Into the Wild
Into The Wild by LaMarche Essay
It has been noted that “everything that happens to us-graduations, marriage, childbirth, divorce, getting or losing job affects us” (Adulthood 1). It is not right for one to live lonely, but sometimes circumstances may cause one to love this kind of a life. The strange action must have some driving forces behind it that may lead a young person to choose a lone life.
How can one choose to live alone or decide to live with animals in the wild? This essay will discuss the book, In the Wild with emphasis on a young man, McCandless and how he went to Alaskan Odyssey as a result of crises during transition from childhood to adulthood; so as to separate himself from his family.
McCandless’s life is bothered by his parent’s materialistic nature choices and this made him to move out of the home and becomes an itinerant. He lived in the wild where he hunted wildlife such as porcupines and birds for food. He roasted them but sometimes the meat spoiled because of poor methods of meat preservation. In this wild life, he sometimes failed to capture the animals for his meal and was provided by strangers. Unfortunately, he finally died in a bus because of starvation despite the efforts he made to get some assistance.
The Quest for Lonely Life
Christopher McCandless was a man who never liked people to be close to himself. He valued independence. He went to the extreme of being self reliant. He thought that people could not always depend on others but should have time to be alone so that they could discover their own will and thoughts. Christopher McCandless left his home to live on his own; something that not many people could appreciate. It has been felt that the quest for self awareness is something that the modern society is doing away with:
Some of the values that many people in modern society seem to have forgotten are; the quest for personal knowledge, the pursuit of individual happiness while not taking it from others, and above all, the ability to be comfortable in solitude and independence. (LaMarche 1)
McCandless believed in himself and did not want to imitate those around him or conform to their ways of life. He had a strong urge to do things his own way and the wild was the site to pursue his goals and vision. In addition to changing his environment, McCandless changed his name to Alexander Superstramp. This was significant as it symbolized a new person, leaving his former ways of living and stepping into a new way of life characterized by new work and even new meals.
His actions were criticized by many people because he never wanted any associations that would bind him close to other people. LaMarche did this to experiment and at the same time seek his independence. As a young man he did not enjoy the company of his family and kept to himself as he sought what he had considered as important to him: “…it was important for him to see how independent he could be” (LaMarche1)
To the greatest extent, it was his family especially his parents that made him to seek a new way of life which he embraced and considered worthwhile. The parent’s failure to teach and advise him on values of life made a major contribution to his adopting of a new way of life. His fathers’ relationship with his mother was the greatest question factor that pushed him to adapt to his new way of life.
He was disappointed with his father’s action due to his way of thinking that people are supposed to be perfect and that their actions were always supposed to be right. McCandless’ greatest problem was the inability to forgive and communicate accordingly with his parents. He did not have color grey in his world: “Christopher McCandless saw the world in black and white, good and bad, right and wrong, rather like a child does” (LaMarche 1).
McCandless believed that solitary life was rewarding to him. This was a similar case with Sarton who argued that, “Alone one is never lonely: the spirit adventures, walking / in a quiet garden, in a cool house, abiding single there” (Sarton 1). To this young man, what mattered most were his happiness and not other people’s opinions (LaMarche 1)
A person’s life at any given time involves both external and internal aspects. The external system is composed of our membership in the culture: our job, “social class and family and social roles” (Predictable 1); the argument is how a person is able to live to the fullest when he is able to balance all these aspects in his life. Many people often ignore their inner being which is the most crucial. McCandless was not able to share his inner feelings:
Chris was strongly opposed to any kind of unnecessary material procession. He wrote a letter to his sister before he took off to Alaska, complaining about his parents. I can’t believe they’d try and buy me a car. (LaMarche 1)
The young man reasons that there was no need to have luxuries and that one should concentrate only on what they needed. He had a negative attitude towards the wealth of his parents: “Chris is embarrassed by his family’s modest wealth, believing that wealth was shameful, corrupting, and inherently evil” (LaMarche 1).
The young man thought that wealth was an unreasonable way of valuing people and that it did not reveal the real person. McCandless wanted a simple life in the wild where he was ready to face many challenges. His main aim was to be himself. In a person’s development there are various changes that occur:
One is the interior sense of relation to others. A second is the proportion of safeness to danger we feel in our lives. A third is our perception of time-do we have plenty of it, or are we beginning to feel that time is running out? Last, there will be some shift at the gut leveling our sense of aliveness or stagnation. These are the hazy sensations that compose the background tone of living and shape the decisions on which to take action (Adulthood 1).
This is true because it was after McCandless thought deeply about his life that he took off from his home to the wilderness. He compared the wealth of his parent with those of other people in his area and did not appreciate it. He was not able to express himself and reveal his thoughts even to those close to him.
He went to the extent of writing to his sister a letter; it was his sister that he was free to his thoughts with. The wealth of the parents displeased him and in addition he had issues with his father having another wife before meeting his mother.
In school Chris shared with few students but he gradually reduced interactions to be completely independent in class work and athletics. To him he needed freedom from people and luxurious wealth.
Krakauer connects Chris with Gene Rosellini, a well-educated man from an affluent family who was interested to know if it was possible to be independent of modern technology. (LarMache2010).
It is clear that MaCcandless did not feel safe at his home. Since he believed in perfection he felt that his parents had betrayed his values and was not ready to forgive them. He believed that the wealth of his parents was not justly acquired and there was no way he could be ready to accept it: “McCandless distrusted the value of things that came easily” (LaMarche 2010).
He therefore wanted to acquire everything justly. Unfortunately it reached a time when this man could not handle it any longer. He was ready to take even a risky route so as to escape from the sight of his parents. Aware that the decision he was about to make would put his life in danger; he did not stop it but went ahead to the wilderness.
His parents attempted to buy him a new vehicle but he looked down upon it, since he felt that it was unnecessary for him to have a second car whereas he had another functional datsun car. This is ironical that the people that he should have loved most are the ones he put at a bay and did all he could to separate himself from his family.
This coincides with the argument by Sarton: “Loneliness is most acutely felt with other people, for with others, even with a lover sometimes, we suffer from our differences of taste, temperament, and mood” (Sarton 1).
It is also clear that McCandless realized that he could not change anything and time was running out. He felt a stagnation that was brought by being at home. A new environment was therefore a better place for change that would give him satisfaction in his life. The feeling of stagnation was erased from his mind once he set off for the wilderness.
No man is an island and no one can be able to live alone and successful. The company of people mostly spices a person’s life. The young man finally perishes in the wilderness as there is no one to rescue him. His remains were found about a week later after his death weighing about 30 kilograms.
The young man only punished himself: “the fierce idealism and searing self-reliance are seen as unattainable qualities that are mysterious and wonderful, but frightening and dangerous all the same” (LaMarche 1). Though McCandless achieved his self reliability, it was unsustainable.
The inner person should never be ignored and personal world should be in order. The beliefs in McCandless’s heart were the driving forces to his actions. McCandless’s life was ruined by his parents since they did not play part to concentrate on his personality development as he grew up. They gauged his happiness by how much materials they bought for him, good education and spirituality, ignoring his inner motivation.
Adulthood. Predictable Crises of adulthood. Gail Sheehy, n.d. Web.
LaMarche. Into The Wild. Christophermccandless, 2010. Web.
Sarton, May. The Rewards of Living a Solitary Life. Gregory, n.d. Web.
Into the Wild by Krakauer Essay (Book Review)
In the story, into the wild by Krakauer, like any other narration, the author uses different viewpoints he consider to be of great benefit to bring out certain messages to the reader of the story. The approach used by Krakauer is unique according to him.
Krakauer’s style requires that the reader makes a personal discretion in coming up with a conclusion of what might consequently happen to the character in the narrative. Unlike other writers who adopt an open narration system in where it is evident in the narrative what befalls the characters therein and how they react in the end, Krakauer’s style is secretive. Krakauer’s style in this story is that of confidentiality and suspense and the reader requires a sixth sense to understand the themes as they read the story.
Narratives should be written in a manner that gives the reader sufficient information or clues to enable him embed the narrative in an actual or realistic contest.
In the narrative, for example, the author starts the story with a character that is on a journey to the wild. The exact home the character hails from is not clearly defined and the reason why he is going away is also not clarified. The author however uses another character Gallien to enable the reader to understand the exact state of the character Alex as he is picked along the way by Gallien.
It can be understood that the author used this approach in narration to attract the attention of the reader and raise curiosity within him/her. The story makes the reader to be fixed on his chair as he seeks to understand how the character Alex found himself in the position he is in and how he will end up in his journey to the wilderness. In fact the author has successfully captured the curiosity of the reader with this approach since one anticipates getting an explanation as to why Alex was leaving for the journey into the wilderness.
As one jumps from one paragraph to the next he/she is convinced that he/she might get the explanation of what transpired before the current context that is captured in the narrative.
Despite the fact that the author has used suspense as one of the techniques at his disposal to narrate the life of Alex in the story it still would have been helpful if he had included some specific information about the reasons why Alex left his home or what exactly he was targeting to achieve.
The whole story is full of secrecy for it is evident that one of the characters in the narrative, Gallien, is in a similar position as the reader for he cannot possibly understand why Alex is going to the wilderness. Gallien, as a character who understands the environment in which Alex is going into, keeps on wondering if Alex is sane enough to understand the risk he is getting into. In fact he is placed in a more complex position when Alex himself seems composed enough to face the risks and dangers he does not understand.
It is evident that the author in this article used a unique approach that does not help the reader in understanding the context of the narrative properly. The themes in the article are also not very clear and the reader has to read severally to get an in depth understanding of the article. In fact the reader is more confused as he keeps on wondering what the motivation was for Alex to leave his home.
Krakauer, John. Into The Wild, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992. Print.
The Mount Everest disaster of 1996 as it happened Opinion Essay
Thesis of the Book
The thesis of this book is a personal account of Mount Everest disaster in which the author had taken part, but it had turned out to be tragic in which he had lost some of his climbing partners as the disaster unfolded. Although the book has many themes that unfold as the story continues, the theme of mutual trust and care remains dominant across this entire tragic book.
Thesis of the Essay
The essay aims at summarizing the book in which the writer makes a personal opinion of the accounts as they are narrated in the book and criticizes the book to bring out the faults that can be identified in the author’s story of how the Mount Everest disaster occurred.
Summary of the book
Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster is a book which was published in the year 1997. The book sets off to narrate one of the deadliest disasters that had taken place in Mount Everest from an individual point of view in which the reader is given a description of what actually happened from a survivor of the ordeal.
Krakauer who is the author of this book tells vividly of the accounts that occurred at the world’s highest mountain with such emotional clarity. This depicts why the book became a best selling nonfiction book on its release. The author of this book narrates how he participated in Mount Everest expedition, despite having surrendered his career in mountain climbing way years back.
The event took place in the month of May in the year 2006. The author, a professional journalist wrote and featured articles for the outside magazine. He had previous participated in many other mountain climbing expeditions from which he had gathered materials for his articles in the magazine. He later on gave up his career prior to this particular event that involved climbing Mount Everest (Krakauer 20).
Krakauer justified his change of heart to participate in Mount Everest expedition as being purely professional. In the initial plan as it had been reported in the magazine, Krakauer was to climb up to the Mount Everest base in which he was to make a report on the commercialization of the mountain.
However, in his childhood and wildest dreams, it evident that Krakauer had always aspired of climbing Mount Everest and this was the best opportunity which was right on the table. He requested his editor to hold off the story until later in the year so that he could get ample time to train hard for the monstrous task of climbing to the summit of the highest mountain in the world.
It is from this point that the book exhaustively and chronologically narrates the events that happened on the mountain as they ascended to the top of the world’s highest mountain. The author tells of the tragedies that unfolded in pursuit of getting to the world’s ceiling by the determined mountaineers.
Personal opinion derived from the book
It is evident that the tragedy that took place in Mount Everest was an example of an artificial disaster that was manageable if only the set guidelines that have been stipulated to guide such expeditions had been followed to the latter.
The author has in a nutshell pointed out that some of the safety guidelines that had been formulated by the most experienced mountaineers in the world had been violated. It is evident that the violation was done because of the competition that was prevailing between the existing companies that provided the mountaineers with guides who led the mountaineers throughout the ascent on the mountain.
This competition has resulted in some of the companies compromising the well-being of the mountaineers, some of whom do not have enough training and experience to take part in events such as ascending to the summit of Mount Everest (Krakauer 122).
Issues that have arisen from this book
It is evident that this book was a success in its release as it sold over a million copies. However, despite the success a lot of criticism has been made by renowned mountaineers and people who had also participated in the expedition in which they had escaped the ordeal. The critics have disputed the material facts that Krakauer has relayed in the book with regard to one of the guides of Russian origin who had been mandated with guiding the team throughout the ascent of Mount Everest.
It is evident that in the book, the guide had descended the mountain ahead of his clients in which his motive was to find help and lead a rescue mission in which he would have saved more adventurers when the adventure turned sour. Krakauer in his book seems to question the rationale that this guide had applied in which he had decided to leave his clients alone on the mountain, despite fully knowing that they lacked the experience to handle the situations that were prevailing at that time.
He questions the guide’s judgment in not having used supplement oxygen that was an essential component in the paraphernalia that were required by the adventurers. He rebukes the interaction techniques that were applied by the guide in his interaction with the clients. He finally questions the mountaineering gears that were used by the adventurers in their quest to ascend the mountain to its summit.
On the other hand a number of professional renowned mountaineers like Galen Rowell have criticized Krakauer’s account in his narration by faulting it as irrational and clouded by individual judgment that is prejudicial in retelling exactly what happened in the fateful adventure.
He points out the inconsistencies that are in Krakauer’s account in which he observes that Krakauer was sleeping in his tent and he had no idea what the guide was doing. It is evident that as Krakauer was sleeping, the guide was busy rescuing some of the climbers who were in dire need of medical attention. Galen reckons that the actions of the guide were heroic and he had used his wisdom to forebode the shortcoming that arose from the expedition.
Krakauer , Jones. Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster. New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2009. Print.
Into the Wild: Characters, Themes, Personal Opinion Essay
Some people choose unconventional lifestyles to distinguish themselves from others or comprehend the purpose or sense of their existence. Into the Wild, a non-fiction book written by Jon Krakauer narrates a story of such a man named McCandless who quit civilized living and started his wild journey across America. This paper will summarize the plot of the work, describe its characters, and discuss the issues raised by the author.
The Summary of the Novel
The book is based on the story of a real person, Christopher McCandless, who, at the age of 22, right after his successful graduation from Emory University, voluntarily became a vagrant. He left a note for his parents, which said that they would never see him again, gave his college savings to charity, and started his journey. For the first month of his wandering, he traveled by car, but he had to abandon it as a flood damaged it. On his way, he sometimes stopped in cities and performed unskilled jobs to get food and lodging. In 1991, while he was in Los Angeles, McCandless thought of applying for ID and getting a job but changed his decision and continued his wandering. During his journey, he made acquaintance with some people whom he sent postcards as he proceeded with his traveling.
In the spring of 1992, he headed for Alaska, carrying only some rice, a gun, a camera, and a few books, including a guide to the edible plants of the area. Upon arriving in the region, he found a bus in which he decided to live for a while. During his stay in this area, McCandless ate berries and hunted animals. In summer, he became exceedingly weak after eating some seeds and noted this in his travel journal. He left an SOS sign outside of his bus, and shortly afterward, he died inside of it, and hunters found his dead body only the following month.
Discussion of the Main Characters
The main character of the book is Christopher Johnson McCandless, who adopted a pseudonym Alexander Supertramp at the beginning of his journey. He was “a well-educated young man with an above-average intellect and remarkable spiritual ambitions1 which means that he could have achieved success in a civilized world, but he deliberately chose a vagrant lifestyle. McCandless believed that it was beneficial for a human to live in harmony with nature, separated from other people. To test his point of view, he spent time wandering across the American West before proceeding to a more dangerous region of Alaska. Perhaps, he could have survived in the severe conditions of that area if he had been more prepared and less self-assured.
Jon Krakauer, the author, added the story of his attempts to travel across Alaska to his narrative, which made him another character of the book. He did not just state the facts of McCandless’s biography but supplemented them with his judgments and assumptions. Perhaps, he was so interested in the young man’s story because he had a similar experience and wanted to prevent the public from condemning McCandless for his nonsensical death.
The Themes of the Book
The book tackles several issues, one of which is the relation between man and nature. The protagonist believes that one’s personality can form properly only outside of civilization.2 According to McCandless, “the very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure,”3 which means that a person truly lives in extraordinary circumstances available only in the wilderness. However, the young man was so obsessed with the idea of connecting with nature and escaping from civilization that he underestimated how dangerous and severe the environment could be. Instead of proving that he was capable of surviving on his own, without any conveniences and other people’s help, he showed by his example that a human could not live independently in a harsh wilderness for a long time.4 Thus, McCandless’s story reveals that nature is not always favorable to man, and if there is a confrontation between a person and the wilderness, the former will be defeated.
Another theme of the book is individualism and the role of society in human life. McCandless was convinced that he would manage to live outside of the community, and this would set him free from triviality and impurity of other people’s existence. However, it is recorded in his journal that at some point during his wandering, he was ready to return to his former way of life, as he understood that, perhaps, society was not that malign.5 Despite this intention, he did not reunite with the community, and perished alone, which leads to the conclusion that living among other people is crucial to an individual’s survival.
The book also raises the motif of rejection of money and objection to consumerism and the accumulation of material things. McCandless showed his aversion to the modern economic system by donating $24,000 to charity and becoming an itinerant pauper. From his point of view, wealth and abundance of material things hinder a person from enjoying life and developing spiritually.6 He was right in his reflections, but he seems to have gone too far in his attempts to live within basic needs.
Personal Opinion and Conclusion
Overall, the protagonist of the book does not arouse sympathy because his actions were unreasoned, and he was unprepared for his adventure, which eventually caused him to die from poisoning in a forest. A promising young man with plenty of opportunities to build a career or succeed in any other field wasted his chance to make himself useful for society or live a long, eventful life. Indeed, he fulfilled his intentions to reject material values and isolate himself from the community, and it may have made him proud of himself. However, the whole story would have been better if he had treated his adventure with a greater responsibility, which would have prevented his sudden death.
In conclusion, it may be said that this book is worth reading because it makes readers think about things that attach significance to their lives. The novel serves as a warning to individualists since it shows that excessive self-reliance may lead to deplorable consequences because some things are too complicated for one person to handle. It also teaches that before making a life-changing decision, such as quitting a career or undertaking a venture, one should weigh all pros and cons and thoroughly prepare for the upcoming change. Finally, as the book is based on a real-life event, it is likely to influence readers more effectively than a fiction story because it involves credible facts rather than imaginary plot twists.
Kam, Tanya Y. “Forests of the Self: Life Writing and ‘Wild’ Wanderings.” Life Writing 13, no. 3 (2016): 351-371.
Krakauer, Jon. Into the Wild. London: Pan Macmillan, 2018.
Krehan, Hannes. “Trust Me – It’s Paradise”: The Escapist Motif in Into the Wild, The Beach and Are You Experienced? Hamburg: Anchor Academic Publishing, 2014.
Vera, José Sánchez. “Thoreau as an Oblique Mirror: Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild.” American Studies in Scandinavia 47, no. 1 (2015): 40-60.
- José Sánchez Vera, “Thoreau as an Oblique Mirror: Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild,” American Studies in Scandinavia 47, no. 1 (2015): 43.
- Tanya Y. Kam, “Forests of the Self: Life Writing and ‘Wild’ Wanderings,” Life Writing 13, no. 3 (2016): 352.
- Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild (London: Pan Macmillan, 2018), 57.
- Tanya Y. Kam, “Forests of the Self: Life Writing and ‘Wild’ Wanderings,” Life Writing 13, no. 3 (2016): 354.
- Hannes Krehan, “Trust Me – It’s Paradise”: The Escapist Motif in Into the Wild, The Beach and Are You Experienced? (Hamburg: Anchor Academic Publishing, 2014), 6.
- José Sánchez Vera, “Thoreau as an Oblique Mirror: Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild,” American Studies in Scandinavia 47, no. 1 (2015): 45.
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer Essay
Rural nature has always been a source of inspiration for many American writers. Jon Krakauer is not an exception. Extreme weather and challenging conditions are the perfect backgrounds for exploring people’s psyche. In his famous book Into the Wild, Krakauer studies a story of “a well-educated young man with an above-average intellect and remarkable spiritual ambitions” (Vera, 2015, p. 43). The book explores many topics, such as difficulties in family relationships, the meaning of reaching manhood, materialism, and capitalism. This paper focuses on covering the characters of the book, especially Christopher McCandless, and studying the central theme — the search for personal freedom in times of modernity.
Summary of the Novel
The book describes the details of real-life Christopher McCandless, a young man who decides to abandon past life. Shortly after graduating from a prestigious college, Christopher “cuts himself off both from his family and from the values and symbolic roles expected of him” (Hook, 2018, p. 5). Before taking off, he gives up his real name and takes a moniker Alexander Supertramp. McCandless starts a journey to the West and then into the Alaskan wilderness, looking for solitude and escape from societal norms. He spends his time hitchhiking, exploring nature on foot, and a canoe. At some point, Alex applies for a job in Los Angeles but then returns to his original plan (Krakauer, 2011). McCandless tests his limits by hunting, foraging, and camping alone. Eventually, he dies of starvation in an abandoned bus, where locals find his body.
Main Characters and Theme
Christopher McCandless, Alexander Supertramp, or simply Alex is the protagonist of the novel, an Emory University graduate who recently finished his education. According to Vera (2015), he disliked “money and mainstream values, despite the fact—or rather because of the fact—that he was “flipping Quarter Pounders at McDonald’s” (p. 46). Alex grew up with his parents and a younger sister, Carine, and had a classic father-son relationship issue. The parents, Billie and Walt, assumed that their son would pursue a career as a lawyer, but instead, he donated all of the money to charity (Krakauer, 2011). Walt, an aerospace engineer, dismissed his son’s decision to travel. Eventually, the family members concluded that they misread Alex and never really knew anything about his intentions.
Wayne Westerberg and Jim Gallien
During the journey, the main character encountered many locals and created strong bonds with several people. One of them was Wayne Westerberg, a thick-shouldered hyperkinetic man (Krakauer, 2011). Westerberg owned a grain elevator in Carthage and gave Alex a job. He appreciated the intelligence and hard-working nature of the young man (Krakauer, 2011). Jim Gallien was a driver who encountered Alex on his way to the Alaskan wilderness. During the two-hour drive, Gallien concluded that McCandless was not another delusional traveler, but a determined and intelligent person, who lived by his choice. However, the driver tried to talk Alex out of the survival quest because this hitchhiker did not have the necessary equipment for the journey. Both Westerberg and Gallien positively changed their opinion about McCandless during the encounter.
Jan Burres and her Boyfriend, Bob
Jan Burres and Bob met McCandless in the summer of 1990 when he was looking for berries alongside the highway. The couple offered him a ride and meal because Alex looked exhausted and extremely malnourished. The young man accepted the offer and camped with Burres and her partner for a week. Jan had a connection with Alex because she missed her son. Bob also had much in common with their new friend, as he too was interested in survivalism. Together they sold books at the local flea market, and Alex demonstrated enthusiasm as a salesman. McCandless kept in touch with the couple by sending them postcards even after two years after their departure.
Ronald Franz, another acquaintance of Alex, was an 80-year-old retired army veteran who once had issues with alcohol. Franz was different from other companions: although the old man provided the traveler with meals and necessary equipment, he also gave Alex emotional support and was like a father to him. He urged McCandless to leave a camp as he considered it to be a negative influence for a young man. However, he took McCandless’ advice against a passive lifestyle and waited for the return of his new friend. Franz was worried about the destiny of an ambitious adventurer and even wanted to adopt him. When he found out about McCandless’ death, he resumed drinking and gave up his belief in God.
The theme of the Book
Exploring the life of Christopher McCandless, Krakauer explores a number of topics such as family relationship, maturity, and manhood as well as survival in a capitalist society. However, the main idea of the book is freedom and its importance when a person is trapped inside a system of norms and rules. Sheils and Walsh (2017) state that the main character’s escape “signified precisely this, an attempted escape from—or opposition to—a given societal form of the symbolic order” (p. 136). To Alex, the only way to start a new life and find peace was to abandon the typical order of the life of an affluent American.
Commentary on the Central Theme of the Novel
One could believe that the main character was actually a spiritually weak rebel, as he did not prepare himself for the journey and died for no purpose. On the surface level, there was not any reason for a well-to-do young man to give up his privileges and possibilities. Nonetheless, it should be noticed that Alex had full determination to change his life, and none of his actions was meaningless. According to Vera (2015), “McCandless created his poverty by artificial means, which might have been inspired by Thoreau’s condemnation of the market economy and materialism” (p. 46). It is possible to agree that the trip to Alaska offered him freedom and meaning. Although the main character of the book could have avoided the unnecessary challenge of wild nature, his decision deserves respect for strong determination and complete devotion to one’s beliefs and ideas.
Into the Wild covers the story of a young man who decided to test his abilities and personal qualities in the harsh conditions of Alaska. The man who considered himself to be impotent to connect with people eventually communicates and bonds with total strangers. The novel examines topics that are traditional for American and European literature, such as interpersonal relationships, psychological maturity, personal struggles in the system of beliefs that traps and diminishes individual desires and choices. The main topic is personal freedom as the real purpose of life, which can only be achieved by means of difficult choices. The book explains that personal decisions should be respected, no matter how different they are in one’s opinion.
Hook, D. (2018). Melancholic psychosis—A Lacanian approach. Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 28(4), 466-480.
Krakauer, J. (2011). Into the wild. London, UK: Pan Macmillan.
Sheils, B., & Walsh, J. (Eds.). (2017). Narcissism, melancholia and the subject of community. London, UK: Pan Macmillan.
Vera, J. S. (2015). Thoreau as an oblique mirror: Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, American Studies in Scandinavia, 47(1), 40-60.
“Into the wild” by Jon Krakauer Essay
Jon Krakauer, the author of the novel into the wild, explores the entire life of a young man. Krakauer explores the main character, Chris McClandess’ determination to live a life free from oppression, which underscores the theme of ultimate freedom.
After graduating from the University of Emery in Atlanta, McClandess decides to pursue his dream of living an independent life free from slavery. He embarks on a secret journey to Alaska where he changes his name to Alex.
None of his family members even his favorite sister knows about his whereabouts. Unfortunately, contrary to his expectations, the journey is not as easy as he had thought; it has many ups and down. Luckily, during tough times he meets several good-hearted people who help him through.
Finally, he reaches his destination, the Alaskan wilderness. Unluckily, he dies after eating some wild fruits called Eskimo potato. Although he acquires freedom from the rest of the world, it turns out to be tragic and therefore enjoys it for a very short time.
Nevertheless, despite the sad ending of this masterpiece, the theme of ultimate freedom stands out conspicuously throughout the story.
The search for freedom
McClandess is determined to acquire a life free from oppression. In the process of pursuing his freedom, he experiences different dramatic life events as he heads to the Alaskan wilderness.
First, he secretly escapes from his parents’ home carrying with him all his documents before changing his name to Alex (Smart 2). Besides that, he has given all his saving of about twenty-four thousand dollars to charity before embarking on his jaunt.
Unfortunately, on his way, the car breaks down because of floodwater, which destroys the car battery. He decides to abandon the car at Lake Mead National Recreation Area.
Additionally, his driving and registration licenses are out of date. McClandess decides to get rid of all unnecessary baggage and burns all of his money about one hundred and twenty-three dollars.
This is because he does not want to explain to Bud Walsh, the ranger in the park, why he lacks the vital documents. These events, therefore, conceal his identity. Back at home, his parents are unable to trace him because he left secretly and changed his identity hence living a free life.
The theme of ultimate freedom comes out here because he is not around to explain to the authority why he did not have the right documents. Moreover, his tyrannical parents are not around to question his actions or take him back home.
McClandess decides to hitchhike, and he eventually secures a job at a farm belonging to Crazy Ernie. Unluckily, due to selfishness, Ernie does not pay for his labor. In retaliation, McClandess steals Ernie’s bike and leaves the farm secretly.
McClandess hitchhiking behavior brings out the theme of ultimate freedom in that none of the people he offers rides knows him and hence he is not accountable for anything. He steals from Ernie and runs away to get freedom from oppression and slavery in pursuit of ultimate freedom.
On the other hand, he is not available to account for his actions like stealing. He also acquires freedom of movement in that, he meets Bob and Jan Burres, stays with them for a week and again moves on.
During his adventures, McClandess lies that his home in South Dakota yet he hails from Virginia. This is for security reasons hence freedom because he cannot be traced back home.
In South Dakota, Wayne Westerberg employs him. Unlike other employees, he does all sorts of odd jobs. Although he is very close to Gail Borah, the girlfriend to Westerberg, McClandess remains very secretive. McClandess does not tell Borah about his personal life or family.
After a few weeks, he moves out. Westerberg describes his character as a hard worker besides being intelligent. He says, “I’ve given jobs to lots of hitchhikers over the years. Most of them were not much good, did not want to work; Alex was the hardest worker I’ve ever seen” (Krakauer 17).
McClandess character of being secretive underscores the theme of ultimate freedom in that; he does not want to reveal anything about himself or his family, which may end up disclosing him as a missing person.
He works hard by doing menial jobs to ensure he earns enough money for survival hence being able to pursue his dream of getting freedom.
In the process of asking free rides from passing motorists, he meets with Jim Gallien but introduces himself as Alex and not McClandess. He also gives his home as South Dakota and not Virginia, his original home.
McClandess also lies to Gallien that he is going to spend some few months in Denali National park. When he explicitly outlines his plan to stay in the Alaskan wilderness, Gallien tries to convince him to change his mind because he knows life is unbearable in the wilderness.
Gallien tells him “living in the bush ain’t no picnic” (Krakauer 5), but all these fall on deaf ears. In a bid to convince this stranger, Gallien offers McClandess boots, lunch, and promises to buy him a new car but McClandess is reluctant to change his destiny.
After Gallien realizes he cannot change anything, he gives McClandess his phone number and tells him to call when he manages to get out of the wilderness alive. McClandess is not interested in two-piece advice from a mere stranger, and nothing will change his desire to live a free life (Medred 7).
McClandess determination underscores his sole purpose in life, to attain the ultimate freedom and nothing will stop him from realizing it. As Gallien had predicted, McClandess dies in the wilderness. Although he achieves his dream of freedom, it is short lived as he dies prematurely.
McClandess life ends tragically because of starvation and poison leading to poor health. However, if I were in his shoes, I would take some quality time to plan my journey carefully.
I would seek employment for about five years to make an incredible amount of savings, which would last me a lifetime especially during my pursuit for freedom. Additionally, I would acquire a large, powerful motor vehicle to use when traveling to the Alaskan wilderness.
This would also ensure I do not interact with anybody on my way to Alaska as this could one day reveal my identity. Although my journey would be a secret, I would carry along a phone for limited communication especially to my sister who is very close to me.
This would also ensure I contact my family in cases of catastrophes like starvation or illness among others. Additionally, I would carry enough food, utensils, and water in the wilderness.
Medical equipment like first Aid kits and essential medicine would be part of my luggage for health purposes in my pursuit of ultimate freedom, which according to me can only come by living an isolated life.
McClandess feels oppressed by his seniors especially his parents and the government, which constantly directs his life. Therefore, he decides to live in isolation, probably in the wilderness for then he would find the ultimate freedom.
McClandess secretly escapes from home and heads to the Alaskan wilderness. However, his journey is not as easy as he thought. Due to ravaging waters, his car breaks down forcing him to travel as a hitchhiker.
All the people he interacts with are ready to help him some even going ahead to give him employment, McClandess is not interested in their benevolence; after all, he is running from any human associations.
He conceals his identity by changing his name to Alex, burning all documents that could identify him, and lying that his home in South Dakota and not Virginia.
On the contrary, his search for freedom ends up tragically. As the story closes, his body is rotting in a broken bus in the middle of Denali National park with a note begging for help. Although McClandess acquires his freedom, it turns out to be short-lived and tragic.
Nevertheless, just like a good soldier, McClandess dies fighting (Dexter 12). In a recap, Krakauer exploits the theme of ultimate freedom by profiling McClandess life events and adventures.
Unfortunately, what many might perceive as freedom might turn out to be disastrous; maybe the true beauty of living which underlines independence comes from within.
Dexter, Filkins. “The Good Soldier.” The New York Times Sept. 2009.
Krakauer, Jon. Into the wild. New York: Anchor press, 1996.
Medred, Craig. “McClandess fatal trek: schizophrenia and pilgrimage?” Anchorage Daily News Apr. 1996.
Smart, Simon. “On the road in search of freedom: reflection on into the wild.” Centre for Public Christianity Aug. 2009.
“Into the Wild” a Book by Jon Krakauer Essay
Chris McCandless does not pass as an ordinary person; no, he is a complicated person living a life defined by his principles, not by society. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer tackles McCandless’s life, starting with the discovery of McCandless dead body in a bus, Krakauer takes a journey back into McCandless life as a graduate through his disappearance to his survival and eventual death in the Alaskan forest. The book explores people who influenced McCandless like Jack London and Leo Tolstoy, among others. Based on his journal entries and the books he read coupled with ideas he shared with others, it is evident that McCandless was greatly influenced by Thoreau’s writings viz. Civil Disobedience and Life without Principle.
McCandless Purpose in Life
As exposited in Into the Wild, McCandless went missing sometimes in April 1992, probably due to the influence of Thoreau’s writings; for instance, in Civil Disobedience, Thoreau talks of government being at best when it rules not. Probably McCandless was displeased with the form of leadership in America at that time. Thoreau talks of the American government as one lacking, “the vitality and force of a single living man; for a single man can bend it to his will” (Thoreau 4). The issues of bad governance and discrimination towards blacks stand out clearly in Thoreau’s arguments, and this might have angered McCandless, something that made him feel like a prisoner to the government.
In his Journal, McCandless says he “basked in his newfound freedom” (Krakauer 19). However, why did he need freedom? This is because, as previously mentioned, governance had never measured to Thoreau standards, an influential figure in McCandless’ life. McCandless, “shed unnecessary baggage” (Krakauer 20). The baggage of being governed by a government without the verve of one living man. Therefore, to show his displeasure, McCandless opted to live in solitude where he would not see the irregularities and injustices that stained governance because, according to Thoreau, these are the only ways a person could rebel.
Thoreau insisted that citizens had the right to resist and rebel against the government, and this must have gotten well into McCandless’s heart. Thoreau believed that the only tool that people would use to correct the government where necessary was conscience and rebellion. “All men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to refuse allegiance, to resist the government…” (Thoreau 10).
McCandless understood this principle very well and decided not to be a part of the government that was violating human rights. By paying taxes, he would support this governance, something contrary to his beliefs. Therefore, the only way he would ‘practically withdraw’ his support for the government was to live in forest where he would, neither pay taxes nor see violation of human rights. Krakauer notes that McCandless was “stubborn and hot-headed” (45).
This stubbornness, coupled with Thoreau’s philosophies, gave McCandless the impetus to go on and live in the forest. Moreover, by the time McCandless entered university, he had developed “a sense of outrage over injustice in the world at large” (Krakauer 96). American governance was full of injustices that McCandless loathed. Therefore, his outrage led him to leave and live in the forest. He chose to live a solitary life that would prevent him from seeing human injustices. The only alternative that he had was to live in forest with minimal human interactions.
As aforementioned, McCandless had idiosyncratic logic, and living in the forest was one of his personal decisions, which he did not expect everyone to agree with just as Thoreau believed. Thoreau posits, “The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think is right” (7). Moreover, McCandless opted to live in solitude at the heart of an Alaskan forest due to the influence of another Thoreau’s short story, Life without Principle.
As aforementioned, McCandless was a traveler; therefore, he chose to follow his dreams and pursue the things he treasured most viz. traveling and discovery. Krakauer insinuates that McCandless was probably a “pilgrim…he was not incompetent or an outcast” (76). Based on this argument, McCandless had all the reasons to leave the city and live in the forest. Thoreau in Life Without Principle says, “do not make religions and other such institutions the sort of intellectual comfort zone that prevents you from entertaining ideas that are not to be found there” (vii).
Consequently, McCandless could not allow societal institutions to bar him from ‘entertaining’ his ideas. In forest, McCandless knew he would find this ‘entertainment’; therefore, “he donated the balance of his bank account (to charity), loaded up his car, and vanished from (his family’s) lives” (Krakauer 103). These idiosyncratic logics led McCandless into the forest, logics he got from Thoreau’s writings.
McCandless believed that “what is valuable about a thing is not the same as how much money it will fetch on the market” (Thoreau vii). McCandless’s most valuable thing was an adventure, a priceless thing in his life. This understanding justifies why he had the strength and guts to live in solitude. Finally, McCandless understood Thoreau’s last principle that “Don’t mistake the march of commerce for progress and civilization – especially when that commerce amounts to driving slaves to produce the articles of vice-like alcohol and tobacco.
There is no shortage of gold, of tobacco, of alcohol, but there is a short supply of high and earnest purpose’” (Thoreau viii). Therefore, McCandless went into the forest to look for ‘purpose’. To him, increase in commerce did not translate into progress in civilization, a direct influence from Thoreau. This resonates well with the first reason that he went to the forest as a sign of rebellion against governance.
To him, money, gold, and all material things were insufficient to supply; however, purpose in life was outstandingly missing in humanity, and he set out to fix this shortcoming. He was “heedless of personal safety” (Krakauer 45). He did not care much about his personal safety; thus, he would make it. Again, he was “undeterred by physical discomfort” (Krakauer 46). Therefore, the fact that he would face discomfort would not deter his resolve. Consequently, into the forest, he went and lived a life of ‘purpose’ and solitude.
Chris McCandless was a peculiar person by all standards. He lived according to his principles regardless of whether they were popular amongst other people or not. Being an adherent of Thoreau, there are two reasons that probably pushed McCandless into solitude forest life. Bad and poor governance has been around for quite some time now. Given the fact that Thoreau was against poor governance, and McCandless was his disciple, then it is logical to conclude that McCandless went into the forest in ‘silent resistance’ against bad governance. In the forest, he would not pay taxes; hence, not support poor governance in any way.
Secondly, McCandless went into the forest to pursue his dreams and entertain his life. As an adherent of Thoreau, he must have read Life without Principle and adopted its philosophies. This short story calls for people to get out established institutions if they cannot find enjoyment in life. McCandless did exactly that; he moved to where he would entertain his life. McCandless’s purpose in life was to live according to his principles that called for following one’s heart and rebelling against poor governance.
Krakauer, Jon. “Into the Wild.” New York: Anchor, 1997.
Thoreau, Henry. “Life Without Principle.” Forgotten Books, 2008.
Thoreau, Henry. “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience.” New York; Filiquarian Publishing, 2007.
The Concept of Idealism in the Book Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer Essay
In literature, idealism refers to the immaterial mind; people normally try to relate what they think to what really happens in their lives. Idealists wish they would convert the things they keep in their minds from a virtual state to a real one (Graebner 1). Idealism plays an important role in the construction of the physical world in which people live.
Idealists assert that all physical objects on the surface of the earth depend on human mind and creativity and therefore, they exist solely as a result of that kind of dependence (Graebner 1). The article, Into the Wild, has addressed the concept of idealism through the activities outlined in its plot.
The concept of idealism relates to the assertion held by people, which states that reality is immaterial and can only be constructed through the mind. This ideology describes how human ideas can be used to construct and shape the society (Strohmer 1).
This paper will use the Krakauer’s book, Into the Wild, to address various concepts of idealism. The concepts to be addressed include how idealism is perceived by different individuals, its primary role in the text, how it influences the way people interact in the actual world, and how it correlates to various historical perceptions.
Idealism Concept in the Krakauer’s Book
The concept of idealism has been brought out in the text as an attempt to describe life without having to incorporate the idea of realism (Strohmer 1). In fact, the plot of the text begins on McCandless’ quest to explore life in the wild. McCandlss, the main character, is determined to explore the life of wealth and privilege.
This is a type of life that only exists in his mind and of which he thinks may exist in the actual world. It is as a result of the idealistic thought that the main character loses his life in the woods where he “stubbornly goes to prove the unrealistic thought” he has had about life (Krakauer 5).
Idealism has been used in the Krakauer’s book in such a way that it emphasizes more on the eternal reality than it does on the internal being in people. This is a common phenomenon in most books. It is more appropriate to outline the concept of idealism by relating it to the external reality (Strohmer 2).
This way, the author is capable of bringing out the concept in a more direct manner. The two characters, Alex and Gallien, feel that the bush is not the same as what is described in writing. They appear to be “preoccupied by idealism”, which is the formed opinion they have concerning a bush (Krakauer 7).
Idealism has also been displayed in the book Into the Wild, as a stream of consciousness of the main character. The story in the book has actually been developed as a result of the character’s pursuit of ideal aspects in life (Strohmer 2). The character feels that he can prove his point by touring the bush to see and compare what is inside to what he has formed in his mind.
In order to prove his assertion, the main character is willing and ready to explore the forest despite lacking the appropriate gear needed to do so. The character decides to carry out the mission as secretively as possible. He does not even inform any of his family members.
Although the main character is so possessed with the mission to explore the bush to verify what he considers as ideal, the other seem to understand that idealism is a phenomenon that only exists in someone’s mind and not in the practical world (Strohmer 2).
Gallien is opposed to Alex’s idea of exploring the bush. He understands that what Alex’s thinks in his mind may not be the case in the real sense. However, out of sympathy, he wants to assist him with the “appropriate equipment” that would help him enhance his safety while in the pursuit (Krakauer 43).
Importance of Idealism in the Krakauer’s Book
The concept of idealism is not only important in the plot development of the book, but has also been used by the author to bring out the main issues in the story. The plot of the book has been built entirely on the concept of idealism. The mission of the main character, Alex, of taking a tour across the bush has been “inspired by the thoughts he has regarding the life in the wilderness” (Krakauer 5).
It is a result of the urge to explore the bush that Alex and other characters get to see a variety of features of the wilderness. The characters visit many places such as Teklanika in their tour of the wild. They get to see beautiful points and features in these places. For instance, they get the opportunity to explore the banks of Teklanika and the channels that are spread evenly in the place (Krakauer 11).
It is through this picture that the character form illusions in their minds that lead them to scrutinize the features of the wildlife (Strohmer 3). The nature and the extent to which the characters are willing to go on with their mission are dependent on idealism. They even indulge into risky activities such as using manual and crude equipment to explore the depth and width of rivers in the wild. They also study floods in the area “despite the fact that they pose tremendous health hazards to them” (Krakauer 12).
It is through idealism that Krakauer is not only been able to develop the story in the most appropriate way, but also makes it quite interesting. It is interesting to see how idealists such as McCandless can decide to venture into tiresome and risky activities because of the urge to prove that what they have in their mind is right. McCandle visits a number of places, which include South Dakota and Carthage, sites that are considered extremely risky and unsafe (Krakauer 55).
The fact that it is as result of McCandless’ idealistic thoughts and the urge to verify them that he ends up losing his life in the wild, make the story even more interesting. McCandless is found dead in Alaska after carrying out the most part of his long and tiring mission.
It is alleged that his death could have been as a result of mental torture and his endless anxiety aimed at exploring the entire world to establish whether his thoughts were realistic or not. This implies that idealism can at times have unpleasant consequences, some of which are fatal and rather unbearable (Strohmer 2).
Idealism in the Real World
The concept of idealism plays a great role on how people see the things around them. The idealists assert that thoughts can be turned into realities, a concept that scientific viewpoints term as immaterial and quite difficult to measure. Although thoughts may be immaterial and for that reason, difficult to measure, it does not imply that they are totally useless or they do not exist (Strohmer 3).
According to idealists, what people think is the main drive of what normally happens in the real world. The idealists assert that world is best understood in the context of self-awareness in thought and not in the scientific or mathematical point of view (Strohmer 4).
Since idealism relates the real world to thought, the human perception of things is regarded as real and measurable. Most idealists hold that the physical world and its composition are a reflection of people’s mind and assertions. People’s mind and what happens in the world are inseparable.
It is the thought that drive what people do in the world ((Graebner 1)). This is also evident from Krakauer’s book where everything the characters do, are inspired by their thought and perception of the world. McCandless in particular leaves his home and family to survey the wilderness (Krakauer 5).
However, even the idealists admit that it is not easy to convert ideals into reality. Some of the idealists even end up dropping the thought they once regarded as useful and worthy. This is normally caused by two factors, cynicism and disillusionment, which come as a result of waiting for long to see if a thought will turn into reality ((Graebner 1)).
In conclusion, idealism is an important aspect in human life. It determines how people perceive the world and how they go about their activities. Even though it is difficult to measure how much a thought is ideal, thoughts exist and are responsible for the course that every person takes.
Graebner, Norman A. Gale Encyclopedia of US Foreign Policy: Realism and Idealism. Gale Cengage, n.d.
Krakauer, Jon. Into the Wild. London: Macmillan, 1998. Print.
Strohmer, Charles. Realism and Idealism. International Relations, n.d.
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.
 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. Earlier years
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. 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 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.[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.” 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
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. 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
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”. 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. 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? ” Death
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. 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. 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.” 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. 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.” 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. 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.  Criticism
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, others, particularly Alaskans, have expressed negative views about McCandless and those who romanticize his fate. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.” 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.
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?
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?
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?