Into The Wild - Radhika Arora          

Into The Wild Essay

Radhika Arora
July 24, 2012

Rhetorical Appeals in Into the Wild

What one says, thinks, or hears bears no significance if it is not delivered nor received properly. Ideas are given meaning by how carefully their words are crafted together to leave the most lasting impact; it is their rhetoric that persuades an audience to believe that what they are hearing is significant. The story within Into the Wild is one that is significant because of how effectively Jon Krakauer took Chris McCandless’s adventures and relationships and made them relate to the reader. Krakauer used many rhetorical strategies to create appeals to logos, ethos, and pathos in order to develop the ideas and themes found in his novel.

An appeal to logos shed light into Christopher McCandless’s personality because it determined that he was a compassionate yet adventurous figure during his time. Krakauer wanted the audience to know that there was more to Chris than his habit of criticizing authority and defying the pressures of society, and he demonstrates this belief through a strategy in which he creates a persona for McCandless. Krakauer learned from teammate Eric Hathaway, “On weekends, when his high school pals were attending ‘keggers’ and trying to sneak into Georgetown bars, McCandless would wander the seedier quarters of Washington, chatting with prostitutes and homeless people, buying them meals, earnestly suggesting way they might improve their lives” (113). This revealed that McCandless did have a caring persona, which can be supported with logical proof of his trips to the underdeveloped parts of town. On the other hand, Chris’s carefree persona was reflected in a letter he wrote to Ron where he emphasized, “The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun. If you want to get more out of life, Ron, you must lose your inclination for motonomous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty” (57). Krakauer’s inclusion of this letter in his novel appeals to logos because it offers Chris’s own philosophy that clearly describes the joys that one may experience in his or her life and how to achieve it.

Krakauer also creates an appeal to logos when he includes information that justifies McCandless’s decision to explore Alaskan front and his confidence in surviving there- an important theme regarding the allure to the wilderness. Philosophers like Thoreau would make sense of Chris’s attraction to the north by explaining, “Like not a few of those seduced by the wild, McCandless seems to have been driven by a variety of lust that supplanted sexual desire. His yearning, in sense, was too powerful to be quenched by human contact. McCandless may have been tempted by the succor offered by women, but it paled beside the prospect of rough congress with nature, with the cosmos itself. And thus was he drawn north, to Alaska” (66). These clear and reasonable premises of McCandless’s possible mentality support his decision to venture into the wilderness because it shows that he was allured to it because of the pleasure it would provide him, one that could not be fulfilled by a mere human. McCandless’s confidence and inclination to Alaska can be described by his friend, Jan Burres, “I thought he’d be fine in the end. He was smart. He’d figure out how to paddle a canoe down to Mexico, how to hop freight trains, how to score a bed at inner-city missions. He figured all of that out on his own, and I felt sure he’d figure out Alaska, too” (46). Because he had proven himself as resourceful and virtuous, Burres assumed that he would have been fine in Alaska. Chris may have felt the same way, for he felt assured that he would be able to survive and that lured him even more into the wild.

Krakauer creates an appeal to ethos by using strategies that demonstrate his awareness and qualifications to write and make comparisons with Chris McCandless, while also using strategies that show Chris was qualified and sane enough to make his own decisions regarding Alaska. One of the reasons why Krakauer wrote this novel was because he felt that he and Chris had many similar traits, for example, “As a youth, I am told, I was willful, self-absorbed, intermittently reckless, moody. I disappointed my father in the usual ways. Like McCandless, figures of male authority aroused in me a confusing medley of corked fury and hunger to please. If something captured my undisciplined imagination, I pursued it with a zeal bordering on obsession, and from the age of seventeen until my late twenties that something was mountain climbing” (134). This appeal to ethos describes his awareness to McCandless’s personality and that he is able to write about him because he too was just one version of him. Ultimately, it allows Krakauer to further develop his belief that McCandless was an actual person with legitimate thoughts and concerns. Krakauer believes that he, like McCandless, was also misguided in his journeys, most of which did not improve anything in his life like they were expected to, such as, “When I decided to go to Alaska that April, like Chris McCandless, I was a raw youth who mistook passion for insight and acted according to an obscure, gap-ridden logic. I thought climbing the Devils Thumb would fix all that was wrong with my life. In the end, of course, it changed almost nothing. But I came to appreciate that mountains make poor receptacles for dreams. And I lived to tell my tale” (155). Krakauer’s credibility in writing this novel is increased because he noticed that he went into his travels with the same understanding that Chris did. Their decisions may have been questionable, but the audience can relate to this sort of yearning for adventure and renewal.

Christopher McCandless was sane and had ethical morals and beliefs that develop his deeper character and create an appeal to ethos. Regarding human intimacy, “It seems that McCandless was drawn to women but remained largely or entirely celibate, as chaste as a monk. Chastity and moral purity were qualities that McCandless milled over long and often” (65). McCandless would circle and highlight passages in works of Tolstoy and Thoreau that denounced such acts, showing he fondly believe against it as well. It is easy for humans to engage in activities of sexual intimacy, however his disinclination towards them developed his credibility in making important life choices because he had morals and deeper values. On the political spectrum of values, “He delighted in ridiculing the policies of the Democratic Party and was a vocal admirer of Ronald Reagan. At Emory, he went so far as to co-found a College Republican Club. Chris’s seemingly anomalous political positions were perhaps best summed up by Thoreau’s declaration in ‘Civil Disobedience’: ‘I heartily accept the motto-’That government is best which governs that least.’’ Beyond that his views were not easily characterized” (123). In terms of appealing to ethos, Chris has demonstrated that he is knowledgeable about the world and current events and has made connections from the views of others to his own beliefs. He does indeed have morals and is not an angsty adult that thought of Alaska as a way to earn attention, for there was more to him as Krakauer saw.

An emotional appeal to pathos is created by Krakauer from the use of strategies such as foreshadowing and perspective to describe McCandless’s relationships with those he met on his journey. Chris’s untimely fate was foreshadowed when Borah revealed, “I noticed he was crying. That frightened me. He wasn’t planning on being gone all that long; I figured he wouldn’t have been crying unless he intended to take some big risks and knew he might not be coming back. That’s when I started having a bad feeling that we wouldn’t never see Alex again” (68). The audience cannot help but to also begin to feel dread and an ache to understand what exactly went wrong and how. This is a turning point in his story because we are given a different and unfamiliar side of Chris, for we are not used to seeing his weakness. It frustrates us because we question why McCandless would embark on his adventure even though he knew that it may be unsuccessful and bring about pain to the ones that loved him and he loved back. In another final goodbye, Chris seems to be aware of the potential risks in the postcard he sent to Wayne Westerberg that read, “Please return all mail I receive to the sender. It might be a very long time before I return South. If this adventure proves fatal and you don’t ever hear from me again, I want you to know you’re a great man. I now walk into the wild” (69). McCandless expected some sort of devastation on his trip, which is why he kept all of his business in order before departing. He took the the time to express his feelings towards another, which makes the audience delighted that he finally revealed an admiration towards another human, however they feel regretful because it may be the last time this happens and he did not even bother to write to his family.
The reactions of Chris’s loved ones to his death also appealed to pathos because their personal perspective demonstrated how much of an impact an individual’s actions can make. McCandless had a unique relationship with each person he knew, ranging from affection with Ron Franz to resentment with his own father. When Ron Franz heard about Chris’s death, he admitted that, “I turned my van around, drove back to the store, and bought a bottle of whiskey. And then I went out into the desert and drank it. I wasn’t used to drinking, so it made me sick. Hoped it’d kill me, but it didn’t. Just made me real, real sick” (60). The audience knows of Franz’s family tragedy and of his age, instantly creating sympathy and sadness to the fact that McCandless also had the ability and the personality to make Franz harm himself to this extent. Franz thought of McCandless as a son or grandson, and from the perspective of an unofficial family member, losing one of your own blood and genes is incomprehensible. Members of the audience that may have lost a child also grieved when McCandless’s own father offered his perspective on the situation. Walt offered, “How is it that a kid with so much compassion could cause his parents so much pain?” (104). This appeal to pathos evoked discomfort and ambivalence in the audience because they understood why Chris embarked on his Alaskan odyssey, however he was full of so much compassion and potential, that it seemed almost shameful and contradictory to just destroy it with no regard to the feelings of others.

Jon Krakauer’s ability to craft together ideas that appealed to logos, ethos, and pathos developed his belief that Christopher McCandless was a unique individual and made his story significant. McCandless may not have wanted to accept the relationships that humans have with one another, but it was these relationships that he held which created many of the themes and values that his story exemplifies. Krakauer was able to demonstrate that McCandless may have ventured on his seemingly reckless Alaskan adventure to solve his life problems, to escape the pressures of society, and to defy the figures of authority he knew, however there was more to him than his allure to risks and misguidance. McCandless was aware of his surroundings, and like many others, he was just searching to fit in. His ideals and morals were the keys to developing his character and only just begin to explain the admirable and curious type of person that Krakauer believes he was and attempts to persuade the audience he was as well.

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