Into the Wild

Jim Casy and Chris McCandless: Transcendentalism Gone Wrong 12th Grade

The philosophy of transcendentalism has played a major role in shaping American literature for the last 150 years. At its core, transcendentalism is a set of principles designed to guide a person to happiness through their relationships with God, nature, others, and his or herself. The transcendentalist movement that spread around the country in the late 1800s preached ideas of the importance of nature, the sanctity of life and the ability of humans to be moral beings, and the value of individualism. Transcendentalism appealed to many Americans because they stated that tradition and societal values were not as valuable as the ability to learn and individual morals. In particular, these ideas had a great pull on many American authors. In fact, transcendentalism and its tenets heavily influenced one of America’s most successful and iconic authors, John Steinbeck. His novel The Grapes of Wrath, widely regarded as an American classic, draws heavily from the ideas of the transcendentalism. The story, which is set in 1930s America, has elements of transcendentalism embedded in throughout. Steinbeck mainly uses the character of Jim Casy, a retired minister, as a tool to spread transcendent ideas to other characters. As a result, the...

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