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Henry David Thoreau’s Illustration of the Concept of Escape as Described in His Book, Where I Lived, And What I Lived For

The Escapists

Expectations and standards rise up like mental bile, contributing to the mess of stress and confusion. Reality tends to lose its appeal when charred with anxiety and peppered with self-destruction. The bittersweet battle continues as the mind fights to cease its distortion complex against reality. In Where I Lived, and What I Lived For, Thoreau assesses human perception of reality, stating that humanity accepts “shams and delusions” as reassuring truths to avoid a “fabulous” reality often ignored and underappreciated. While Thoreau correctly asserts that humanity remains ignorant to reality because humanity consistently seeks escapism or a way to gild reality, he fails to address escapism as a method to enhance a reality far from “fabulous” to the individual.

Thoreau’s assertion pertaining the human necessity of escapism yields truth in individuals who have literally run from society into nature, however, Thoreau fails to assess this movement as an assumption of a new reality entirely. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer follows the journey of Chris McCandless who embarked on this particular escapism into nature in order to escape his “reality”- a life of education and societal expectations. In nature, McCandless believed that he could truly live as an individual, and assume his destined reality. McCandless abandoned a life filled with opportunities and benefits such as academic success and financial security, a life seen by many as idealistic, and replaced it with his own radical naturalist conceptions. McCandless’ romantic delusions became his attempt at living, and in this aspect McCandless represents Thoreau’s claim that humanity will accept a fake reality as a substitute for the one given to them. However, Jon Krakauer makes clear that McCandless in no real manner enjoyed his life prior to escaping it, and by escaping into the reaches of nature; he threw out the reality which society expects from him and replaced it with his own. This new reality can arguably represent either the delusion which Thoreau suggests, or regarded as a reality of its own, as McCandless retained that lifestyle unto his death.

Cosplaying, the act of wearing costumes and/or sporting props to impersonate a specific character, represents a unique method of escapism, in which the assumption of a fictional character is the “delusion” which Thoreau suggests overshadows the reality of an individual. One man in particular, Robert Franzese, otherwise known as the “Real Life Peter Griffin” (the protagonist from a show called Family Guy) explains his unglamorous reality, stating that “I go to work, and I’m like a nobody- I have a nobody job, making nobody pay”. However, at conventions when he cosplays, he remarks the contrasting reactions of the public, explaining, “People are pulling out their phones like I’m Brad Pitt”. This particular cosplayer, like many in a way, seeks to escape their reality by a means of adopting an alternative persona, particularly one of a fictional character who is beyond the bounds of reality. By assuming a fictional character, a cosplayer cannot only escape their own lives, but essentially reality itself, as the characters usually merely exist in works of fiction- and from this, they create their own “delusions”. While cosplaying accurately depicts a substitution of reality, it also represents a sort of a lifestyle. Contrary to Thoreau’s proposal of individualized delusions replacing reality, this hobby creates a facet to their life that becomes a part of their own reality. Their hobby no longer merely corrupts their existing reality, which Thoreau claims to be fabulous, but instead enhances it. The delusions make reality enjoyable and fun for these individuals.

Often I find myself in the escapist’s shoes, and I seek to shadow my reality with Thoreau’s subsequent “shams and delusions in the form of daydreams, however, this means of escapism allows for me to enjoy life more. When I am stressed or bored, I resort to my imagination and rely on it to get lost in the imaginative lands of the sky-city Columbia, or the deep-seas of Rapture from the Bioshock series. I immerse myself completely in those detached moments in the classroom, assuming a vigorous adventure which induces excitement far exceeding that currently caused by the monotonous physics lesson. My daydreams do serve purpose to gild my reality, as Thoreau has correctly assessed- I desperately rake my mind for an escape that will help me get through the eye-gouging hours of sameness. The daydreams themselves become the delusions which I have accepted as my reality, as they do not depict or even resemble reality in the slightest- a majestic floating city does not parallel a rickety wooden desk. Thoreau’s assertion leads me to believe that the lack of reality’s glamour to me merely results from my inability of appreciation for what I have, and while this speaks miles of truth, it cannot go unnoted that these daydreams allow me to get through my life with a reassuring smile, one day at a time.

Although Thoreau’s assertion that humanity remains ignorant to reality at a fault of seeking escapism holds truth, he fails to address the ability of escapism to enhance, rather than detract from, reality. Chris McCandless, although his motivation was to flee a reality often conceived as “decent”, genuinely enjoyed his life to a fuller extent after realizing his own philosophized reality wrought by escapism. Similar to McCandless, Robert Franzese, and myself consistently seek a means of escaping real life through impersonations and fictitious mind-dwellings, respectively. The mind quells when fed with reassuring falsities, the stress of reality evaporating temporarily only to return when the fog of false security passes. Slowly but surely, the mind achieves peace, escaping fully reality itself.

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