Into The Wild Essay
When William Butler Yeats invited himself along on an arduous climb
including “England’s leading climbers,” he was rebuffed. The leader
of the group found out his motives were bizarrely mystical,
antithesis to the technicalities of the expedition. Yeats was
considered “dangerous” and was uninvited. (Bernbaum 146) Those
leading climbers, versed in the literal dangers of the climb, knew
the added hazard of a mind on a pilgrimage for figurative
achievements (those etymological hints Webster gives to feudal and
sexual lordliness, power, control, and rights to nature) via willing
“exposure to destruction.” (Webster 253)
When Krakauer says, “Maybe this is a problem with people who read too much and don’t discriminate between instructions of the imagination and reality,” (Rose) he refers to anyone who hasn’t weighed out the difference between nature as the subject of literary romantic esthetic (which inflames one’s narcissistic hero worship) against the realities of wilderness survival ascetic (which edifies one’s reverent self-discipline) and learned to manage the intersection of the two in the context of his own abilities. In other words, wilderness literati who want to dance with the wolves might do well to figure out the difference between freelancing semi-suicidal risk-taking and obedient, humble pilgrimage. If they want to get out alive.
Aside from a rational psychological inventory of his own will to survive, what Krakauer discovered on the verglassed precipice of Devil’s Thumb was the discipline required to balance the esthetic with the ascetic in the midst of his abilities.
The Elegant Solution: Omission
More than anything he lacked, Chris lacked the talent for narrative that Jon Krakauer, even in his early twenties, excelled. At Devil’s Thumb, Krakauer was able to consider the adventure from several points of view—including a third person commentary of his pitiable duncehood, his father’s possible perspective. (147) His visualizations entertained the comical and the tragic. Chris McClandless had no such imagination. He had abandoned his family, prejudices entrenched. His journey was a planned dead-end. Chris’s journals read as melodrama because the focus of his writing so myopically pinpointed himself; he was his own, and his only, audience. What he understood least about the narrative he had designed for himself was the author’s prerogative to exercise omission for the sake of the story. The tragedy of Chris McClandless’s authorship was that he omitted what cannot be omitted if a narrative hopes to survive: the end.
By leaving his Alaskan adventure open-ended, precursed always with a cryptic “if,” he left himself vulnerable to the weakest of his weaknesses, and when danger was most dangerous, his disarmed imagination failed him. Creatively indigent, he succumbed.
Krakauer became part of the postvention, part of the grief work, of the McCandless’s loss. The writing of his book helped Chris’s parents come to terms with the bizarre and sad death of their son. When David Mazel said that Into the Wild was “engendered with…technical schemes, route making, passion and metaphor of a life-long mountaineer,” he might have as easily said that Into the Wild mattered to Jon Krakauer.
The story, like so many climbs, is full of calculated risks, and at its riskiest it was a story Krakauer did not want to “fuck up.” (Capitola) Fucking up in this case meant making the lives of those who were already burdened more miserable. Not fucking up, on the practical and the narrative level, meant leaving the most painful possibilities of the story out and focusing on the most noble.