At one time or another, most people want to escape civilization or even reality itself.
That’s exactly what Chris McCandless did when he ventured into the Alaskan bush on a journey to survive on the land, which eventually led to his death.
Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild documents the strange tale of McCandless and why he chose to live a nomadic existence. Fortunately for Krakauer, McCandless kept a journal of his many travels and the connections he made.
These connections start with McCandless leaving his beloved Datsun pickup truck near Lake Mead in Nevada and moving from California, going up the Pacific Coast to Washington and settling in South Dakota for a bit.
The question of why McCandless decided to make a journey to Alaska is still a mystery. Krakaurer tells the story of several who decided to go on their own for a while, with the author relating his own experience of his solitary moment in the Alaskan wilderness.
Some of those mentioned were mentally ill and some would say that McCandless would fit into that stereotype.
But Krakauer refutes this thinking. "McCandless didn’t conform particularly well to the bush-casualty stereotype. Although he was rash, untutored in the way of the backcountry, incautious to the point of foolhardiness, he wasn’t incompetent -he wouldn’t have lasted 113 days if he were."
Alaskans’s were particularly brutal in condemning McCandless. Krakhauer simple refutes in stating that "Maybe McCandless reminds them a little too much of themselves."
McCandless’s fascination with the losing himself in the wild can be traced to his love of Jack London and The Call of the Wild. McCandless also treasured Thoreau and Tolstoy, trying to live some of the higher principles they espoused in shaking off the trapping of middle-class America.
McCandless however missed the real truth that his favorite authors failed to note. London did not live alone in nature using his wits and instincts to survive and Tolstoy, one who preached celibacy, was a notorious womanizer.
The contradictions are an interesting part of what made McCandless tick. After all, he brought with him some necessities such as a gun, camping gear and even food.
McCandless even had to use the capitalistic system that he abhorred in order to work at McDonald’s to fund his journey.
Despite all of this, McCandless wasn’t foolhardy and only bad luck did him in in the end, not a lack of survival skills.
What is so poignant about McCandless’s struggle that Krakauer tries to relate to us is the experience of being completely on your own is not what it seems. Instead of focusing inward on our souls, we are forced to concentrate on sheer survival.
Into the Wild is really about that struggle and how the final result may be death, but emphasizes that this doesn’t mean that the desire to be on one’s own is simply the result of hubris or foolishness.