Honors Conference Ideas

April 9th, 2011

Desmond Zantua
English 399
Professor Buell
Honors Conference

Thesis summary: In my paper, I studied attempts at resisting the dependency on technology and society of modernization in Thoreau’s Walden and both the novel (written by Jon Krakauer) and film (directed by Sean Penn) versions of Into the Wild. Both Thoreau’s and Christopher McCandless’s departure/deviation from the constructed modern world are born out of philosophical, ethical, and intellectual agreements with much of society following modernization and increasing technological advancements starting with the industrial revolution. I focus on how both, even in their dispositions to the technologically-influenced world, incorporate technologies, both in terms of man’s inherent mental faculties as well as actual devices, to help them achieve these desired ends of disconnect. With Walden, I explore the way his philosophy of minimalism and purist view of nature assisted his observations of the human condition, how capitalism shapes much human behavior, and how he separates himself from falling into those influences by rigidly structuring his life in Walden. With Into the Wild, I focus on the discrepancies and biases of the narratives due to them being shaped by the statements and opinions of family, friends, and acquaintances of ill-fated traveller Christopher McCandless rather than the man himself. I also focus on McCandless’s philosophy of survivalism, understood through his note-taking revealing sparse supplies for his trip, and a journal that related only observations on food and hunting. Also, focusing on Sean Penn’s movie adaptation allows further exposition on medium-based distortions of message/mood through it’s deliberate structuring; drastically different from McCandless’s deliberately chaotic, free-roaming life.

Possible presentation topics:
Thoreau’s commentary on the “mass of men leading lives of quiet desperation” due to growing malaise among modernized, capitalist man.
Thoreau’s view of nature’s purity
his subversive promotion of teaching young boys to hunt so that they can quickly grow disillusioned by the ethical issues with killing other sentient organisms.
Thoreau’s views on clothing being overglamorized with notions of fashion and trends, leading to expensiveness and lack of originality/creativity/freedom
McCandless’s survivalist supplies
McCandless’s re-naming of himself as Supertramp; his dying return to his birthname
The discrepancies in McCandless’s life being re-told by people other than McCandless himself
The distracting breaking-of-the-fourth-wall self-reference in Sean Penn’s adaptation

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