Into the Wild: Philosophical Journey or Suicidal Foully?
Chris McCandless or Alexander Supertramp is the main protagonist in the book Into The Wild. He is from a well-off family of the upper-middle class and can be regarded as a rich kid within the American Social setting. However the good life, he chooses to abandon that material comfort and follows voluntary dearth-though he is sane and not a drug user- to lead a hitch-hiking lifestyle up North (Krakauer:35). He consciously donates his savings to an organization-OXFAM, abandoning all material possession, and travels into the wild with nothing but a new life. Chris' decision to abandon everything, including his identity, and venture into the Alaskan jungle alone seem like an action only a naive young man would take. It could also be viewed as an admirable idealism or a desire to fulfill some form of a spiritual quest. Additionally, his journey might be interpreted as a kid's plan to quench his thirst for a different kind of excitement. This paper aims at establishing the relationship between nature and American identity while understanding youthful rebellion. It will also explore the relationship between an individual's interests and the societal expectations and show how identity can be constructed through actions, values, interests and beliefs. The paper will ultimately explain why Chris McCandless decided to journey into the wild and find out whether or not he succeed in accomplishing his intentions.
Into the Wild starts with Jim Gallien cruising through Alaska in the open when he notices a young hitchhiker who appears to be 18 years old. The young man, claiming to be Alex, is actually 6 years older than he had predicted and claims to have come from South Dakota. Alex looks tired and has a somewhat light load for a person planning to live in the wilderness. He explains his decision to Gallien who tries unsuccessfully to dissuade him from the idea. According to the author, Gallien is pretty sure that Alex does not have what it takes to live off in the Alaskan wilderness. He then tries to offer him some decent gear to further equip him for the journey ahead, but Alex adamantly refuses. They part ways and Gallien leaves him his phone number and particulars for any assistance Alex might need or in case he changes his mind. However, he had made up his mind and was sticking to his plan. Even as an old truck driver pleaded with him to return home."I begged and pleaded with him to call his parents."( Krakauer:86)
The author then flashes forwards to five months later where a broken down bus in Denali National Park is a scene to behold. Three gentlemen visit the park to find a couple spooked and some bad odour emanating from the bus. There are some notes taped to it asking for assistance. One of the three men, Samel discovers a dead body inside a sleeping bag in the bus. Nobody has enough room in their cars to help remove the body so the authorities are alerted and the next day a police helicopter ferries the body including the note, five rolls of film and a 113-entry diary. Chris McCandless is dead and an autopsy reveals that he died from starvation weighing only 7 pounds. Later in the third chapter, the author gives detailed interviews with some of Chris' or Alex's acquaintances. One is left to wonder why a young educated, university graduate would flee a good life, with supposedly rich parents, and travel to poverty knowingly.
One is left to wonder whether Alex or Chris was really a courageous traveler or just another unprepared fool. As he sets out to the Alaskan outdoors, he bears no compass or map with him. His lack of proper gear and the subsequent demise through starvation amidst a call for help leaves one in the question of his sanity. There must be something he needed to prove to everyone-or to himself. McCandless, as recorded is a highly intelligent and rationally successful young man who was brought up in the affluent surroundings of Washington D.C. However, his increasing revulsion for social injustices as well as political corruption, his rich parent's sedate world and all the demands upon him to follow suit in succeeding, in the long run, had a collision with his desire for freedom and his belief in the invigorating effect of the natural world on his life. All of these internal conflict led Chris to renounce his parents, change his identity and efficiently fall out of cultured society, to pursue an unknown cause.
The author, however, is very powerful in this true story to emphasize that the young man was not simply throwing his life away like a fool. He is keen to show just how awfully the society measures an individual's level of success or happiness. He brings out Chris' feelings and one is absorbed in his frame of mind. Chris, coming from a wealthy family, does not intend to take advantage of the rest of the world that he is so intrigued too. Although his real intentions are not brought out clearly, one feels really understanding and close to the young man. Judging from the many letters and postcards he sent, Chris still felt the need to interact. He leaves a note for his friend Wayne: "Greetings from Fairbanks! This is the last you shall hear from me, Wayne. Arrived here 2 days ago. It was very difficult to catch rides to the Yukon Territory. But I finally got here. Please return all mail I receive to the sender. It might be a very long time before I return South. If this adventure proves fatal and you don't ever hear from me again I want you to know you're a great man. I now walk into the wild. Alex." (Krakauer: 12). He has a desire to run away from the society but then there are some good people he meets along the way and hopes to maintain contact with them. He is so sick of the stereotypes of life and he somewhat hates his rich boy's life. As he abandons the life, he intends to go away for good. As he is compared to other men who have embarked on the same adventure and journey, it is clear that his is a different route. He had no intentions of dying out there in the wild and he evens seeks a job at some point to sustain himself. His frustration, risk and a deep desire to attain success, happiness and freedom can be related. Every young person passes through a phase where they face high expectations and predetermined courses and the status quo. Chris, however, chose to bravely fight the things he hated in a way many would describe as crazy. Many couldn't understand his motive as quoted "I can't imagine anything worse than having a son out there and not knowing where he's at for years and years, not knowing whether he's living or dead."( Krakauer:103)
In conclusion, Chris McCandless took the journey into the wild to escape the world, the status quo, the stereotypes and all the social injustices that go hand in hand with a rich man's society. All in all, Chris seems to have failed in his quest and journey. It seems like he had no clear plan and maybe he should have done things differently. He ended up dead from an avoidable situation of starvation. His actions were rather extreme and at some level, they seem like just another frustrated young man committing suicide in a different way. Those who interacted with him before his death described him as a hard worker and highly intelligent young person. "He was a dandy kid...real courteous,"... "There was something fascinating about him...I can't get him out of my mind,"... "He seemed extremely intelligent...God, he was a smart kid...I was sad to be leaving him."( Krakauer:88) It is therefore ironical that he dies curled up in a sleeping bag inside a broken down bus in a park. People may learn from his mistakes but then the society will not change its perspective on happiness and success. Therefore his mission was a total failure. He was required to stay alive in order to make an impact to the society. His thinking is not well revealed and one hardly understands what he really aimed at achieving. One thing is clear though, he was tired of the mainstream society and all the expectations and pressures piled on him and it was time to step into the wild and abandon the society.