The Non-Conformist Allure
The United States literature has for long been littered with stories of non-conformists, individuals who dared to break away from society’s strictures and became truly disobedient. What is astounding is that, as time goes by, these stories have increasingly gained acceptance and popularity. While this phenomenon may be attributed to the riveting conflict they espouse, which gives such stories unrivaled momentum, there are other dynamics that have augmented the non-conformist allure. The aestheticized nature of revolutions and how they are portrayed both in fictional and non-fictional texts further point to the fact that the non-conformist ideals are increasingly permeating every sphere of Americans’ lives. This paper interrogates the reasons why we, as American citizens, love stories about non-conformists. It will delineate the attributes and thought processes that endear us to daring individuals who have consciously chosen not to conform to the ways of the majority in the society. Analysis indicates that the allure of non-conformism emanates from our inherent desires to become unique and distinct persons, the craving to achieve enlightenment and find oneself, and the promise of hope and liberation from the difficulties in life.
Uniqueness and Distinctiveness
One of the core reasons why we love stories about non-conformists is that they demonstrate the uniqueness of human beings and the prospect of attaining this uniqueness by every person. These stories give the readers and viewers hope that they can be distinctive and stand out from the rest. Non-conformists are individuals that have dared to be different. They have discarded the ideals of the society and have charted their courses, in most instances without the society’s approval. Their stories inspire the audience to dream big, to transcend the current state of obscurity and find hope in their quest to become unique. No person wishes to be average or mediocre. Human beings are predisposed to seek recognition. The need to assure self that one is distinct and unique is intrinsic. Stories of non-conformists, thus, avail an apt opportunity to ascertain our abilities to become different and stand out from the rest. While the reasons for standing out, as espoused by the different characters in the stories may not be desirable, they still affirm the possibility of transcending the current positioning of obscurity to distinction.
One such story in the collection of American literature that inspires the quest for the distinction is the story of Chris McCandless in the novel Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. In the story, the protagonist, McCandless, discards the ideals of his society. Being intellectually and athletically gifted, McCandless found it unnecessary to submit willingly to other people for advice and counseling. It was his way of being dissimilar. When he could not fit in the community anymore, he set out on a journey, hiking his way to Alaska where he died while on his own. McCandless aspired not only to be different but also to demonstrate to his fellows that it was possible and quite fulfilling to be unique. At some point during his escapade, he was offered some food supplies and warm clothing, but he rejected them. It was his way of fighting the odds and the norm; his unique way of “asking the real questions” of the society. The audience reading his story appreciates the courage he had to set out on his own and chart his personal course. The tragic end of the story notwithstanding, McCandless was a non-conformist who inspires readers in the U.S. and beyond, to do what it takes to be unique and satisfy the desires of their hearts. He is a typical non-conformist who demonstrates the possibilities of transcending the boundaries of society’s strictures.
The core allure of non-conformist stories is undoubtedly the promise of enlightenment, of finding oneself. Non-conformists, more often than not, are individuals who seem to have achieved self-finding. They are conceptualized as individuals who have ascertained what they want in life and are pursuing it regardless of what the other members of the society think. As Justin Garrison asserts, throughout our lives, we as human beings, seek meaning and purpose. At any point in our lives, we believe that there is a distinct purpose that we set out to fulfill in this world. It is also apparent that more often than not this purpose remains unfulfilled when the time comes to pass away. Hence, before we die, we always strive to understand what it means to be alive, to love and be loved, to be happy and share in the deepest meanings of the actions we perform in life.
Ordinary human beings crave to experience self-realization, to comprehend the reason of their being, to know the reason why they are living. Non-conformists have seemingly achieved these. In a world where aspirations often go unfulfilled, to believe in oneself or a course so much that one can disregard the strictures of the society indicates that non-conformists have found meaning in their lives and what they do. It is the urge to become more, to be the best version of ourselves that attracts us to non-conformist stories.
The story of Chris McCandless in Into the Wild is also a tale of a non-conformist rooted in enlightenment and self-finding. The protagonist was unhappy with the existent American materialism, hunger, waste, and dysfunctional families. His action of setting out to find himself and, in effect, demonstrate that there is an alternative to materialism and capitalism is what inspires the readers to conceptualize McCandless as a hero. Americans may identify themselves with such characters as they serve to affirm their long-held notions that the American Dream, the one they work so hard to achieve, is nothing more than achieving power and material satisfaction. To that end, stories about non-conformist provide the much-needed confirmation that there is enlightenment, which if achieved life acquires new meaning and purpose.
The text Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk is one of the cardinal texts that exhibit the American’s penchant for revolutions and non-conformism. It ascertains that human beings are inherently keen to find out the truth and meaning in their lives. In the Fight Club, the narrator is grappling with the feelings of alienation, powerlessness, and consumer captivity. The struggle forces him to revolt and rebel against the society. Through destroying own life, the narrator seeks to find meaning and purpose in his life. It resonates with the innate feeling of having an authentic foundation that every human being has, tagging at their souls with every passing sense of underachievement and lack of fulfillment.
In a quest to achieve enlightenment, the narrator teams up with a charismatic and visionary individual named Tyler Durden and pioneer the first of the many fight clubs that would spruce up across the country. The fight clubs were not merely establishments to engage in extracurricular activities; they served as communities for the narrator and other young people. These communities were equipped with dogmas, scriptures, value systems, rituals, and devotions. They facilitated the obtaining of truth about existence through acts of violence and destruction. Again, just like in the case of McCandless in Into the Wild, the motives behind their actions are questionable, but they still manage to achieve enlightenment and find self nevertheless. Readers of such texts fall in love with the stories of non-conformists, not for their superficial lessons but the deeper, hidden messages of fulfillment. At the superficial levels such characters may seem self-destructing, foolish even, but if one prods deeper, they will establish that the non-conformists do not view their actions as self-destructing. Instead, they perceive themselves as having reached the pinnacle of self-determination, which is appealing to many readers. As people progressively engage with these texts, they increasingly understand that, sometimes, to achieve the enlightenment one craves, one has to become truly disobedient, and in the process fall deeper and deeper in love with stories of non-conformists.
Hope and Liberation
We also love stories about non-conformists because they inspire hope, selling a promise of liberation and emancipation. Readers look up to non-conformist characters that overcome or attempt to overcome despair, in the process creating meaningful lives for themselves. This is the same basis that Christians appropriate to believe in Jesus Christ. They conceptualize him as Christ the Redeemer. He did not conform to the ways of the society when he was on earth, but instead charted his way, the best way he understood it. In his actions, Christians find a model to emulate in the hope of achieving a similar outcome as that of Jesus Christ, ascending to heaven. The same thought process applies to fictional and non-fictional stories of non-conformists. The non-conformists are models that have achieved liberation and emancipation and inspire others to revolt against negative stereotypes and oppressive authorities to achieve the same.
A typical example of a non-conformist text that inspires hope and liberation is the poem “What’s That Smell in the Kitchen?” by Marge Piercy. Piercy expresses the stereotypical oppression of women, spending most of their time in kitchens preparing food for the men-folk. In the text riddled with feminist overtones, the author expresses her frustrations and anxieties that often accompany the performance of such chores indicating that they are not fulfilled and that someday they will revolt and take their rights back. Such stories of non-conformists encourage others who are in similar situations to take actions and aspire to enjoy more liberties.
Just like in the incidences of enlightenment, the non-conformists stories of liberation may not have a happy ending, but they serve to spur rebellious actions nevertheless. George Orwell’s book 1984 has been used extensively to demonstrate how non-conformist stories can be leveraged to encourage rebellion against totalitarianism. In the text, the main protagonist, Winston Smith, actively rebels against the provisions of the Big Brother, the tyrant. For instance, he consciously maintains a diary, even though it is explicitly prohibited by the state. From these rebellious actions from non-conformists, readers of such texts learn that the individual feeling is the most essential and most desirable reality available to them. Non-conformist actions are, therefore, appropriated by readers to reject absolutist ideologies such as totalitarianism and inspire actions that bestow the enjoyment of liberties.
In conclusion, it is evident that the allure of non-conformism originates from our inherent desires to become unique and distinct persons, the craving to achieve enlightenment and find oneself, and the promise of hope and liberation from the difficulties. Stories such Krakauer’s Into the Wild and Palahniuk’s Fight Club evidence that readers like to read non-conformist stories because they encourage individuals to pursue enlightenment and self-finding. Others such as George Orwell’s 1984 and Piercy’s “What’s That Smell in the Kitchen?” further inspire actions against negative stereotyping and oppressive policies. The confluence of these reasons entices readers to non-conformists and their stories because they, more than any genre, embody the transcending of societal strictures to a world of unlimited possibilities.