Into The Wild Essay
From a practical standpoint it would have been better if Chris had
packed-in the stories of wilderness fanatics Jon Krakauer used as
literary foils: Everett Ruess, desert solitarian; Gene Rosellini,
Stone Age recreationalist; John Mallon Waterman, survival-alpinist;
Carl McCunn, photographer drop-out; Sir John Franklin, Victorian
expeditionary; Edwin Muir tree and cliff-climbing adrenaline junkie.
Maybe Chris would have learned by way of deduction some of the
mistakes to avoid in the wilderness.
A Little Crazy?
The original article that sparked the writing of Into the Wild drew the largest reader response in the history of Outside magazine. Many Alaskans wrote to express their dismay. “Alex was a nut,” one reader wrote. “McCandless had already gone over the edge and just happened to hit bottom in Alaska.” From perspective of many Alaskans, specifically one Nick Jams of the Inupiat village of Ambler, Chris’s story was a “story of dumbassedness.” (71) Less biased readers emphasized the internal mysteries of the death. Another reader asked: “Why would any son cause his parents and family such permanent and perplexing pain?” (71)
John Krakauer’s response is direct. “McCandless wasn’t mentally ill….And he wasn’t a nutcase, he wasn’t a sociopath, he wasn’t an outcast.” Further “he wasn’t incompetent.” (85) Indeed, one of the keystone writing decisions Krakauer made as author of Chris McClandless’s story was to exclude the possibility that the boy’s demise was in any way related to his psychological vulnerabilities. “Although there may be some truth in [the] hypothesis” that Chris was a mentally wounded young man, Krakauer writes, “…posthumous off-the-rack psychoanalysis is a dubious, highly speculative enterprise that inevitably demeans and trivializes the absent analysand. It’s not clear that much of value is learned by reducing Chris McCandless’s strange spiritual quest to a list of pat psychological disorders.” (184)
Brain Chemistry. Danger. Endorphins. Addiction. Euphoria.
Hold that thought.
I’d like to think I am being overly dramatic. It would be nice if Chris’s earlier brushes with death were all about the buzz and his Alaska escapade was just bad luck. But if it was bad luck Chris’s predisposition toward death made that luck worse. What friends meant when they said Chris had a screw loose is that he “had a dark side…characterized,” as Krakauer put it, “by monomania, impatience, and unwavering self-absorption.” (120) Neither friend nor stranger could talk Chris out of his precarious odyssey.
He left people behind that dearly missed him. He left work he enjoyed. He left a girlfriend. Unequivocally, his trip was more important than his relationships. His farewells revealed the darkest of a dark side: a telling obsession with death. “Providing I get through this Alaska Deal in one piece…” he wrote one friend. To another: “This is the last you shall hear from me, Wayne….If this adventure proves fatal and you don’t ever hear from me again….” (3)
Even Krakauer interpolates that Chris was leaving “a world in which he felt grievously cut off from the raw throb of existence,” (23) and his interviews with two friends who knew Chris best—his cutting-crew boss Wayne Westerburg, and his desert-rat companion Ron Franz—unearthed the crux of the boy’s angst. “Something wasn’t right between he and his family,” Wayne said.