Into The Wild Essay
Sympathy for McCandless makes for compelling narrative, but leaving
out a psychological profile of the troubled boy, especially at the
hands of a gifted researcher like Krakauer, seems a bit calculated.
From a journalistic standpoint, to discount the expertise of those
who might interpret the young man’s spiritual and emotional agony as
recognizable dysfunction, neurosis or psychosis might even be called
So, why does an author who obviously has considered his own psychological relationship to extreme wilderness adventure skip the “consideration of psychiatric illness” in Chris McCandlesss, who died poorly equipped and psychologically wounded in the wilderness?
Incompetent Risk Junkie?
Before considering Chris’s final dirge, it might be useful to consider why he wasn’t dead long before the Alaska trek. In the years between high school and his departure for the North, Chris had been in jail twice, and threatened at gunpoint by a railroad “bull” (Krakauer, 53). A summer jaunt in the Mojave had been a “brush with disaster.” He returned, his sister said, emaciated, “‘like those paintings of Jesus on the cross.’” (118) On another adventure he nearly died of heat stroke wandering the shores of Lake Mead, saved only by passing boaters. (29) On yet another of his impulsive, self-styled expeditions he was swept to sea in a canoe and barely survived, only to get lost in the Mexican deserts of the Colorado River later the same trip. An incessant blunderer, he broke his only canoe paddle in the storm that almost killed him.(36) There, he was saved again, this time by hunters who happened to be in the area.
Even in when he was not flirting with risky, solo, wilderness vagabondage, he was found on the side of an Oregon road “‘Hungry. Hungry. Hungry.’” (30) Hungry because his latest stunt had been surviving on nothing but the edible plants he could find. Once, in the desert, he drove a compact Datsun two miles off-road until it was hopelessly stuck. The car was then swamped in a flash flood that almost caught him, too. (26) The cogent, adequately fed reader might easily conclude Chris was lucky to get to Alaska, let alone survive there.
Chris had no Alaskan wilderness experience when he hiked up the Stampede Trail. Normally, a wilderness novice would seek and heeded the vital advice of a wilderness outfitter and/or a successful survivalist—maybe take a trip with an Outward Bound group—before attempting a wildcatting solo adventure. Not Chris. Part of what made his demise maddeningly ironic was that he not only rejected advice he was offered, he embraced the opinions of authors who were pretenders to the wild. With the exception of a book on edible plants, the weight and space his books took up in his backpack was wasted.
Thoreau’s tame year with nature was staged a short foot-commute from Concord. Gogol was a satirist. Tolstoy “despite his famous advocacy of celibacy, had been an enthusiastic sexual adventurer.” (Krakauer 122) Chris’s Alaskan literary hero, Jack London, was in truth “a fatuous drunk, obese and pathetic, maintaining a sedentary existence that bore scant resemblance to the ideals he espoused in print.” He spent a few months in Alaska and eventually committed suicide. (44)