Into The Wild - Megan Gummer          

Into The Wild Essay

Megan Gummer
Honors English IV

Christopher McCandless: An Admirable Fool

There is a tendency for people to live monotonous lives, as if stuck in a revolving door. Naturally, that is according to Emerson ‘s essay on Self Reliance, “society, and its inhabitants urges men to conform.” Its practically inescapable, but some are able to break conformity. Chris McCandless is one of these rebels of society; at the age of 23 he headed west for Alaska to escape into the wild. His embark into the Alaskan wilderness has sparked much controversy. Some believe him to be an inspiration—a modern Thoreau, while others denounce him a fool, lacking in wisdom. It's unfair to simply label him one or the other; while his motive to follow his dreams and desires is inspirational and well respected, he made many, possibly avoidable, mistakes that ultimately cost him his life.

Influenced by Thoreau and Tolstoy, McCandless wanted desperately to escape conformity and ‘lose’ himself in the wild to find both truth and happiness. Alaska was the obvious choice for him, considering the Jack London fan that he was. Many of us want to solve the answers to life and for McCandless Alaska held the key to unlocking such mysteries. In this sense, it is hard to blame him for his pursuing such an adventure. Honestly, most people probably connect with McCandless in that they too are curious about ideas involving the meaning of life. McCandless now stands as an inspiration to others to follow their dream. Rebecca LeMarche focused heavily on the connection between Chris McCandless and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson has inspired and changed the lives of many through his writings. McCandless has taken Emerson’s writings and brought them to life, taking on the courageous task of letting go of society. Emerson’s writings, which are already inspirational in are there own, take a new level of inspiration when actually put to the test in the real world.

McCandless’ foolishness, however, cost him a great deal and tampers his title of possibly being a hero. Again his intentions, of finding truth and happiness, were commendable, but his miscalculations really cost him. Even if he wanted to “rough it” while out in the wild, he could have taken better precautionary measures before and during his journey. One such mistake was his method in preserving meat, specifically big game like moose. Any Alaskan hunter would have told him the easiest way consists of slicing the meat into thin strips and then air-drying it on a rack. In his naïveté, however, McCandless took the advice of smoking his meat from hunters he’d met in South Dakota. McCandless could have also escaped his torturous death if he had only brought along a map. He did not have to use the map per say, but instead bring it in case of an emergency. If only he had a map, he would have found accessible way of crossing the treacherous river. Even without the map he could simply walked a mile or so upstream, where he would have discovered that the river broadened into “a maze of braided channels” that would have been easier to cross.

Chris McCandless earnestly followed the Stampede Trail, never straying from the path until he finally settled in bus 142. A parallel can be drawn between his lack of interest in deviating from the path and eventually the bus to his underlying need to be still connected to structure and existence. Dave Korn, someone who has ventured the Stampede Trail, mentioned how he “longed to follow [the river] upstream to the glacier or downriver deeper into the mountains.” For someone who purposefully left behind a map to “lose” himself in the wild, Korn questioned why he followed the trail? If he truly wanted to experience the “pureness of nature”, he could have created his own path and set up a camp of his own using materials found in woods. Additionally, while in Bullhead City, McCandless explained in a letter that he “might finally settle down” and forgo his tramping life. For him to even consider possibly abandoning his “dream” was quite surprising.

Chris McCandless’ sister, Carine, shed some light on their rather complicated family situation that greatly affected Chris, providing clearer reasoning for why he left the way he did. He felt he was the cause of the family’s distress. According to Carine, “this mislaid blame was never rescinded, only ignored.” He saw “no alternative but to completely remove himself from the pain he could not manage.” In his westward journey to find the meaning of life, he could have subconsciously been searching for a comfort of a real relationship, particularly with his parents. Part of his purpose in life could have been rekindling his relationships and forgiving mistakes of the past.

His parting words were, as noted in margins of Doctor Zhivago: “Happiness only real when shared.” This may be the real message of McCandless, the answers to his questions on the meaning of life. This encompasses a means to end his anger toward his parents, forcing him to realize that he needs them in order to achieve real happiness. In Rebecca LeMarche and Jessica Robbins’ essays, both of which praised McCandless’ journey, there was no mention of these parting words.

After exploring and pondering Chris McCandless and his motives, what should one evidently take away from his story? Should you follow your dreams in full force, even if that includes taking on the Alaskan wilderness? Finding one’s purpose and passion in life is important. Furthermore, finding one’s passion and pursuing a job that compliments such an interest is key to living a happy life. Chris McCandless’ story should be used as a learning experience. Find your purpose and passion in life, but do so reasonably and wisely.

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