Chris McCandless' Journey Into The Wild
Imagine a tedious mission of solidarity, defiance, perseverance, and purpose. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer tells the true story of a wealthy young man, Chris McCandless, who had just that type of trip. He abandoned a life of comfort and conformity to embark on a journey in the wild as an attempt to escape society and the oppression of his complicated parental relationships. By giving himself a new name, Alex Supertramp, he freed himself from association with his old life and his parents, who he believed were hypocritical dictators.
Krakauer, who promised to be partial, expresses a deep admiration for Chris, who rid himself of his possessions and a small fortune to hitchhike solo across the continent. Chris fought continuously for survival from 1990 to 1992 and touched the lives of many people who helped him along the way. After approximately four months of completely living off of the land in the Alaskan wilderness, Chris met his end in an abandoned bus when he was trapped by a rapid and died of starvation. Although some argue that Chris McCandless was not truly an individual nor self-reliant, he was definitely a nonconformist and a transcendentalist.
Chris did not conform to society’s expectations, priorities, or life plans. To be a nonconformist, one must always oppose society’s views, even if society’s perspective changes. Chris did not prioritize the same things that society did such as money, cars, education, and careers. Chris believed his parents shared the same superficial values as society, which frustrated him since he saw the world and the definition of success through a different lens. In transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson’s piece, “Self-Reliance,” he wrote: “Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.” Emerson meant that people must be willing to act unconventionally and that they should not blindly accept the path that society has laid out for them. One must be able to not simply accept what society or a person had told them but should determine for themselves what is truly good. He also is saying that the most important thing is having strong moral principles and being true to oneself. Since Emerson is considered a transcendentalist, these are all traits of transcendentalists and they are acts that are considered to be nonconformist.
In a letter that Chris wrote to his sister Carine, he ranted about his parents’ repeated attempts to buy him a car. “I’m going to have to be real careful not to accept any gifts from them in the future because they will think they have bought my respect.”(Krakauer 21) Chris opposed the way that society members like his parents would use their money to exchange tangibles, such as cars, for intangibles, such as respect. Chris acted unconventionally in valuing a car of low value above an expensive car and not accepting luxurious gifts. Chris had strong moral principles that opposed giving his parents any gratification. His parents had set out an ordinary path for him: college, law school, a promising law career; all filled with excess and luxury because of the fat paychecks.
Instead, Chris adventured into the wild because he did not want to follow the conventional route. For Chris, rejecting the car was symbolic of rejecting a life of excess, courtesy of a law career, and choosing a life of frugality and good memories. In exploring this chosen way of life through his hitchhiking journey, Chris found peace in his preferred way of living and he stayed true to himself. Chris also acted like a nonconformist in high school when he refused to follow a certain format when writing his lab reports. Chris’s father, Walt, recalls Chris’s thoughts on the rule. “Chris thought it was a stupid rule and decided to ignore it….so the teacher gave him an F.”(Krakauer 109) Chris acted defiantly toward the teacher by refusing to follow his rule. Chris did not blindly follow the teacher’s instructions, he determined for himself if the rule made sense and was therefore worth complying to, just like in Emerson’s teachings. This act also showed his nonconformity because he put his parents’ plan of sending him to college at risk when his grade was in jeopardy and it was controllable. According to Emerson’s qualifications, Chris acted like a textbook nonconformist from an early age and his nonconformity continued until his death.
Chris was individualistic because he had unchanging views that happened to differ from the majority; he acted on independent judgment. Chris’s perspective did not comply with some authority figures, especially the government. A man named Gallien was the first to give the naive hitchhiker a ride and the two made small talk in the car. “Gallien asked whether he [Chris] had a hunting license. ‘Hell no’ Alex scoffed. ‘How I feed myself is none of the government’s business. Fuck their stupid rules.’”(Krakauer 6) Chris did not accept the government’s rule and control. Chris did not believe that the government getting that closely involved in his life was necessary, contrary to the opinion of the majority. In “Civil Disobedience” Henry David Thoreau writes “That government is best which governs least.”(1)
Like Chris, Thoreau was against the involvement of the government in things that were not super important. Thoreau was also an individual: his opinions did not comply with the society of his time period, but they would comply more with the society of the current time period. He had views different from his neighbors; for example, he believed that slavery should be abolished and that there should not be a war with Mexico. Thoreau acted defiantly towards the government’s war in Mexico by refusing to pay his taxes since they would support the war.
Chris acted defiantly towards the government’s law by refusing to register for a hunting license. However, there are differences between their stances. Thoreau’s opinions were concerned with the greater good, whereas Chris did not agree with the government’s rules on a selfish level. Even though their reasoning for disagreement with the government was different, Chris was still an individual like Thoreau because he dared to be different from the majority who believed in the government’s policies and authority. Some people may disagree that Chris was an individual because he tried to mimic the behaviors of the people who he read about, including Leo Tolstoy, who wrote primarily about realism. Chris was “Long captivated by the writing of Leo Tolstoy, McCandless particularly admired how the great novelist had forsaken a life of wealth and privilege to wander among the destitute.
In college McCandless began emulating Tolstoy’s asceticism and moral rigor to a degree that first astonished, and then alarmed, those who were close to him.”(Krakauer, Author’s Note) Chris’s expedition imitated Tolstoy because Chris donated his money and rejected his privileged lifestyle to hitchhike and live off the land. Even in college, Chris was quick to imitate Tolstoy. To people who do not agree that Chris was an individual, they would see this evidence as proof that Chris was not his own person, just someone easily influenced by interesting ideas. However, that is not true because the purpose of Chris’s unique journey was to ponder his soul, a purpose different than that of Tolstoy. Ditching his wealth was simply a move to achieve Chris’s goal, a goal that was inspired by Tolstoy. Chris’s journey and views regarding the government showed independent judgment and demonstrate that Chris was an individual.
Chris was self-reliant because had to depend on his own decisions, efforts, and abilities for survival; no one else’s. Chris decided which wild plants to eat, where to travel and by what means, and how to kill and serve the animals that he ate. He knew that one wrong move could be fatal and that many times no one would be around to save him if he did make a mistake. Chris was especially self-reliant when he went into the Alaskan wilderness. Chris had to hunt and gather in order to feed himself and he had to made sure that he did not freeze to death. Chris was also self-reliant on his own efforts. He went into the wild to find himself and to find a place where he fit in. His complicated relationship with his parents stayed on Chris’s conscience. It was up to Chris solely to find the answers that he was searching for; he did not have a therapist or life coach to guide him through these processes. Eventually, Chris was able to find himself and God in nature. It was clear that Chris had found God in nature when he credited Him for blessing Chris with a wonderful life and a meaningful experience. As he died, “McCandless penned a brief adios: ‘I HAVE HAD A HAPPY LIFE AND THANK THE LORD. GOODBYE AND MAY GOD BLESS ALL!’”(Krakauer 199)
Chris also did successful soul searching because after spending so much time alone he finally realized how to achieve happiness. “HAPPINESS ONLY REAL WHEN SHARED.”( Krakauer 189 ) Chris denied himself of this basic right in his attempt to be completely self-reliant. Chris had to rely on his own abilities, which did not seem to be a problem for him because he was very confident despite his lack of experience and expertise. “I’m absolutely positive…. I won’t run into anything I can’t deal with on my own.”
There were parts of his journey when Chris was completely alone and could not lean on others for resources or favors such as food, shelter, or rides. This happened when he canoed through Mexico and he was responsible for making his own food, finding his own shelter, and paddling for his own transportation. In Mexico “He had not seen or talked to another soul in thirty-six days. For that entire period, he subsisted on nothing but five pounds of rice and what marine life he could pull from the sea.”(Krakauer 36) That must have been especially hard for Chris since he later admitted that he needed others for happiness.
Opposing arguments state that Chris was not completely self-reliant because he got help from others from time to time. Numerous people who had encountered Chris testify throughout the book about the ways that they assisted the young adventurer. For example, Gallian gave Chris supplies, Westerberg gave Chris a job and money, Charlie gave Chris a trailer to sleep in, and there were many others who helped Chris along the way. Despite Chris’s valiant efforts, he found that it was impossible to be 100 percent self-reliant. Chris let himself be helped by other people because he wanted the companionship in order to make himself happy. Even though Chris accepted help from people at times, he was still self-reliant because Chris acted and made decisions by himself for most of his journey.
Chris McCandless was an individual who went on an extreme adventure and has been labeled a transcendentalist as a result. He did not conform to his parents’ plans for him to be career driven, successful, or wealthy. Instead, he embarked on a hitchhiking expedition where he had to be self-reliant and capacity for making smart choices was frequently tested.
Chris went into the wild with a purpose: to learn more about himself. He accomplished this by discovering the key factor to the most important ingredient of life: happiness and finding God in nature. Whether or not Chris is a transcendentalist based on the evidence in Krakauer’s book is fiercely debated by readers. Chris, unfortunately, did not live to tell the tale of his wild Alaskan adventure, but it is reasonable to wonder if he would have considered himself to be a transcendentalist or a person with a failed attempt to be a transcendentalist.
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