandless’s personal journal, represents the type of life he pined for. He was fixed on finding a set of truths that could lead him to a greater understanding of who he was in the grander scheme of things. With Chris McCandless’s imagined idea of the West came an imagined identity of himself that, upon his demise, blended with his Eastern identity, helping him uncover his personal truth, and ultimately led him to truly becoming a part of his own imagined place.

In Jane Tompkins’ West of Everything, the west is “an environment inimical to human beings—no shelter, no water no rest, no comfort. Be brave, be strong enough to endure this, it says, and you will become hard, austere, sublime,” (Tompkins 71). These physical attributes also accompany the emotional ones—hard with cold, austere with solitary, sublime with larger than life—dichotomies that cannot be found in the East. Chris McCandless was raised an Easterner, and with the Eastern mentality came the longing for what Tompkins describes as the West. In the suburban setting he seemed to thrive. He was a good athlete, excellent student, and charming young man supported by his ambitious parents who wanted nothing but to see him succeed; yet he was a perfect example of the tender-footed Easterner. “Chris submitted to Walt’s authority through high school and college to a surprising degree, but the boy raged inwardly all the while,” (Krakauer 64). Chris longed to...
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