Into The Wild - Amanda Haddock          

Into The Wild Essay

Amanda Haddock
Oct. 9, 2013
How McCandless embodies Emerson’s ideals

Seeing is Deceiving
Chris McCandless, in Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, left his family to go into the wild. He is a hero, although many consider him ‘crazy’, he is a hero. He does not save anyone, but he teaches them valuable lessons, which ends up being part of purpose or divine ideal. Chris McCandless was a true American hero who embodied the full meaning of Emersonian self-reliant hero by embracing the light and forgetting time and space, being misunderstood, fully expressing himself, living with nature, not being afraid of death, and bringing peace to himself.

McCandless embraces his soul and lets in the light by forgetting time and leaving space behind. He was never a fan of materialistic things. This was why he was able to say, “I now walk into the wild,” (Krakauer 69), and actually go through with it. His mentality was strong enough to be able to see with his soul, not by his mind, which explains part of why he was able to last as long as he did in the wild. Ralph Emerson describes it as, “[t]ime and space are but physiological colors which the eye makes, but the soul is light” (Emerson 9). By leaving time and space, light came into his soul, allowing him to see better. Because they were made by the human mind, leaving time and space were easier for him. They are materialistic; they do not actually exist. By leaving the darkness of both, time and space, McCandless was able to be opened to the light and let his soul find his purpose.

McCandless was seen as ‘crazy’ and ‘stupid’ by spectators because they misunderstood his greatness. As you cannot judge a book by its cover, you cannot judge McCandless by his appearance. Many spectators argue that he was ‘stupid,’ such as writer and schoolteacher Nick Jans who wrote, “[t]he only difference is that McCandless ended up dead, with the story of his dumbassedness splashed across the media” (Krakauer 71). But what he does not know or realize is that McCandless had and represented a purpose and a story. His greatness was true dedication, true love, and true grit. McCandless cannot validly be called ‘stupid’ or ‘crazy’ for loving nature so much that he dedicated his life into becoming it. It takes a person with true grit to last as long as he did. True grit is something society aims to have, but when someone finally has it, society makes fun of them because they do not understand how it feels to be mentally tough for so long. Emerson describes how genius is not a group effort, it is an individual accomplishment. And McCandless accomplishes this by being the most individualized person he can be, and doing so on his own. Greatness does not come very often; it is special.

Greatness can also be considered being different because it is so uncommon. People are made fun of for being different because they are misunderstood; and so McCandless is misunderstood and criticized. He also embodies Emerson’s idea, “to be great is to be misunderstood” (Emerson 6), by being his true and greatest self, which is different. Although most spectators did not understand his purpose, he was the greatest he could be. One must look past society to understand (his) greatness.

McCandless is able to fully express himself in nature because that is where it makes him happy and strong. While in the wild, he read and highlighted important passages to him in books. One passage by Everett Reuss, “do you blame me then for staying here, where I feel that I belong and am one with the world around me?” (Krakauer 87), describes McCandless’s reasoning for staying in the wild. He is happiest and strongest there. Many confuse strength with physical strength, but it can also refer to mental strength. In the wild, McCandless is mentally stronger. Happiness is to strength as sadness or anger are to weakness. When he is at his house, he is never happy and his weaknesses begin to appear. This is why he never stayed for long periods of time. When he is in the wild, he feels happy and strong because he is where he can express his true self in his true home. People, today especially, do not his tie to nature due to technological growth. Emerson regards, “[w]e but half express ourselves, and are ashamed of that divine idea which each of us represents” (Emerson 2). McCandless embodies this ideal for a true American hero according to Emerson in that he does not hide his true self and knows what he presents. He is misunderstood because one must first know who they themselves represent before knowing anyone else’s representation fully. Because few know what their divine ideal is, they cannot understand Chris McCandless.

The only way for one not to fear death is to be able to bring peace to oneself, which McCandless is able to accomplish. Jon Krakauer, after describing McCandless’s (ill) preparedness for the wild explains, “McCandless, in his fashion, merely took risk-taking to its logical extreme” (Krakauer 182); his most extreme risk being that he moved into the wild with little to no supplies. He is an Emersonian American hero in this regard because he has absolutely no fear of death. He does not fear death because he has no (given) reason to. He is where he is happy and strong and should not fear death in his home. Most people fear death, but only a true American hero does not, according to Emerson. Emerson also states that those who shun fate, also shun strength. McCandless embodies fate and is therefore able to embody the strength to take risks. While on his deathbed, McCandless writes, “I HAVE HAD A HAPPY LIFE AND THANK THE LORD, GOODBYE AND MAY GOD BLESS ALL!” (Krakauer 199). Throughout the entire novel, he has been in constant battles with his parents, his body, nature, and his mind. By dying where he has been his happiest, he finally brings complete peace to himself. A short and magnificent life is better than a long and boring life. Some people are meant to live long, prosperous lives; some are not, such as McCandless. Every man has a purpose and McCandless was able to fulfill his purpose in a short amount of time. If one lives with no regrets, we should not be afraid of dying. One of Emerson’s last statements is, “[n]othing can bring you peace but yourself” (Emerson 18). It may not appear as the happiest ending, but by being alone and with nature, McCandless was able to find peace in something few could possibly understand. We are all meant to die a certain way, in a certain place. Just as a soldier is happy to die for his country, for his purpose, in his new home, McCandless is happy to die in his home for his purpose. He was strong enough to let fate come into his life completely and be happy. He died the way he did and where he did not because he could not survive, but because he did not need to survive. His story, his dreams, and his legacy are what needed to survive. And they did and do. “Every man is a cause, a country, an age; requires infinite spaces and numbers and time to fully accomplish his design” (Emerson 7). McCandless was a country of his own and was a representation of The Supreme Cause by self-existence (Emerson 11). He had his space, his nature and his numbers, his books to accomplish his design. But in the end, he could not survive because he did not need to survive.

McCandless is not a tragic hero because every hero must die sometime. We should not regret any part of his life, because through every mistake and precision McCandless made, we were able to learn from them. We learned how: to take risks; to see; to be yourself; to have peace; to perceive death as; to be happy; to be strong; and to be great. Everything he has taught us is part of being the ideal Emersonian style of an American hero. McCandless was an extraordinary human being that few actually take the time, or rather the light, to appreciate him.


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