Jon Krakauer’s “Into the Wild” tells us the story of a young boy’s adventure that ends in a tragic way. It started as a long-read article and then transformed in a complex non-fiction book that contains many facts and theories gathered by Jon. A story revolves around Christopher McCandless and other people that he encountered during long two years of his wanderings. Chris rejected almost every middle-class good that was granted to him and became a traveller, because at some point in our lives we all have to take a journey to discover who we really are, and more importantly, what we want to be.
Christopher McCandless was very young, precisely 22 years old, when he left his house and started his trip. His age is one of the reasons why he did it. It is hard to imagine someone much older than Chris who can attempt to do the same. The time after graduating from college is very delicate for everybody. It is time when some men would think that the world is not enough and that there is nothing that can stop them. Chris was very intelligent and well-educated. So his deed was also well thought-out.
Christopher’s intelligence was the reason why he was familiar with many authors. Henry David Thoreau, Jack London and William Henry Davies are just some of them. Chris “was big on the classics: Dickens, H. G. Wells, Mark Twain, Jack London. London was his favourite. He’d try to convince every snowbird who walked by that they should read Call of the Wild” (Krakauer, 31). But Chris only saw what he wanted to see in these books. He found some thoughts that belonged to these writers and adopted them, but he never thought that these writers might have changed them later or that some of them were just writers and had nothing in common with their fiction. Thoreau’s most famous book “Walden” is a cogitation about plain and pure living in the nature. Thoreau wrote that most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind. Thoreau made a trip to northern Maine in 1846. But “instead of coming out of the woods with a deepened appreciation of the wilds, Thoreau felt a greater respect for civilization and realized the necessity of balance” (Nash, 54). And Jack London himself was only writing about hardy men in the snowy landscapes, while he himself only spent one winter in the North and was not so tough as his characters, ending his life with suicide. W. H. Davies was another one of Christopher’s inspirers. He spent most of his life as a tramp and called his autobiographical work “The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp”. This is where Christopher McCandless found the inspiration for his pseudonym, thus becoming Alexander Supertramp, which has nothing to do with the rock-band.
The fact that Chris renounced the name that his parents gave him and adopted an alias makes us think that he had some troubles with his family. Partly it was because he did not share their middle-class values. But it is not until late part of the book, when we discover that Chris made a trip in which he found out that his father was leading a double-life with another family. “Chris complained to Carine that their parents’ behavior was “so irrational, so oppressive, disrespectful and insulting that I finally passed my breaking point” (Krakauer, 46). In the last letter to his sister he wrote: “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’ll be through with them once and for all, forever” (Krakauer, 46). Christopher’s relations with his family are what troubled those who he stumbled upon in his journey. For example, Wayne Westerberg discovered that Alex was not a real name and later he told Krakauer that “From things he said, you could tell something wasn’t right between him and his family, but I don’t like to pry into other people’s business, so I never asked about it” (Krakauer, 15). Wayne also thought that Chris “must have just got stuck on something that happened between him and his dad and couldn’t leave it be” (krakauer, 46). He was right about that. Ronald Franz, who is yet another important person in Christopher’s journey, must have felt that something was troubling this young boy’s mind and asked Chris if he could adopt him, if he would be his grandson. McCandless rejected this offer, but instead proposed Ronald to “adopt a helter-skelter style of life” and “to hit the road” (Krakauer, 40).
Ronald Franz was not the only person to feel attachment to this young rebel. Every person that Chris met since leaving his home was trying to do something good for him. Jan Burres and her boyfriend Bob appeared in his life when he truly needed them as he was picking berries along the highway when they stopped by. And later, when helping them on the flea-market selling books, he easily made contact with people. Old man Charlie let him stay in his empty RV when Chris had nowhere to sleep. Jim Gallien was the last person to see Christopher before he disappeared in the wilderness. He warned Chris about different things and gave him a lot of advices. All other people that Chris was riding with while hitchhiking were kind towards him. It is some kind of an irony, that Chris ended his life alone while being so friendly and open-hearted.
In fact, there are many ironies in Christopher’s life. He donated his 24,000$ to OXFAM, which is a confederation of organizations working to find solutions to poverty and hunger. And in the end he dies of hunger. He was not able to cross the river and it eventually led to his death. But if he would take a map with him, he would know that the river was passable just a mile upstream. During more than hundred days that Christopher spent in the wilderness he did not encounter a single person. But he was found by five different people just a few days after his death (Fiedler, 15). He abandons his car, while it’s only problem is a wet battery. He literally burns his money and continues to work hard in order to earn more. All in all, Chris was a man of contradictions.
While most of the people acquainted with a story feel sympathy towards Chris, there are others who question his morale. Jon Krakauer received a lot of letters after publishing his article. Some accused Chris of mental illness, while others just defined his adventures as stupid, implying that he was intentionally ill-prepared for this journey. Somebody said that it wasn’t hunger that killed Christopher, but his own arrogance and hubris. Another reader wondered if it would be more effective if Chris engaged in the struggle with poverty and hunger instead of indulging his whims.
After all, Christopher McCandless left his track in history and people’s minds. We can only wonder what truly pushed him into this fatal adventure.
Krakauer, Jon. Into the Wild. New York: Villard, 1996. Print
Nash, Roderick. Wilderness and the American Mind: Henry David Thoreau: Philosopher. New Haven: Yale University, 2001. Print
Fiedler, Leslie. Love and Death in the American Novel. Boston: Dalkey Archive Press, 1992. Print