Christopher McCandless

Christopher Johnson McCandless (February 12, 1968 – August 1992) was an American hiker who adopted the alias Alexander Supertramp and ventured into the Alaskan wilderness in April 1992 with little food and equipment, hoping to live simply for a time in solitude. Almost four months later, McCandless’s remains were found, weighing only 67 pounds (30 kg). It has recently been speculated that Chris had developed lathyrism, caused by his consumption of seeds from a flowering plant in the legume family which contain the neurotoxin ODAP. McCandless’s resulting paralysis would have caused a gradual inability to move, hunt or forage and this could have led to his death from starvation.

[1] His death occurred in a converted bus used as a backcountry shelter, near Lake Wentitika in Denali National Park and Preserve. In January 1993, Jon Krakauer published McCandless’ story in that month’s issue of Outside magazine. Inspired by the details of McCandless’s story, Krakauer wrote and published Into the Wild in 1996 about McCandless’ travels. The book was adapted into a film by Sean Penn in 2007 with Emile Hirsch portraying McCandless.

That same year, McCandless’s story also became the subject of Ron Lamothe’s documentary The Call of the Wild. A full-length article on McCandless also appeared in the February 8, 1993 issue of the The New Yorker magazine.[2] Earlier years[edit]

Christopher McCandless was born in El Segundo, California, the first of two children to Walter “Walt” McCandless and Wilhelmina “Billie” Johnson. Chris had one younger sister, Carine. In 1976, the family settled in Annandale, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C., after his father was employed as an antenna specialist for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). His mother worked as a secretary at Hughes Aircraft and later assisted her husband with his successful home-based consulting company in Annandale. Walt and Billie often fought and sometimes contemplated divorce.[citation needed] Chris and Carine had six half-siblings living in California from Walt’s first marriage. Walt was not yet divorced from his first wife when Chris and Carine were born; however, Chris did not discover his father’s affair until a summer trip to Southern California[3] in 1986. This discovery caused him to hold a lot of bitterness towards his father, and could have been a factor in his views about society. At school, teachers noticed McCandless was unusually strong-willed.[citation needed][who?] In adolescence he coupled this with intense idealism and physical endurance.

In high school, he served as captain of the cross-country team, urging teammates to treat running as a spiritual exercise in which they were “running against the forces of darkness … all the evil in the world, all the hatred.”[4] On June 2, 1986, McCandless graduated from W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax, Virginia. On June 10, McCandless embarked on one of his first major adventures in which he traveled throughout the country in his Datsun B-210, arriving at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, two days prior to the beginning of fall classes. His upper middle class background and academic success were drivers for his contempt of what he saw as the empty materialism of society. McCandless was strongly influenced by Jack London, Leo Tolstoy, W. H. Davies and Henry David Thoreau. In his junior year, he declined membership in the Phi Beta Kappa Society, on the basis that honors and titles were irrelevant. McCandless graduated from Emory on May 12, 1990, with a Bachelor’s degree, double majoring in history and anthropology. He envisioned separating from organized society for a Thoreauvian period of solitary contemplation. Travels[edit]

In May 1990, Christopher McCandless donated the remaining $24,000, given to him by a family friend for his law degree, to Oxfam International, a hunger prevention charity. Towards the end of June, he began traveling under the name “Alexander” McCandless until later adopting the last name of “Supertramp” (Krakauer notes the connection with Welsh author W. H. Davies and his 1908 autobiography The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp). Most people he encountered regarded him as intelligent and one who loved to read. By the end of the summer, McCandless made his way through Arizona, California and South Dakota, where he worked at a grain elevator in Carthage. He survived a flash flood, but allowed his car to wash out (although it suffered little permanent damage and was later reused by the local police force as an undercover vehicle) and disposed of his license plate.[citation needed] In 1991, McCandless paddled a canoe down remote stretches of the Colorado River to the Gulf of California. He crossed the border to Mexico and, having gotten lost in many dead-end canals, was towed by duckhunters to the sea, where he stayed for some time. He took pride in surviving with a minimum of gear and funds, and generally made little preparation. Alaskan Odyssey[edit]

For years, McCandless dreamed of an “Alaskan Odyssey” wherein he would live off the land of the Alaskan wilderness, far away from civilization, and “find himself”[citation needed]. He kept a journal describing his physical and spiritual progress as he faced the forces of nature. In April 1992, McCandless hitchhiked from Enderlin, North Dakota, to Fairbanks, Alaska. He was last seen alive on April 28, 1992, by Jim Gallien, a local, who gave him a ride from Fairbanks to the head of the Stampede Trail. Gallien was concerned about “Alex”, who had minimal supplies (not even a compass) and no experience surviving in the Alaskan bush. Gallien repeatedly tried to persuade Alex to defer his trip, and even offered to drive him to Anchorage to buy suitable equipment and supplies. However, McCandless ignored Gallien’s warnings, refusing all assistance except for a pair of Wellington rubber boots, two tuna melt sandwiches, and a bag of corn chips. Gallien allowed Chris to wander off with the belief that he would head back towards the highway within a few days as his eventual hunger set in. After hiking along the snow-covered Stampede Trail, McCandless found an abandoned bus (about 40 miles (64 km) west of Healy) used as a hunting shelter and parked on an overgrown section of the trail near Denali National Park, and began to live off the land.

He had 10 pounds (4.5 kg) of rice, a Remington semi-automatic rifle with 400 rounds of .22LR hollowpoint ammunition, several books including one on local plant life, and some camping equipment. He assumed he could forage for plant food and hunt game. For the next thirty days or so, McCandless poached porcupines, squirrels, and birds, such as ptarmigans and Canada geese. On June 9, 1992, he managed to kill a moose; however, he failed to preserve the meat properly, and within days it spoiled and was covered with maggots. His journal contains entries covering a total of 112 days. These entries range from ecstatic to grim with McCandless’ changing fortunes. In July, after living in the bus for three months, he decided to leave, but found the trail back blocked by the Teklanika River, which was then considerably higher and swifter than when he crossed in April. Unknown to McCandless, there was a hand-operated tram that crossed the river only 1?4 of a mile away from where he had previously crossed. In the 2007 documentary The Call of the Wild, evidence is presented that McCandless had a map at his disposal, which should have helped him find another route to safety.[5] McCandless lived in the bus for a total of 113 days. At some point during that time, presumably very near the end, he posted an S.O.S. note calling on anyone passing by to help him because he was injured and too weak. The full note read: “ Attention Possible Visitors. S.O.S. I need your help. I am injured, near death, and too weak to hike out. I am all alone, this is no joke. In the name of God, please remain to save me. I am out collecting berries close by and shall return this evening. Thank you, Chris McCandless. August?[6] ” Death[edit]

On August 12, 1992, McCandless wrote what are apparently his final words in his journal: “Beautiful Blueberries.” He tore the final page from Louis L’Amour’s memoir, Education of a Wandering Man, which contains an excerpt from a Robinson Jeffers poem titled “Wise Men in Their Bad Hours”: Death’s a fierce meadowlark: but to die having madeSomething more equal to centuriesThan muscle and bone, is mostly to shed weakness.The mountains are dead stone, the peopleAdmire or hate their stature, their insolent quietness,The mountains are not softened or troubledAnd a few dead men’s thoughts have the same temper. His body was found in his sleeping bag inside the bus by Butch Killian, a local hunter, on September 6, 1992.[7] McCandless had been dead for more than two weeks and weighed an estimated 30 kilograms (66 lb). His official, undisputed cause of death was starvation. Krakauer suggests two factors may have contributed to McCandless’s death. First, he was running the risk of a phenomenon known as “rabbit starvation” due to increased activity, compared with the leanness of the game he was hunting.[8] Krakauer also speculates that McCandless might have ingested toxic seeds (Hedysarum alpinum or Hedysarum mackenzii) or a mold that grows on them (Rhizoctonia leguminicola produces the toxic alkaloid swainsonine).

However, an article in Men’s Journal stated that extensive laboratory testing showed there was no toxin present in McCandless’s food supplies. Dr. Thomas Clausen, the chair of the chemistry and biochemistry department at UAF said “I tore that plant apart. There were no toxins. No alkaloids. I’d eat it myself.”[9] Analysis of the wild sweet peas, given as the cause of Chris’s death in Sean Penn’s film, turned up no toxic compounds and there is not a single account in modern medical literature of anyone being poisoned by this species of plant.[5] As one journalist put it: “He didn’t find a way out of the bush, couldn’t catch enough food to survive, and simply starved to death.”[9] However, the possibility of death through the consumption of the mold, which grew on the seeds in the damp bags which McCandless stored them in, was considered a suitable explanation by Krakauer.[3] Subsequently the academic Ronald Hamilton made the link between the symptoms described by Chris and the poisoning of Jewish prisoners in the Nazi concentration camp in Vapniarca. He put forward the proposal that Chris McCandless died of lathyrism caused by ODAP poisoning from Hedysarum alpinum seeds which hadn’t been picked up by the previous studies as they were searching for alkaloid instead of toxic protein. The protein would be relatively harmless to a well-fed person on a normal diet, but toxic to someone who was malnourished, physically stressed, and on an irregular and insufficient diet, as McCandless was. Subsequent tests revealed ODAP was indeed present in the seeds. [10][11] Criticism[edit]

McCandless has been a polarizing figure ever since his story first broke following his death, along with Krakauer’s Outside article on him in January 1993. While Krakauer and many readers have a largely sympathetic view of McCandless,[12] others, particularly Alaskans, have expressed negative views about McCandless and those who romanticize his fate.[13] The most charitable view among McCandless’s detractors is that his behavior showed a profound lack of common sense. He chose not to bring a compass, something that most people in the same situation would have considered essential. McCandless was also completely unaware that a hand-operated tram crossed the otherwise impassable river 0.25 miles (0.40 km) from where he attempted to cross. Had McCandless known this, he could easily have saved his own life.[4] There has been some speculation (particularly in details given in the Lamothe documentary) that he vandalised survival cabins and supplies in the area. However, Ken Kehrer, chief ranger for Denali National Park, denied that McCandless was considered a vandalism suspect by the National Park Service.[14] His venture into a wilderness area alone, without adequate planning, experience, preparation, or supplies, without notifying anyone and lacking emergency communication equipment, was contrary to every principle of outdoor survival and, in the eyes of many experienced outdoor enthusiasts, nearly certain to end in misfortune. Alaskan Park Ranger Peter Christian wrote:

When you consider McCandless from my perspective, you quickly see that what he did wasn’t even particularly daring, just stupid, tragic, and inconsiderate. First off, he spent very little time learning how to actually live in the wild. He arrived at the Stampede Trail without even a map of the area. If he [had] had a good map he could have walked out of his predicament [… ] Essentially, Chris McCandless committed suicide.[13] Sherry Simpson, writing in the Anchorage Press, described her trip to the bus with a friend, and their reaction upon reading the comments that tourists had left lauding McCandless as an insightful, Thoreau-like figure: Among my friends and acquaintances, the story of Christopher McCandless makes great after-dinner conversation. Much of the time I agree with the “he had a death wish” camp because I don’t know how else to reconcile what we know of his ordeal. Now and then I venture into the “what a dumb–” territory, tempered by brief alliances with the “he was just another romantic boy on an all-American quest” partisans. Mostly I’m puzzled by the way he’s emerged as a hero.[15] Jon Krakauer defends McCandless, claiming that what critics point to as arrogance was merely McCandless’s desire for “being the first to explore a blank spot on the map.” Krakauer continues that “In 1992, however, there were no more blank spots on the map—not in Alaska, not anywhere. But Chris, with his idiosyncratic logic, came up with an elegant solution to this dilemma: He simply got rid of the map. In his own mind, if nowhere else, the terra would thereby remain incognita.”[16] Others have pointed out that a map of the area (although apparently not including the location of the hand-powered tram) was found among McCandless’s belongings, and refute the accusations that he intentionally discarded this map.[17]

Analyzing Stylistic Choices

Precise writers make linguistic choices to create certain effects. They want to have their readers react in a certain way. Go back through the text and analyze Krakauer’s use of words, sentences, and paragraphs, and take note as to how effective a writer he is.

Analyzing Chapters 8–10


In the first part of Chapter 8, Krakauer quotes Alaskans who had opinions about McCandless and his death.

1. Why does Krakauer cite these letters? How does citing them add to or detract from the text?

2. Choose one of these letters, and respond to it, explaining the degree to which you agree or disagree.


Krakauer inserts himself into the story in Chapter 8.

3. Does this give him more credibility?

4. Do you find this annoying? Why or why not?

Analyzing Chapters 11–13

A few pages into Chapter 13, Krakauer describes McCandless’s sister’s behavior when she was told about her brother’s death.

5. Why does he use the word “keening” instead of crying?

6. What are the denotations and connotations of this word? What is its history?


Reread aloud the next-to-last paragraph in Chapter 13, where Krakauer powerfully describes Billie’s grief.

7. Rephrase the paragraph and simplify it in your own words.

8. What makes Krakauer’s description (quoted below) powerful? “It is all she can do to force herself to examine the fuzzy snapshots. As she studies the pictures, she breaks down from time to time, weeping as only a mother who has outlived a child can weep, betraying a sense of loss so huge and irreparable that the mind balks at taking its measure.

“Such bereavement, witnessed at close range, makes even the most eloquent apologies for high-risk activities ring fatuous and hollow.”

Analyzing Chapters 14 and 15


Krakauer uses technical vocabulary related to mountain climbing in these two chapters. Investigate the meaning technical words you don’t know. What is the effect of these words on the reader?

Summarizing and Responding

Chapters 1-7 describe McCandless’s journey and death. Chapters 8-15 try to
put McCandless’s life in a larger context by comparing him to other people: other wanderers, his family, and the author of the book. Look over your notes and annotations and answer the following questions. Write your answers in your notebook:

1. How does McCandless compare with the other wanderers Krakauer describes? In what ways is McCandless similar? In what ways is he different? Do we understand McCandless better after making these comparisons?

2. Krakauer and others have speculated that McCandless was estranged from his family because of his relationship with his father. What was his family life like? Does it explain his later behavior?

3. Krakauer clearly feels a strong connection to McCandless. Do you think they were very similar? Why or why not? In what ways is this book as much about Krakauer as it is about McCandless?

4. Taking your notes and your answers to the above questions into account, write a short paragraph answering the following question: Who was Chris McCandless?

Thinking Critically

Rhetorical appeals are the accepted ways in which we persuade or argue a case. The following questions will move you through more traditional rhetorical appeals. By focusing on appeals to the writer, to emotion, and to logic, you will be able to discover how Krakauer has persuaded us and how you can use these techniques to persuade others when you write or speak.

Questions about Logic (Logos)

1. Krakauer summarizes the response to his article by saying, “The prevailing Alaska wisdom held that McCandless was simply one more dreamy half-cocked greenhorn who went into the country expecting to find answers to all his problems and instead found only mosquitos and a lonely death” (72). Has Krakauer made the case that the prevailing Alaska wisdom is wrong? Why or why not?

2. At the end of Chapter 9, Krakauer describes Irish monks known as the papar who sought out lonely places so much that they left Iceland for Greenland when some Norwegians showed up because they thought that it had become too crowded, even though the land was nearly uninhabited. Krakauer writes, “Reading of these monks, one cannot help thinking of Everett Reuss and Chris McCandless” (97). Krakauer implies that there is some kind of similarity between Reuss, McCandless, and the papar, but instead of making a specific connection, he just says “one cannot help thinking of.” Is this a good argument? Why or why not?

3. Krakauer argues in Chapter 14 that McCandless’s death was unplanned and was a terrible accident (134). Does the book so far support that position? Do you agree with Krakauer? Why or why not?

4. Look for other claims that Krakauer makes that might be weak or unsupported. What are they?

Questions about the Writer (Ethos)

5. Chapters 14 and 15 describe Krakauer’s successful attempt when he was 23 years old to climb the “Devil’s Thumb,” a mountain in Alaska. He also describes what he thinks are parallels between McCandless and himself. Do these chapters increase his credibility for writing this book, or do they undermine his credibility by making it seem like he has his own agenda and is not objective?

Questions about Emotions (Pathos)

6. Chapters 11-13 are about McCandless’s relationships with his family. Do any of these descriptions cause an emotional reaction in the reader? If so, what is it about the descriptions that causes this connection? Is it the words? Is it that we identify with the family situations? Do these effects make the book more powerful? Explain your answer.

7. Chapters 14-15 describe the author’s actions and his emotional and psychological state as he climbs the mountain. For example, when he accidentally burns a big hole in his tent, which actually belongs to his father, he is more worried about his father’s reaction than the cold. What are some other details that have an emotional impact on the readers? How do these affect you as the reader?

Reading (Chapters 16-18, Plus Epilogue)

Reading for Understanding: First Reading

As you read this section of the text, keep your notes, questions, and observations in your Into the Wild notebook. Continue to keep track of the literary quotations that Krakauer uses in his epigraphs. Because you are studying McCandless’s personality to discover why he made the decisions he did, continue to keep a log of McCandless’s personality traits.

Reading Chapters 16–18: Into the Alaskan Wild

1. After a long detour, Krakauer brings us back to the scene of McCandless’s death. What does Krakauer discuss in these chapters that he did not discuss in the previous chapters? Why did he delay presenting this information?

2. Krakauer provides a lot of quotations from McCandless’s journal in these chapters. What is McCandless talking about? Why did Krakauer include these selections?

3. Krakauer quotes one of McCandless’s friends, who said that McCandless “was born into the wrong century. He was looking for more adventure and freedom than today’s society gives people” (174). Do you think this is true?

Reading the Epilogue: Grief

4. What was your initial sense of McCandless’s mental condition compared to what you think now? Have you changed your mind?

5. What was your reaction to his parents as they visited the bus?

Considering the Structure of the Text

Mapping out the organizational structure of the text helps us to understand the content itself.

Outlining Chapters 16–18

1. In Chapter 16, Krakauer gives a summary of the last few months of McCandless’s life. Do you think Krakauer admires McCandless or not? Cite your evidence.

2. In Chapter 17, Krakauer does not arrive at the bus until after about four pages. In those first pages, he gives us the details of the equipment he carries, the flow of the river, and the others with him. Is this necessary? What does it add? What does it detract?

3. Krakauer says that McCandless had a kind of “idiosyncratic logic.” Explain Krakauer’s meaning and the extent to which you agree or disagree with him.

Outlining the Epilogue

This part of the book is very short.

4. What is the effect of having an epilogue that focuses entirely on the parents’ return to the bus? Does it provide closure?

Annotating and Questioning the Text

Our first reading of a book gives us the story line, the major conflicts, and a sense of what the author intends. The second (or third) reading provides richer analyses and a deeper understanding of the text.

In the author’s notes, Krakauer provides a guide to our reading—especially to our subsequent reading of Into the Wild.

In the “Author’s Note” at the beginning of the book, Krakauer introduces the complexity of Chris McCandless. His words imply the following four questions, which we have been considering throughout the book:

1. Should we admire McCandless for his courage and noble ideas?

2. Was he a reckless idiot?

3. Was he crazy?

4. Was he an arrogant and stupid narcissist?

Make marginal notes as you reread the text. When you respond to the chapter questions, cite the text, if necessary, where you find evidence for your judgments. At this point in your reading, have your answers to these questions changed in any way?

Annotating Chapters 16–18

5. List the various miscalculations and mistakes McCandless made.

6. Toward the end of Chapter 16, Krakauer tells us that McCandless read Walden. You may want to take a look at Thoreau’s text and figure out what Chris found most interesting in Thoreau’s discussion of food.

7. Have you ever fasted? Do you know anyone who has? Do some research on fasting and report to the class what you find or write a short report.

Annotating the Epilogue

The traditional definition of an epilogue is that it is a concluding part of a literary work.

8. Is Into the Wild a “literary work”? Why or why not?

9. Is the last paragraph of the book an effective ending to the book? Why or why not?

Analyzing Stylistic Choices

Analyzing Stylistic Choices helps you see the linguistic and rhetorical choices writers make to inform or convince readers.

Precise writers make linguistic choices to create certain effects because they want their readers to react in a certain way. Go back through the text, and analyze Krakauer’s use of words, sentences, and paragraphs. Then decide how effective his writing is.

Analyzing Chapters 16–18


Read aloud the last paragraph in Chapter 18.

1. How does Krakauer know that McCandless “was at peace, serene as a monk gone to God”? Explain.

2. Does Krakauer have the right to infer from the photograph that McCandless had the serenity of a monk?

3. What is an alternative interpretation of the photograph?

Analyzing the Epilogue

Read aloud the last paragraph of the book.

4. Is the language literary? Why or why not? What is its effect on you?

Thinking Critically

Rhetorical appeals are the accepted ways in which we persuade or argue a case. The following questions will consider the traditional rhetorical appeals. By focusing on the appeal to logic, to the writer, and to emotion, you will understand further how Krakauer has persuaded us and how you can use these techniques to persuade others when you write or speak.

Questions about Logic (Logos)

1. In Chapter 16, Krakauer says that McCandless “seemed to have moved beyond his need to assert so adamantly his autonomy, his need to separate himself from his parents. Maybe he was prepared to forgive their imperfections; maybe he was even prepared to forgive some of his own. McCandless seemed ready, perhaps, to go home.” Do you agree with Krakauer’s assessment?

2. Look at McCandless’s response to several passages in Tolstoy’s “Family Happiness” toward the end of Chapter 16:

He was right in saying that the only certain happiness in life is to live for others . . . I have lived through much, and now

I think I have found what is needed for happiness. A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one’s neighbor—such is my idea of happiness. And then, on top of all that, you for a mate, and children, perhaps—what more can the heart of a man desire. (169)

Does this indicate a change in McCandless? Was he ready to “go home”?

3. Krakauer says that in his original article, he “reported with great certainty that H. mackenzii, the wild sweet pea, killed the boy” (192). He now feels he was wrong. What evidence does he have for his new position?

4. Does Krakauer prove his hypothesis that McCandless’s death was an unplanned accident?

Questions about the Writer (Ethos)

5. What is your impression of Krakauer as a person and a writer at this point? What are some of the details that give you this impression?

Questions about Emotions (Pathos)

6. Does this piece affect you emotionally? Which parts?

Summarizing and Responding

In Chapter 18, Krakauer reports that some cabins stocked with food and emergency gear were located about three hours upstream from the bus where McCandless died. However, after McCandless had been found dead, a wildlife biologist in the area discovered that the cabins had been vandalized. He said,

I’m a bear technician, so I know what bear damage looks like. This looked like somebody had gone at the cabins with a claw hammer and bashed everything in sight. From the size of the fireweed growing up through mattresses that had been tossed outside, it was clear that the vandalism had occurred many weeks earlier. (196)

Some people blamed McCandless, saying that he was angry that civilization had intruded into his wilderness. Others said that there was no evidence that McCandless had even walked that way. Considering everything you know about McCandless—his journey, his character, his ideas—do you think that he was capable of trashing these cabins? After reading this book, do you know McCandless well enough to know whether or not he would do this? Write a paragraph in your notebook about your thoughts.

Reflecting on Your Reading Process

1. There is still so much unknown about Chris McCandless and his journey. What do you want to learn next?

2. What reading strategies did you use or learn in this module? Which strategies will you use in reading other texts? How will these strategies apply in other classes?

3. In what ways has your ability to read and discuss texts like this one improved?

Into The Wild

Have you ever considered giving your life savings of $24,000 to charity and disappearing into the wild with barely any supplies? What about burning, literally burning, all the cash you had? Chris McCandless did things most people wouldn’t even think of doing. Money simply had no value to him. Chris admits this when he says “I don’t want your money and I already have a watch” to Gallien who was giving him a ride to the forest, where his goal was to live off the land.

Chris does in fact understand that others value money. Why else would he give money to charity? McCandless knew that they needed it and would be very grateful. He also offered Gallien to pay for the drive to the forest when he says “How much do I owe you?” Chris McCandless didn’t like receiving help, but when he did, it was only from a select group of people. He didn’t accept help from his parents when we they tried to buy him a new car or pay for his law school because, “they will think they have bought [his] respect.

But he accepted help from Wayne when he writes him a postcard thanking Wayne for his generosity and thanking Kevin for the clothes that stopped him from freezing to death. Chris’s views on money and help are that he simply sees no value in them. Chris also believed that, “All true meaning resides in the personal relationships to a phenomenon.” He expresses this opinion when he says “No phone, no pool. No pets, no cigarettes. Ultimate Freedom.” But how does having no phone, pool, pets, or cigarettes have anything to do with one’s freedom? I think the point Chris was trying to make was the fact that there is nothing to hold you back. It’s not about the object, it’s about what you do with it, or what it does to you. When you have no phone, you don’t have the constant need to be on the phone that comes along with the item.

If you have a pet, you don’t have the constant needs of the other living being to uphold and satisfy. If you don’t have cigarettes, you don’t have the nicotine addiction to satisfy. That’s what Chris means by ultimate freedom, freedom from the addictions that the mainstream objects provide. Chris McCandless also had a problem with mainstream America and going along with the trends. I think it’s safe to say that he wasn’t mainstream both because he burnt all his money and he walked around refusing to wear socks. That’s not something we see people doing every day; his co-worker George at McDonalds said “He always wore shoes without socks- just plain couldn’t stand to wear socks.” Chris also liked to express his love with nature. His other co-worker Lori said “I don’t think he ever hung out with any of the employees after work or anything.

When he talked, he was always going on about trees and nature and weird stuff like that. We all thought he was missing a few screws.” Chris didn’t live the life a ‘normal’ person would’ve. But then again, what is normal? Maybe we’re the crazy ones. Chris McCandless also had a problem with authority. He hated his parents and the government very much. Chris wanted his parents out of his life, he shows this by saying “I’m going to divorce them as my parents once and for all and never speak to either of those idiots again as long as I live.” I think Chris didn’t like having a figure of authority in his life because he loved the idea of freedom. Chris traveled all over the world with that freedom.

In my own life, I have realized how easily I take things for granted. Not things like money or food or all the wonderful things my parents provide me; but I take the beauty of nature for granted, I take for granted how easily things are given to me and I don’t really know the feeling of really having to work towards something I want. I also don’t have the ability to say I have a burning passion for something and have spent my life resenting it like Chris did with the government or his family; but I can’t really say I’m upset about that either. But I think everyone in our society should live a little like Chris, live off the land, go backpacking to Alaska, and have nothing so you can see the true value in everything we do have. Then we’ll be just as wise as Chris and feel as free as he did, and maybe someday our life will be interesting enough to be written about too.

“How to Tell a True War Story,” by Tim O’Brien

In the essay, “How to Tell a True War Story,” Tim O’Brien tells several stories of war to illustrate to his readers the criteria for truth in storytelling. O’Brien offers his readers a guide to telling and determining war stories that are true, for the author, true does not necessarily mean actual or real. Instead, O’Brien tells us what a true war story is, but his requirements are not always clear precise—a true war story “never seems to end,” (O’Brien 273) “embarrasses you,” (270) “are contradictory,” (275) and have an “uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil” (270)—they are defined and given context by the author through the telling of his own accounts.

The essayist Jon Krakauer offers up his own version of a war story, of sorts, in his telling of the story of Chris McCandless, a young man not participating in a war of nations, or a conflict with others; he, in his own words, was involved in “the climactic battle to kill the false being within and victoriously conclude the spiritual pilgrimage” (Krakauer 207).

The battlefield for McCandless was not a booby-trapped jungle, saturated with enemies and soldiers for the opposition; no, McCandless’s battlefield was the Alaskan frontier. Like a soldier going to war, McCandless knew that where he was going was dangerous. Krakauer remarks that “he was fully aware when he entered the bush that he had given himself aperilously (emphasis added) slim margin for error. He knew precisely what was at stake” (Krakauer 219). One can draw many parallels between the essays, or war stories, of Krakauer and O’Brien; they are both provocative, and both use descriptive language and paint vivid pictures in the minds of their reader, they both write of young men in the midst of a conflict—emotional or physical—but the stories differ as well. O’Brien presents his ideas of what makes a true war story; based on these ideas, we can determine that the war story told by Krakauer is not a true war story because it is committed to morality.

There are no lessons in true war stories (O’Brien 269); Krakauer offered a lesson in youth and growth in his story about Christopher McCandless. O’Brien and Krakauer are similar in that they both place importance on relaying to the reader the fact that youth and war go hand in hand. It is mainly the young who serve on the frontlines in battle and who are willing to accept the risks associated with war, and it is also the young who become victims of their own inexperience and succumb to the perils war—being involved in war does not equate to readiness for war. For instance, O’Brien tells a true war story of two young men, soldiers in the Vietnam; he writes, “They were kids; they just didn’t know. A nature hike, they thought, not even a war … they were giggling and calling each other yellow mother and playing a silly game they invented” (O’Brien 270). Here, O’Brien sets up his readers with words reminiscent of childhood, the soldiers could have just as well been two kids at summer camp or in a school yard, or any place where kids play, laugh, and call each other names.

O’Brien then takes that childhood scene and infuses it with the brutality of war. He describes how one of the young soldiers who, while playing and laughing, detonated a landmine and was killed. True war stories show the gruesomeness of war—kids die horrific deaths, and life is lost in the blink of an eye. War forces “kids” to grow up quickly, and not on their own terms. Goofing, giggling, and silliness have no place in war; death is a consequence of playfulness, and youth must quickly give way to maturity. In a true war story, a young man may never have the opportunity to figure out life for himself, war does not afford him the opportunity to come to appropriate conclusions about what is right, wrong, moral, or immoral; he will either die, or he will be so exposed to the death of his friends that his moral compass will be disrupted, and he will engage unconscionable behavior. Krakauer presents a similar of theme of youth in the face of danger.

Like O’Brien, Krakauer uses words that construct a rich mental image for the reader; in this case, the image is that of an overly eager child. Krakauer writes, “The boy could hardly contain his excitement. He was about to be alone in the vast Alaska wilds” (Krakauer 206). Krakauer refers to his subject, Chris McCandless, as “the boy,” conveying the inexperience and ineptitude and childlike enthusiasm of McCandless who, because of his bubbling excitement, sounds more like a kid in a candy store or a child on Christmas morning, than he does a like man about to confront the isolation and bitter cold of the wilderness. Later on, that excitement would turn to desperation and eventually death—like the soldier in O’Brien’s story, the boy meets an early end to his life. In spite of this similarity, Krakauer does not tell a true war story. For some young warriors, adulthood is thrust upon them, maturity it is meted out with no opportunity for choice or deliberation; there is no rite of passage.

This is not so for McCandless; Krakauer recognizes growth and maturity arising in McCandless, noting that he made the decision to postpone the river crossing “after weighing his options,” then “settl[ing] on the most prudent course” (Krakauer 212). Learning to tame impetuousness allows one to make moral choices, choices that show respect for oneself and one’s surroundings. This type of learning happens with contemplation, introspection, and time. It is not a true war story; not because Krakauer authored a majestic death for McCandless, but because it seemed McCandless lost his war, and it appeared that the battle was too much for him in the end; because Krakauer wrote of a young man who was able to mature during his war, and was able to learn lessons of humility, morality, and caution during his time alone in the Alaska wilds.

Imagery in a war stories can be graphic, but in a true war story there is no redemptive value in the gratuitousness of violent acts. O’Brien writes about Rat Riley’s who after witnessing the death of his best friend, encounters a baby buffalo in an abandoned village, “He opened up a can of C rations, pork and beans, but the baby buffalo wasn’t interested. Rat shrugged. He stepped back and shot it through the right front knee. It went down hard, then got up again, and Rat took careful aim and shot off an ear. He shot it in the hind quarters and in the little hump at its back. He shot it twice in the flanks. It wasn’t to kill; it was to hurt. He put the rifle muzzle up against the mouth and shot the mouth away…. There wasn’t a great deal of pity of the baby water buffalo” (O’Brien 274).” O’Brien uses the graphic details to give his reader a glimpse into the mind of soldier who has lost his innocence, one who has lost empathy because of the grotesque things he has witnessed.

The killing of the baby buffalo was not only a response to the pain (or numbness) felt by Rat, but was also a response to rejection. War makes people to terrible things, things that they may not do otherwise. In a true war story, there is little or no remorse for the terrible act. For a soldier, terrible acts and normal acts may become indistinguishable after a while. Death, killing, and suffering is an expectation in war, in a true war story, virtue does not exist; therefore, remorse and empathy cannot exist either. O’Brien clearly illustrates this idea, when writing about the buffalo. Krakauer also uses graphic imagery to show the grisly reality of war. Krakauer tells a story about a moose shot by McCandless, “He butchered the carcass under a thick cloud of flies and mosquitoes, boiled the organs into a stew, and then laboriously excavated a burrow in the face of the rocky stream bank directly below the bus, in which he tried to cure, by smoking, the immense slabs of purple flesh (Krakauer 209).”

The shock and gore of cutting up a dead animal with insects biting and flying about could lend itself well to a true war story, but here, it does not. What differentiates this story from O’Brien’s is that Krakauer writes that McCandless felt “remorse soon after he shot the moose” (Krakauer 209). Because of this remorse, this is not a true war story. If this were a true war story as identified by O’Brien, there would be no sympathy for the animal, no moral outrage by the killer that every part of the animal could not be used. A true war story would not show the level of respect for life, for human and animal value; a true war story disregards life. O’Brien writes that when the buffalo torture was over, it was simply thrown in a well with no regard for the animal, an act that not only punished the animal, but demonstrated a lack of respect for human life as the drinking water from that well would be contaminated. Conversely, Krakauer emphasizes the great measures McCandless took to preserve the moose meat, and the moral dilemma McCandless faced because he was not successful.

O’Brien leaves little room for a story that has any moral significance to be considered a true war story. The author contends that “If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever” (O’Brien 269). War, for O’Brien, is inherently devoid of morality; so any action occurring as a part of war is fruit from a poisonous tree—it is tainted and cannot be separated to be made clean, or right. True war stories acknowledge this. To say that there can be moral action as two sides are determined to kill more of them while they are trying to kill more of you, is an absurdity. The fighting and conflict, the struggle to maintain one’s humanity in the face of death and dying is challenging to say the least. Four times within “How to Tell a True War Story” O’Brien tells the story of Curt Lemon being killed by a landmine.

Each time the story is told, there is a new variant, or one taken away; his changes in language, words, and details range from revolting to beautiful. Certain things change, but the story stays the same—there is death and loss everywhere. That is the story, the true war story. No matter how it is told, Lemon dies and Riley will never laugh with him again. Contrast this with Krakauer who writes Into the Wild after having already written a magazine article on Chris McCandless. Krakauers “Selections from into the Wild” could not be considered a true war story in the way that O’Brien defines it, because the selection itself is an act of morality. The magazine article Krakauer wrote prior to his writing of the essay can arguably be considered a true war story as it portrays an ill-prepared young man who is done in by his own arrogance. Many who read the article lacked sympathy for the fallen, and instead ridiculed him. People love stories of heroes, but they love stories of failures just as well, as long as the failure is some arrogant jerk getting his just deserts.

Krakauer could have left the story there, but he did not, he chose to look deeper to get to the truth, to get to the “absolute occurrence” (O’Brien 277) that O’Brien warns is irrelevant in a true war story. Krakauer wanted to experience what the subject of his story experienced, and make right the wrong he had done with his article—he wants to do the morally responsible thing. Krakauer writes of his journey to set out on the path blazed by McCandless, “I, too, hope to cross the river. I want to visit the bus. I want to see where McCandless died, to better understand why” (Krakauer 213).

Crossing the river—a metaphor used by O’Brien as well—meant facing the unknown in order to learn more and continuing the search for whatever was lost or missing. In some war stories details are important. They can change they the story altogether. They can change an incompetent, arrogant, boy into a disciplined young man who was willing to take up a dangerous challenge just to prove to himself that he could, even if he did not. Krakauer used the essay as tool to change perceptions to ones based on truth; in changing the details he changed the story.

Not all war stories are true, in “How to Tell a True War Story,” Tim O’Brien lays out the elements needed in a war story to be considered true. Jon Krakauer tells a war story, but it is not a true war story by O’Brien’s standards. Morality is the dividing line between Krakauer telling a war story, a true war story.

Chris McCandless and Emerson’s work “Self-Reliance”

In 1841 Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote his famous essay “Self-Reliance”. This stated his belief in the importance of being self-reliant and outlined the steps necessary to become independent. Over 250 years later Chris McCandless entered the Alaskan wilderness embodying most of the principles that Emerson highlights. Indeed, Chris is almost a perfect example of Emerson’s self-reliant being. Most importantly, he is not afraid to take risks and he follows his soul. The one area where he partially lacks Emersonian principles is in speaking his mind.

As early as high school Chris strived for independence. In the summer after his senior year of high school he packed up his car and headed out alone on an expedition around America. His parents told him to call every day but after a while he stopped calling. Chris also supported the charities of his liking. As a high school student he fought for his causes such as stopping hunger and would often go into the city and work for a soup kitchen.

Moreover, after college he withdrew the rest of the money that he had in his education fund and donated it to OXFAM America, a charity devoted to ending hunger in America, “More than twenty thousand dollars remained at the tie of Chris’s graduation… he would shortly donate all the money… to OXFAM America”(Krakauer 20).

The one way he did not display Emersonian qualities is in his teens and early twenties is that he did not speak his mind on an important issue. After finding out that his father had an affair with another woman, Chris just brooded about it rather than confronting his dad and discussing it. His hatred for his father grew to the point he finally cannot handle it anymore so he started his post-college journey. While traveling he does speak his mind to most people that he meets along the way.

One of the central philosophies of “Self-Reliance” is not to be afraid to be take risks and to listen to your soul. Throughout his life, Chris McCandless was never scared of challenges. One of the first major risks Chris took was when he tried to reach the Gulf of Mexico on a canoe down the Colorado River. After getting lost and ending up on the Baja Peninsula, Chris got a ride from a few Mexicans to the ocean. He then spent a month without coming in contact with another human, “He had not seen or talked to another soul in 36 days. For that entire period he subsisted on five pounds of rice and what marine life he could pull from the sea…” (Krakuer, 36). Chris stopped his journey midway through and walked back to the United States because he realized that he was in danger of dying if he continued.

The whole adventure was perilous but he did it because he was following his soul. The biggest risk Chris took was hiking into the Alaskan wilderness alone, in order to live there for few months. Despite the inherent danger that comes along with being by oneself in a remote setting Chris still followed his soul and did what he wanted. In the process he demonstrated a couple of Emerson’s other philosophies: not to depend on technology and keep only what you earn. He went into the wilderness with a backpack filled only with supplies that he had earned through his own hard work, “His gear seemed exceedingly minimal for the harsh conditions of [Alaska]… He had no ax, no bug dope, no snowshoes, no compass” (Krakauer, 5). Similarly, after college Chris did not accept an offer of a new car from his dad because he felt that did not earn it.

Indeed, Chris McCandless was truly self-reliant. If Emerson were alive today he would recognize Chris as a model of self-reliance. Tragically, Chris had some bad luck and ended up dying. Still, there is much to admire about the way he lived.

Walt McCandless from Into the Wild

Although, Chris’s father Walt McCandless and Ronald Franz spent a lot of time with him, both offered him different level of support. Walt McCandless was stubborn and controlling parent. The relationship between him and Chris was complicated. Walt was a hard worker and self-made man. Chris was raised in the comfortable middle class family. So, he could get anything he wanted, but not happiness. Chris wasn’t happy with the fact that Walt was living double-life (121). Discovering that, Chris did not confront his anger to his father, but, he chose to make a secret of his dark knowledge and express his rage by divorcing them as his parents (Jon 64).

From of the book, the author emphasis on that relationship as the primary reason, for why the beginning Chris motivated to enter “into the wild”.

While his relationship with Ronald Jon was strong and Franz got very attached to Chris (p.52). When he met Chris, he started thinking about him as his son.

He was 80 years old when his and Christopher McCandless’s paths crossed. McCandless made indelible impressions on the people he met, but he affected Franz more than anyone else, so much so that the old man with no surviving next of kin wanted to adopt Chris as his grandson (55). When Chris left as suddenly as he arrived, Franz found himself deeply and unexpected hurt (56).

This expresses the strong bond he has with Chris. When he heard from a hitchhiker that McCandless had died, he and his faith were shattered. Franz was so deeply hurt that he withdrew his church membership and resumes drinking (p. 60).

Chris Mccandless Character Analysis

One may say that Chris McCandless was an arrogant fool considering the decisions he made throughout his short life. Others may say he was an incredible inspiration and should be honored beyond his death for his choices. McCandless may have made some questionable choices within his journey, yet he was nothing less of an inspiration to those who feel that they have not ‘found themselves’ and deserves respect for the impact he has made. Although he is respectable, he also had ample flaws that may have led him to his tragic ending.

Instead of being seen as narcissistic and arrogant, McCandless could be seen as an idealist.

He believed that reality was past the everyday life that he was living, and he could find reality within a transcendent phenomenon. Although he was told multiple times not to go through with the lone journey to Alaska, McCandless stuck to his decision and did not take into account the advice he was given by many.

Unlike most, McCandless was not influenced by the people in his life. He strived on his own idea of life rather than what is taught and learned throughout society. The indifference McCandless felt in his everyday life was what led him to pursue his inspirable journey that was scrutinized by Krakauer and others.

Even as a youth, McCandless showed signs of being an idealist. Walt McCandless, Chris’s father, took Chris on a backpacking trip every year. One year Walt took Chris and his youngest son to climb Longs Peak in Colorado. When they reached an elevation of 13,000 feet, Walt decided it was time to turn around. “Chris wanted to keep going,” Walt recalled. “He was only twelve then… If he’d been fourteen or fifteen, he would have simply gone on without me (Krakauer page 109). ” This ambition Chris displayed to climb the mountain even when he was young showed his different outlook from most younger children to the more challenging aspects of life.

This must have been a point of realization for Chris. His journey had been in the making even from such a young age. Gaylord Stuckey claimed “It was something he’d wanted to do since he was little (Krakauer page 159). ” These idealist-like ambitions had reflected on the choices Chris made as an adult. Chris McCandless had refused to just fit in with those around him. Instead of listening to what others had for an opinion on his choices, he did what he wanted to do. Even when McCandless was offered luxuries such as food or a place to live, he would only stick around for a very short period of time, then be on his way.

McCandless’s father even noticed the strive for difference in his son. “He didn’t think the odds applied to him. We were always trying to pull him back from the edge,” said Walt McCandless. The way Chris refused to blend in with society even with the pressure surrounding him to fit in was a respectable quality in his personality. Many of those who connected with Chris on his trip also saw him as a respectable man. Even though he had refused their offerings and left quickly without much communication, they never saw him as arrogant or prude. Even though McCandless had been incredibly respectable, he also had weaknesses, or flaws.

One of these flaws was over-confidence. Before his trip to Alaska, Chris donated $25,000 to charity, ditched his vehicle and most of his possessions, and burned the rest of his cash. By doing this, McCandless demonstrated his idealist quality. Instead of thinking of reality, he made impulsive decisions to satisfy his spiritual self. McCandless also did not prepare for his trip as he should have. He went without bringing a map and brought very little amounts of food with him. By refusing to bring a map, he made it a very difficult trip back for himself that may have cost him his life.

He had been offered supplies by multiple people he had met on his way, but refused most of them. McCandless relied too greatly on himself and nature for a trip that needed well thought out planning and devising. For enduring what many could not imagine, pursuing his childhood intents, and refusing to fit in with society, Chris McCandless was nothing less than respectable. Even with his flaws that led him to his death, he stayed true to himself and didn’t give up. All in all, Chris McCandless deserves recognition and respect for his enthusiasm and inspirable story.

Chris Mccandless

People travel into the wild prepared to face the worst; they do not want to encounter a deadly situation. The man in Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” went into the cold prepared for nothing, he felt that he was above nature and it could not affect him. Chris McCandless in Jon Krakauer’s “Into The Wild” went into the wild unprepared for the conditions he was about to face. As a person who read the writings of Jack London, his death seems somewhat ironic.

“To Build a Fire” by Jack London brings out the irony even more, we see how London wrote and how it relates to how Chris died.

Chris McCandless is a person who did not believe in rules of society. He believed that he was above rules. He even felt he could defeat nature; he went into the wild expecting to come out alive while he lived on what nature gave him. “Alaska has long been a magnet for dreamers and misfits, people who think the unsullied enormity of the Last Frontier will patch all the holes in their lives” (Krakauer, 6).

This is exactly what Chris was trying to do when he went into the Alaskan wilderness. He wanted to escape the rules and suffering he faced in society.

Jim Gallien recalled, “He wasn’t carrying anywhere near as much food and gear as you’d expect a guy to be carrying for that kind of trip” (Krakauer, 5). The man in “To Build a Fire” went to go meet his friends in the cold with nothing to protect him or keep him warm except the clothes on his back, and a dog that accompanied him. Chris and the man both went into the wilderness underprepared for the challenges they would face. Chris read Jack London throughout his life, he knew about his stories and this is how he learned about the beauty of the Alaskan wilderness, but as he read he should have also learned of the dangers.

Even though he read these stories by Jack London he still went into the wild unprepared. Chris McCandless spent most of his life in a warm climate. He was born in California, grew up in Virginia, and went to college in Georgia. Chris has never experienced anything relatively close to the Alaskan climate. Through reading stories about people experiencing the Alaskan wilderness Chris should have learned about the dangers that people faced in the cold temperature. The man was not scared of the cold at all, he felt as if he was above it and ended up dying.

This shows the dangers of undermining the climate of the north and Chris did the same. He tried to live off of the land that was barren. The man was not concerned with “the absence of sun from the sky, the tremendous cold, and the strangeness and weirdness of it all—made no impression on the man” (London). The man in “To Build a Fire” was a representation of rational thinking, and how people in society believe mankind is more powerful than the world. This thinking was evident in Chris’s life.

He felt that he was above the laws of the government. He did what he wanted, “On December 2, he reached the Morelos Dam and the Mexican border. Worried that he would be denied entry because he was carrying no identification, he sneaked into Mexico by paddling through the dam’s open floodgates and shooting the spillway below” (Krakauer, 25). There are resemblances between the qualities of the man and Chris McCandless. Chris’s death was not ironic but the reason he died was ironic.

To Build a Fire” is a story about a man who is a very rational thinker who died because he felt he was better than nature and it could not kill him, the dog he traveled with lived because it relied on instincts. Chris went into the wild with a mindset similar to this man’s mindset. This is what brought out the irony of Chris’s death, he was an avid reader of Jack London and by reading his stories he should have been able to conclude that in order to survive in this climate he needed to be more prepared for difficult situations than he was.

Sparknotes Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

This chapter introduces one of the primary motifs of Into the Wild, that of documents. Because the book’s subject, Christopher McCandless, has died before author Jon Krakauer can meet him, Krakauer must rely on the testimony of the people McCandless encountered in order to stitch together the story of the young man’s journey — and especially on the documents McCandless left behind. The first of these documents is McCandless’s S.O.S. note. Others will include his journals, the notes he made in the books he read, graffiti he scratched into various surfaces, and photos he took of himself.

To these Krakauer will add maps of the places McCandless visited, relevant quotations from a wide variety of authors, and even a brief memoir of the author’s own young manhood, inserted near the end of Into the Wild. All of these enrich our understanding of McCandless and help us to believe that the amazing story we read in Into the Wild really happened.

The fact that someone as articulate and effective at communicating as McCandless died alone, having written a kind of letter (the S.O.S. note) that went unread until it was too late, is an example of irony. Also ironic: McCandless, who encountered no one during the four months between his entrance into the bush and his death there of starvation, is discovered not by one fellow trekker but by five — all within days of McCandless’s death.

Chapter 3

This chapter begins to explore the character of Christopher McCandless in depth. Far from being a stereotypical slacker, he was hard-working, according to Wayne Westerberg. The fact that he had read the long and difficult War and Peace indicates that McCandless was intelligent and studious. (Indeed, we learn as well in this chapter that he was a success at selective Emory University.)

Most indicative of all with respect to McCandless’s character are the things he renounced: $24,000 and his very name. In doing so, he seems to have been rejecting his family and what he saw as their materialistic values. This information doesn’t fully explain why Christopher McCandless would forge alone into the Alaskan wilderness, but it begins to address the motivation for this bizarre act.

The fact that McCandless never told his parents what he planned to do could indicate a lack of resolve on his part, or even cowardice. It also shows that the young man thoughtful enough to present Wayne Westerberg with an inscribed copy of one of his favorite books was callous enough regarding his parents’ feelings to leave them in the dark regarding their son’s whereabouts.

Considering that he eventually would die of starvation, McCandless’s gift of $24,000 to OXFAM, an organization dedicated to fighting hunger, is an example of irony.

Chapter 4

This chapter unearths additional motivation for McCandless’s irrational Alaska trek to come. During his time in Mexico, he lived on nothing more than “five pounds of rice and what marine life he could pull from the sea,” and Krakauer points out that this may have accounted for the young man’s belief that he could live off the land in the Alaskan wilderness. (Undeniably, McCandless proves himself remarkably capable in this chapter, canoeing through hundreds of miles of hostile landscape and even crossing an international border undetected.)

And yet other questions remain unanswered. His mother says that “Chris was very much of the school that you should own nothing except what you can carry on your back at a dead run.” She doesn’t say why this is so, however.

The motif of friendship emerges further in these pages, as McCandless, who earlier struck up a friendship with Wayne Westerberg, befriends Jan Burres and her boyfriend Bob. One of Into the Wild’s many ironies: a young man compelled toward a solitary life, who eventually will die alone, was quite gregarious and made friends easily. Another irony: McCandless abandons a car, the only problem with which is a wet battery, and burns his cash — but quits a job when it becomes clear that he won’t be paid for his hard work. He has a complicated relationship with money and possessions, to say the least.

Chapter 5

In this chapter, a theme introduced when McCandless presented a copy of War and Peace to Wayne Westerberg reappears: the young man’s abiding love of literature. Since childhood, he was obsessed with the novels and stories of Jack London, who condemned capitalism and glorified nature. According to Krakauer, however, McCandless forgot he was reading fiction and “conveniently overlooked the fact that London himself had spent just a single winter in the North and that he’d died by his own hand on his California estate at the age of forty, a fatuous drunk, obese and pathetic.”

Krakauer characterizes his protagonist more deeply by means of contrast with those who surround him: Note that even at the Slabs, where snowbirds, rubber tramps, and other antiestablishment types congregated, McCandless was an anomaly: an individual who wanted life to be not easier (as most of the habitués of the Slabs presumably do) but more difficult. Thus he prepares at the Slabs for a life in the harsh wilderness of Alaska.

Notice as well the extent to which author Krakauer relies on documents left behind by McCandless to tell the young man’s story. During this part of his journey, he ceases regularly keeping a journal, and Into the Wild becomes sketchier, more reliant on authorial inference.

Chapter 6

The theme of this chapter is the astonishing ability of Christopher McCandless to win friends and influence people. Not only did he befriend the octogenarian Ronald Franz, but he convinced the old man to change his ways fundamentally at a time in life when most people have settled down for good. It is important to understand that McCandless fled society not because he couldn’t get along with others, but because he chose to be alone.

The fact that McCandless achieved this effect by means of a letter speaks to the power of the written word. Remember that he was inspired to head “into the wild” by books he read (Tolstoy’s, Jack London’s, and others) — and that it is a magazine article which informs the hitchhiker Franz picks up at chapter’s end that McCandless has died, thus inspiring the old man to give up on life.

Chapter 7

Regarding McCandless’s character, it is interesting — and of course believable — that he can be intelligent, hardworking, and resilient, yet lack mechanical dexterity and perhaps even common sense. While the former characteristic, his awkwardness with machines, is consequential in ways that he manages to recover from (as in the abandonment of his car), the latter, his difficulty being just plain sensible, will have a greater impact.

McCandless’s rage toward his parents, and particularly his father, is something that many of those who meet him pick up on. It seems to be their lifestyle more than anything else that McCandless is rejecting when he flees the conventional middle-class American way of life, though why it so repels him is never made completely clear by Into the Wild. It is not uncommon for men and women of Christopher McCandless’s age to flee their parents’ particular ways of doing things (psychology even has a term for this dynamic: reaction formation), but rarely is the response so extreme, so complete. The degree of McCandless’s renunciation of his family’s values is a large part of what makes Krakauer’s book so fascinating.

Finally, there is something admirable about McCandless’s utter devotion to what he believes in. It is easy to be inspired by books and the ideas they espouse, but not so easy to live the kind of life envisioned by thinkers like Tolstoy and London. McCandless “talks the talk” in a way that alienates fewer listeners than one would predict, but he “walks the walk,” too — which may account for the fact that so many of those he encountered continued to listen.

Chapter 8

This chapter offers context for, and thus perspective on, McCandless’s situation. By quoting from some of the many outraged responses to his article, Krakauer shares with the reader the typical reaction to McCandless’s story: smug superiority laced with disbelief that anyone could be so foolhardy.

And yet, as the examples of Rosselini, Waterman, and McCunn demonstrate, McCandless is hardly the only individual impelled to live off the land in the Alaskan wilderness. At the same time, these others provide Krakauer with an opportunity to highlight McCandless’s uniqueness; the author characterizes him by contrast with his predecessors. Similar to Rosselini and Waterman, Christopher McCandless “was a seeker and had an impractical fascination with the harsh side of nature,” the author writes. Like Waterman and McCunn, he lacked common sense. McCandless was unlike Waterman in that he was mentally stable. And in contrast to McCunn, McCandless didn’t expect to be saved.

“Although he was rash,” Krakauer summarizes, McCandless “wasn’t incompetent — he wouldn’t have lasted 113 days if he were. And he wasn’t a nutcase, he wasn’t a sociopath, he wasn’t an outcast. McCandless was something else. . . . A pilgrim perhaps.”

Chapter 9

This is a second consecutive chapter in which the author attempts to illuminate McCandless’s character by comparing and contrasting it to those of his predecessors. In doing so, Krakauer further convinces the reader that although McCandless was unique, the impulses that drove him were not unprecedented. Nor are these impulses an exclusively American phenomenon. In fact, although rare, the drive toward solitude crosses continents and millennia, as the example of the Irish monks demonstrates.

Chapter 10

By flashing forward to McCandless’s death, Krakauer intensifies the drama of his story. He reminds us that McCandless’s adventure ends tragically. In addition, the author emphasizes the young man’s connections to those whose lives he touched: friends Gallien and Westerberg, as well as MCandless’s relatives.

The prior two chapters have emphasized McCandless’s commonalities with others who have sought adventure and solitude in the wild. This short chapter reminds us that, although it was not unique, McCandless’s story was noteworthy, newsworthy — it was covered not only in Alaska but in the national press.

Chapter 11

This chapter asks more questions than it answers — and understandably, since the riddles it poses cannot be solved definitively. Are Christopher McCandless’s parents responsible for their son’s death? Was his personality shaped by, or even inherited from, them? Could his parents have interceded and altered his behavior, thereby changing his fate?

For that matter, what exactly was McCandless rebelling against, aside from middle class ennui? Also, wouldn’t it have been more productive for him to have resumed his work on behalf of the homeless, hungry, or disenfranchised after college, instead of indulging his whimsical notions of (his own) survival?

Chapter 12

Two factors emerge in this chapter that clearly contributed to McCandless’s flight into the wilderness — and his eventual death.

First, Walt McCandless comments that “Chris was good at almost everything he ever tried . . . which made him supremely overconfident.” This bit of characterization goes a long way toward explaining McCandless’s bewildering lack of preparation for his Alaskan “adventure.” There is no evidence that he failed at much, if anything, during his childhood and adolescence, which may have exacerbated the hubris naturally felt by many young adults.

As to why McCandless’s overconfidence found its outlet in a radical rejection of his parents’ bourgeois values — and his family altogether — the information that emerges in this chapter about his father’s double life could well have offered the motivation. Krakauer doesn’t linger on this episode, but if nothing else, it seems to have provided the match that lit McCandless’s short fuse.

Chapter 13

During the plane ride home with Chris’s remains, his sister Carine eats “every scrap of food the cabin attendants set in front of her.” Soon afterward, however, she discovers she has no appetite and loses so much weight that friends think she has become anorectic. Chris’s mother also stops eating, losing eight pounds. His father, Walt, responds the opposite way, putting on eight pounds.

Though both compulsive eating and loss of appetite are not uncommon responses to stress and grief, it is hard not to see the McCandless family’s food-related behaviors as connected to Chris’s demise. It is as if Billie and Carine are identifying with him, feeling Chris’s pain, while Walt is compensating for what killed his son — though none of them are doing what they do intentionally, or even consciously.

Chapter 14

Up to this point in Into the Wild, author Jon Krakauer has maintained journalistic objectivity, or at least the appearance of objectivity. In this chapter he abandons that perspective. Note, however, that Krakauer’s integrity as a journalist is not compromised, since he is entirely up-front about the experiences he shares in common with his subject, McCandless. In fact, it would be more ethically suspect if Krakauer did not divulge that he had his own “into the wild” experience as a young man. Because of his candor, readers are able to take this into account when the author views McCandless’s activities with some sympathy.

And as a result of reading this chapter and the one that follows, the reader moves closer to McCandless and his perspective. Not only Rosselini, Waterman, McCunn, and Reuss (as well as the Irish monks described) have shared McCandless’s impulses, but the author himself. Behavior that seemed utterly bizarre, at the start of Into the Wild, is becoming easier to conceive of with every successive chapter.

Chapter 15

his chapter further develops the motif of fathers and sons, suggesting explicitly that sons often rebel against their fathers at the same time that they are powerless to resist paternal traits they have inherited. Clearly Krakauer believes that McCandless was driven to do what he did in large measure by his relationship with father Walt.

And this is only part of what Krakauer believes he shared with McCandless. They also shared hubris. “It is easy, when you are young,” he writes, “to believe that what you desire is no less than what you deserve, to assume that if you want something badly enough, it is your God-given right to have it. When I decided to go to Alaska that April, like Chris McCandless, I was a raw youth who mistook passion for insight and acted according to an obscure, gap-ridden logic.”

Which is not to say that Jon Krakauer believes his younger self to have been identical to Christopher McCandless in every respect. Krakauer says he wasn’t as intelligent as McCandless and didn’t possess his lofty ideals — but young Krakauer was also, crucially, a superior outdoorsman.

Chapter 16

This chapter, the heart of Into the Wild, reconstructs McCandless’s climactic Alaska adventure, following him into the bush and observing his admirable survival skills. Although Krakauer’s book is an adventure story, Into the Wild is also a study in character, and Chapter Sixteen is no exception. McCandless is revealed in the moose episode to be highly ethical and deeply sympathetic; the reader cannot help being moved by the enormity of the young man’s despair over wasting his kill.

By the same token, McCandless’s lack of foresight and his hubris, apparent in a low-level way prior to this time, now yield consequences that will be fatal. He did not anticipate that melting snow would swell the bodies of water he crossed on his way into the bush. And his arrogant refusal to bring a map prevents McCandless from learning that, despite its increased size, the river is fordable upstream — another in a series of ironies that punctuate this book

Chapter 17

The ironies multiply in this, the book’s penultimate chapter. The basket that Krakauer and his companions discover at the U.S.G.S. station has been secured by hunters to the side of the river on which McCandless camped so as to make crossing the Teklanika harder for outsiders. “If he’d known about it,” the author writes, “crossing the Teklanika to safety would have been a trivial matter. Because he had no topographic map, however, he had no way of conceiving that salvation was so close at hand.”

In another irony, McCandless was close to not only the abandoned gauging station but three empty hunting cabins, as well. Did he really go “into the wild” after all? Undoubtedly he was living in a hostile environment during the months he spent in Alaska, but some wouldn’t call the area he inhabited the wilderness at all.

Chapter 18

Did McCandless finally come to forgive his family, as evinced by the “HAPPINESS ONLY REAL WHEN SHARED” inscription he wrote toward the end of his life? Perhaps — but note that in all of his writings, there is nothing that explicitly reaches out to his parents or his sister, Carine. McCandless never acknowledges them, even to say goodbye.

Note, too, that Krakauer’s theory on McCandless’s death, that it was caused by mold on wild potato seeds, is just that: a theory. It is not definitive. To some degree it is beside the point anyway, since one could argue that it wasn’t so much starvation that killed McCandless as arrogance and shortsightedness.

Chris Mccandless’ Death “Into the Wild”

Many people have come to the conclusion that Chris McCandless’ untimely death was a result of his arrogant nature or a possible psychological disorder. However, his death was caused by a simple mistake, his lack of geographical knowledge, and his desire to find himself. When Krakauer’s moving article in Outside magazine was published, copious amounts of hate mail was received regarding McCandless’ cause of death. Initially it was believed that he mistook two similar plants, the wild potato and the toxic wild sweet pea, then accidentally poisoned himself when consuming their seeds.

Alaskan residents dubbed McCandless as “ignorant” and “unprepared” for supposedly confusing the similar plants. After further research Krakauer discovered that McCandless was poisoned by the wild potato plant’s seeds, which were not described as toxic in any published text.

This ill-fated blunder does not show incompetence specific to McCandless, as most people would have made the same decisions. There have been scores of young men lacking common sense who wander out into the wilderness to attain meaning and do not return.

Several of them, including John Waterman and Carl McCunn, were similar to Chris, but in pivotal ways their stories were deviating. John Waterman was severely traumatized and obviously mentally ill. Chris was neither of those things. Additionally, Chris was not expecting to be rescued after making a dim-witted mistake, like Carl McCunn. Krakauer stated that “It is not unusual for a young man to be drawn to a pursuit considered reckless by his elders.”

Chris may have lacked some common sense, but conceited qualities did not contribute to his downfall. His drive to push himself past his limits contributed to his demise, not superciliousness. Perhaps the most tragic notion of McCandless’ death is how simply it could have been avoided. Unbeknownst to Chris, there were multiple cabins a few miles from the Fairbanks bus 142. Each was stocked with food and survival supplies. This knowledge could have easily prevented his death. Crossing the Teklanika River was one of the important factors that inhibited McCandless from leaving the wild.

He was not aware that downstream in the vicinity of the bus there was a gorge that allowed safe transit across the river. A gauging station was also close by. It would have allowed him to cross the river with ease since hunters had placed the basket on the bus-side of the river. It is overwhelming to imagine the extents to which McCandless suffered physically and mentally, when salvation was so near to him. A simple topographic map would have almost certainly saved his life. McCandless was not arrogant, a sociopath, or an idiot, like so many have stated.

He may have lacked the common sense to buy a map, but was in no way incompetent. He also made some mistakes that anyone who was not a trained botanist would have made, and was like many young men in that he pushed himself to the extreme limits. Chris McCandless’ story is not unique because he ventured out into the unforgiving wild. It is captivating because McCandless gave up everything to find himself, even if he ended up being lost on the way.