Friday, July 27, 2012

"Into the Wild" by Jon Krakauer

Several years ago I saw the movie Into the Wild, a fictionalized narrative of the life and death of Chris McCandless, a young man who left his good home to hitchhike to Alaska and live alone in the wilderness. He was discovered, several months later, starved to death, despite being within several miles of civilization. The movie, of course, is based on Krakauer's nonfiction book. When I saw the movie, I was mostly disgusted by the character and the movie's basic theme. The film seemed to be romanticizing the pointless journey of a self-absorbed and stuck-up kid who looked down upon everyone else and society.  Fortunately, however, I came away from Krakauer's book with a much more nuanced view of McCandless. Mostly this is because Krakauer acknowledges my reaction and willingly explores McCandless' faults. But, he also puts those faults and McCandless' goals in perspective, and though he doesn't romanticize McCandless' journey like the movie, he does offer insight into why such an odyssey would appeal to a young man like McCandless.

Contrary to public opinion, though he was reckless, McCandless wasn't stupid, and he probably would have survived except for a few devastating, but easily made, mistakes. In the end (and I'd agree), Krakauer seems to suggest that McCandless' greatest flaw was the hubris of the young. He rejected his parents because they had faults, rather than recognizing them as human. He rejected all trappings of society (money, housing, jobs, plentiful food) in an effort to find "purity" in nature rather than dealing with the world the way it is. By removing himself from it, I think he tried to take the easy way out--perhaps not easy physically, but I'd argue it's a lot easier to focus only on basic needs (food, water) than to try and work with society (and plan for retirement or set up health insurance or get the car fixed).

I'll be teaching American Lit in the fall, and I'd like to eventually include Into the Wild in the curriculum because it fits in so well with basic American themes (trying to find one's self; rebelling against the pressures around you) and connects so clearly to major American works (Thoreau's transcendentalism; the call of the wild in Huck Finn). It'd be neat to compare it to Kerouac's On the Road as well.


  1. This book stayed with me for a long time. I went out and bought all of Jack London's books afterwards, lol!

  2. Haha, I don't think I'm convinced enough for Jack London, though I can certainly see the appeal!