Into The Wild

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer is, among many things, the retelling and examination of the life of Chris McCandless. McCandless is viewed by some as the embodiment of youthful invincibility meeting its seemingly impossible demise, as the product of the negative feelings he harbors for his parents, or as an inspiring, yet naive vagabond. In my view he is all three.

into the wild - kyak

The story begins at the end. Chris McCandless has become something more pure in his mind, something finally free of the constraints he felt his family and society placed upon him—he has become Alexander Supertramp. Alexander Supertramp, after hitchiking hundreds of miles, finally reaches the wilderness he has been lusting for all this time. After declining any support from the man who drove him he heads off into the unknown with minimal supplies. With the knowledge he has accumulated from a few books and a few years on the road, he hoped to survive the unforgiving Alaskan winter.

As any sane person could guess he ends up dead by his own unpreparedness. The author posits McCandless died of starvation induced by the poison he ingested after misidentifying a plant. While Chris had a handbook for identifying edible and non-edible plants, he did not have experience. He also did not come prepared with the supplies or knowledge he should have to survive in such harsh conditions. One of the most important things he left out of his pack was a map of the area. It is said that Chris wanted to experience nature in its purest form, to eschew the trappings of modern life and live off the land. In my opinion, he was just trying to shake the guilt of his own perceived privilege.

into the wild - reading

McCandless grew up in a nice suburban neighborhood. Son to a remarried father with previous kids, he was all around a pretty average guy. He worked hard, got good grades, and was accepted into Emory University where his escapes from reality became more frequent. He would go on long road trips in the summer time and one summer he went to the West coast where he discovered the truth: his father had been lying to him about his previous marriage. Chris had always been at odds with his father, but this discovery was the tipping point. He hated materialism and inequalities so he went to the inner city to feed the poor and talk with them. He hated that his father had a successful company and once worked for NASA so he studied the inequalities present in turmoil rich regions.

Due to the hatred of the ideals his father embodied Chris set off to become the exact opposite. Instead of using his station in life to help those less fortunate than him, instead of using the gift of his education and his father’s status to help right the inequalities he saw in the world, he set off on a narcissistic adventure to “find himself.” Nonetheless, his travels are inspiring. Reading about his close calls, the friends he meets, and all of the beautiful scenery he experiences, one cannot help but want to go on their own adventure.

So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure.

However, Chris’ youthful idealism is far from reality. He refuses to insure his car as an act of rebellion, yet for a short while he complies with his supervisor at McDonald’s. His car is flooded so he burns his money as a symbolic break from materialism, yet he works many jobs during his travels. Wishing to live purely off the land he goes unprepared into the wild, yet had he a map he would have been able to see just how close he really was to civilization. Just before dying Alexander Supertramp scrawls his epitaph under his real name — Christopher McCandless — on the inside of the bus he was using for shelter. Weeks later he is found by the infrequent travelers of the Stampede Trail.

If Into The Wild teaches us anything its that of realism in a world of idealism, one must see the forest for the tress to maintain a realistic manner of living. McCandless did everything in his power to escape the hate he had for his station in life. He eschewed the trappings of materialism and cultural bias, yet he perished in a relic of mankind, miles away from civilization.

McCandless conveniently overlooked the fact that [Jack] London himself had spent just a single winter in the North and that he’d died by his own hand on his California estate at the age of forty, a fatuous drunk, obese and pathetic, maintaining a sedentary existence that bore scant resemblance to the ideals he espoused in print.

Read Next: The Hands of Man

61 thoughts on “Into The Wild”

    1. not true, there are plenty of red pill oldies who have eschewed women [too much hassle] and still found a great deal of happiness.
      sure companionship, [temporary or otherwise] is nice, and perhaps even quite important. but its not necessary

      1. One could argue though that happiness best shared with good male friends. Doesn’t have to be with a chick.

  1. He took so long to die only thanks to his gun which he used for hunting, and a bus which he used for shelter. Fake-ass pussy.

  2. I would submit an alternative to the story above with a reference to the life of Dick Proenneke. His video-graphical account of his first couple of years in Alaska…entitled “Alone in the Wilderness”…will blunt the arrogance of many men on this forum.

    1. Proenneke was all that is man. His cabin on Twin Lakes still stands and is now part of Lake Clark National Park.

    1. To spite those that would rape my wealth to feed the femino-socialist complex. They can’t steal what you don’t own or earn. That’s stage 3 or higher Ghost.

      1. Living as a perpetual traveler doesn’t feed the complex and can still be a comfortable existence.

  3. Mixed emotions about this guy. I read Krakauer’s book (and all his others) reviewed here, and saw the movie (not so good). On the one hand, one wants to praise his willpower and adventurousness. I’m all about pushing the limits and tasting new experiences, but the way he went about it was so foolhardy that it is hard to sympathize with his fate.
    His childish antics (abandoning his car, burning his money, etc) evoke more disgust than admiration, and his plunging into the wilderness alone with no experience seems more a fool’s errand than a brush with enlightenment. Good intentions are not enough to ensure survival. One must temper idealism with cold calculation.
    In the end, the final verdict must be that McCandless is a cautionary tale. He occupies the same place, roughly, as the deluded fool showcased in the film “Grizzly Man” (Timothy Treadwell). They both failed to realize that Nature, for all its beauty, carries in itself just as much the seeds of evil as of good. One cannot idealize Nature. Beneath that placid surface pants the heart of a brutal beast. Both men were deceived by the illusions they had constructed for themselves, and both sought to escape their own inner demons by courting death. And in the end, they got as much as they asked for.

    1. Eh, how many guys are killed driving to their desk jobs? McCandless and Treadwell felt like they needed to create drama, and it worked to the extent that their deaths were noticed, for whatever that is worth

      1. True. The fates of these two men defy easy categorization. Heroes or fools? The answers are complex, and how we choose to answer them can get deep into philosophical waters. All I can say with certainty is that the fates of both men teach us to be wary of our own powers of reason. Reason more often follows the heart, and can rationalize whatever our heart desires to be true.

    2. I agree. As much as I loved the movie, Emile Hirsch’s portrayal of him was like “stupid white guy in alien territory”. But the things he did makes me feel really envious. This was a guy who lived to the fullest. And he touched the lives of many people. Was his death worth it? I think so. Though, he didn’t have to die.

  4. Chris McCandless was just a guy who had latent schizophrenia, and his psychotic break led him to get himself into a situation where nobody could rescue him in time. There are tons of schizophrenic people around us, they often have their first breaks in early adulthood, and usually their family is able to help them to get treatment. Chris McCandless managed to slip away from his family and, as a result, died as a direct result of his psychosis. Trying to turn this into an Great American Story is really doing a disservice to the truth.

    1. Up until lobby groups voted to change the truth, it was widely recognized that schizophrenia was caused by cold, abusive parents. And working under that hypothesis it was cured 70% of the time with therapy – now we drug people, and the cure is 0%.
      The facts we hear suggests that his father was just another idiot, like anyone else – but I’m left wondering if there was something more traumatic which drove him to such radical behaviour?
      There’s a strong current of “I hate my father” throughout leftism – usually drawn by ingested cultural narcissism – but I wonder if in this young man’s case, he really was a victim, trying to get healthy in a *foolish* but ultimately harmless way? Burning money is self-hating idiocy, but he wasn’t burning other people; though he ultimately killed himself, he wasn’t making suicide attempts to manipulate others.
      It’s a sad story.

      1. The research shows no connection between schizophrenia and cold, abusive parents. The link to genetics is much stronger.

        1. *Red meat is bad for you
          *Cigarettes cause cancer
          *Guns cause crime
          *SSRIs cure depression
          There are lots of pre-conceived conclusions that have been “proven” by modern scienticians.

        2. i would agree and upvote this, but the fact you used the word ‘scienticians’ seriously, makes me completely doubt everything you say

        3. Not directly due to genetics. Its due to inherited suceptibility to toxic chemicals in our food and water supply.

        4. of course the cigarettes = cancer thing is so convenient.
          There is more toxic chemicals in your apartment from furniture glues, construction materials and cleaning products than if you have a party for 20 chain smokers.
          if the companies that made these products had to own
          their sins, the class action law suits would fill the New York Times every day. Even the plastic of soda bottles is lethal.
          problem is coming to ahead, as everyone quits smoking en mass. and cancer rates still soar.
          breast cancer was unheard of in young women 30 years ago, now it’s perfectly normal and doesn’t raise any bells… go figure…

        5. “…to toxic chemicals”
          So how would you explain schizophrenia existing several hundred or even a thousand years ago?

        6. Many people who develop schizophrenia do not have an abusive childhood. I’ve met quite a few that come from wonderful families with supportive families. Then there was the guy who took a single hit of LSD after graduating from Engineering school and that triggered his full-blown schizophrenia. There are likely several different causes to brain diseases, as the brain is the most complex structure in nature.

        7. Not buying it. I know many people from wonderful families who were abused as children.

        8. Schizophrenia is a made up diagnosis of the DSM. Certain subtypes of schizophrenia are due to susceptibility to such chemicals and toxins. Now bereavement is a mental illness. In fact, most human emotions have been termed into a mental illness by the new DSM (psychiatrist’s manual) so you can be sent for compulsory psychiatric treatment for anything. Big pharma and government security services benefit from this arrangement.

        9. Actually, according to the DSM, something is only a mental illness if it interferes with your functioning or causes distress. You can be depressed but if you are not too bothered by it and can still function in society then it doesn’t reach the threshold required for a diagnosis.

        10. Are you a physician? Or even a government/ big pharma shill? Because you sure sound like one! Mabye you are just heavily indoctrinated. Don’t worry, you are also expendable to them when you get old/sick/ineffective. And then I or my colleagues will label you with a non-existent mental illness so big pharma can profit whilst you are stripped of all rights and possibly even sent to the psych ward. This is why I do not want to practice psychiatric medicine and will be seeking another branch ASAP.

        11. Not a physician. A 5th year grad student in psych with 4 years of forensic psychiatry research experience. But
          i don;t feel like everything is a government conspiracy, as psychiatric drugs help more people than they harm.

        12. Fair enough. I do not agree with your view but I must respect the fact that your view does differ from mine. I ask that you consider what I have said and I will consider what you have written. All the best.

      2. I don’t hink there’s any evidence that McCandless’ parents were cold or abusive. I know the movie tried to play up that theme, but that’s just storytelling. Hollywood movies are not generally meant to be construed as truthful.

      3. The opposite is true. First of all, family therapy hasn’t been eliminated. It’s still used and is regarded to be more effective than cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Also, modern drugs are effective for many people. It used to be that schizophrenics were doomed to a life in and out of mental institutions. Now many can live relatively normally and get jobs, etc.

        1. > Also, modern drugs are effective for many people. It used to be that schizophrenics were doomed to a life in and out of mental institutions. Now many can live relatively normally and get jobs, etc.
          This is incredibly and terrifyingly fucking wrong. Drugs are fucking dangerous. In the book Anatomy of an Epidemic, Robert Whitaker dismantles the modern myth of long term drug efficacy. This is one of the most important books that I’ve ever read on mental health.

          In there he looks at epidemiological statistics, and although diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia are wildly different from the 1940s and 50s, he makes a strong case that unmedicated patients have a far better long term prognosis than medicated schizophrenics. Further, he explores the neurobiology of why neuroleptics do have short term efficacy at the expense of doing long term damage. This is why our clinical trials find them to be useful… because nobody does 5 year clinical trials.
          From your link:
          > Outcome is better for people in the developing world. Mortality for people with schizophrenia is increasing but is lower in the developing world.
          Whitaker makes a compelling case that the better outcomes in the developing world are *exactly* because they don’t/can’t use drugs.

        2. From my link: “Recent research and a large, earlier body of data suggest that optimism
          about outcome from schizophrenia is justified. A substantial proportion
          of people with the illness will recover completely and many more will
          regain good social functioning.”
          Note that people might not do 5-year trials but there are 5-year recovery studies and longer. Especially for mental illness, long-term (often lifetime) studies of how people’s illness progresses are often done.

  5. Alexander Super-chump can suck it. Nature doesn’t care about you, nature will kill you off in a second for being anywhere other than on your game. Bears know it, birds know it, the poison mushrooms this dummy ate probably knew it…that’s what you get hippy.

    1. Yeah! I was thinking the same thing when I saw a video of those PETA fanatics last week.

  6. I’ve actually been to the bus. It is way out in the middle of no where in some very rugged, completely barren but very beautiful country. My thoughts on him will always be a mixed. I admire what he tried to do but I laugh at his ignorance and naivety.

  7. It seems many people harbor some anger towards McCandless. I can’t understand why. I think it confuses people why a story about a well privileged boy from California who left his family and belongings behind to find solace in the wild who ultimately dies in the end has become such a popular tale among people. The story is not meant to be dissected to point out his ill-preparedness and ignorance for mother nature, but taken in as a “Confessions of” sort of book. Confessions of a young adult who clearly had felt very disconnected from his peers and family for most of his life and finally crumbled escaped to submit to the call of the wild. Instead of pointing out his wrong-doings and faults, understand that a stressful home life and urgency to live life to it’s fullest, can make people do drastic things. Add a bit of obsession in there and you get a guy like Chris who basically wants to be re-born without his old possessions or name in the wilderness after much time spent in what he probably thought was hell.
    If you read the book you’ll see a lot of the people who met him along his travels were struck by his intelligence and lust for life. Those who knew him, adored him. He was a kid who had ideals too large to digest, but his one bit of wisdom was that he knew that he’d find peace in a simpler, more organic way of living- something we all secretly ache for.

    1. i think a lot of people [on here] dislike him, because atleast how it was told, he was a left wing hippy. which is precisely not our demographic at all.
      but if you reoriented the story intro a thoreau/hemingway type adventure everybody would be for it.
      i loved his story in the sense of the pursuit of travel, i think it broadens the mind. The fact he went overboard, just suggests that absurdity and going off grid aren’t always mutually exclusive. He went too far, and got rewarded by the fates accordingly.
      Reminds me of the story of the Grizzly man actually

    2. I don’t get all the hate on him either. He lasted longer than 99% of guys would. His primary objective wasn’t to survive life, but to live it the way he wanted. It’s a sad story. /solo

      1. And he could have lived if he wasn’t a moron. That’s the point. He had plenty of time after being poisoned, and he was camping in a protected wilderness. What would have happened if he lit his bus on fire? How many rangers would have shown up wondering about the big cloud of black smoke and saved his chump ass?
        Exactly… Choosing suicide doesn’t make him a hero.

  8. I both read the book and saw the movie. My take – my review on the book:
    Jon Krakauer does an excellent job at back tracking the expedition of one Chris McCandless. This includes the route McCandless took from his home and all the friends and people he met along the way. The author additionally addresses another theme which was constantly in the back of my mind all the time as I was reading the book: Is it really possible for a man to scrape so-called civilized society off one’s shoe and live far and away and alone? For many folks when we think of this kind of life in nature we are directed towards reading that of Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden” which, unfortunately is inaccurate, yet McCandless even had a copy of that classic book with him during his journey. If we take a closer look at Walden the reality was that Thoreau lived in a cabin that was situated only a few miles out of town, as well he had friends and family bring him things he needed. Thoreau certainly was not living independently of society, yet this is the over romantic story that gets presented to us when we think of getting off the status-quo hamster wheel and living soley from nature. This is where Into The Wild becomes the true benchmark document on what it means to try to live off of the land.
    In the final analysis this story shows the reader that there are many self essentials that one needs for basic survival that go back to the era of eons ago: that of the hunter-gatherer and semi agrarian. Krakauer also points out: What does one do when one becomes ill? Had McCandless been with someone to help him during his stint in Alaska he would be alive today, but instead he died of something that was in fact not life threatening if he had access to medical assistance.
    In addition to a well detailed story of a man’s desire to become separate from the human tribe, what one can learn from this chronology is that going at it alone is anything but an easy task and requires skills, as well as physical and mental strength. This is why I find Into The Wild a very compelling book and an excellent read for anyone thinking of becoming a lone ranger. For those who understandably want to get away from the modern world, I don’t yet have the answer, but one should read this book before deciding to simply wing it out there in the wilderness.

    1. And in the final analysis everything comes to an end, per Wikipedia: “In 1999, at age 82, Proenneke returned to civilization and lived the remainder of his life with his brother Raymond (aka Jake) Proenneke in Hemet, California. He died of a stroke April 20, 2003 at the age of 86. He left his cabin to the National Park Service, and it remains a popular visitor attraction in the still-remote Twin Lakes region.”

  9. McCandless and Treadwell were mental cases, plain and simple.
    Hendri Coetzee walked 1000 miles from Kenya down the Tanzanian coast dealing with crocodiles, hippos, and sharks. He was skilled, however, and was smart enough to bring sufficient provisions. He survived the journey, only to be taken by an 18-foot croc in the Congo two years ago.

  10. The movie was an extremely powerful experience for me. I remember walking out of it with my girlfriend and being mute for about 10 blocks. I spent a summer in Alaska working in fish processing plants (not the same thing, I know) and have a soft spot for the place. But the real connection was perhaps with McCandless’s GUILT. He seems to be working to expunge the guilt of an easy upbringing. I remember being tormented by the same thing during my college years. In Alaska I was blissfully happy for about six weeks, and then things started to go south (so to speak).
    I agree that his story is a mixed bag: Part noble, part naive. But I like this movie a lot more than the movie about the young Che Guevara riding around South America. Actually, let me rephrase, the latter movie wasn’t bad … it’s that Che was an evil bastard, whereas McCandless was just confused …

  11. It’s a compelling story, but the man is full of SWPL-guilt, which is really a form of narcissism IMHO. Like another commenter said, he could have used his affluence productively helping others but instead chose to head off alone. But t
    The mental illness angle reminds me of Michael Oros in BC around thirty years ago. He was a paranoid draft dodger who roamed the bush in northern BC and the southern Yukon for years until he shot a trapper, then a cop and then died in a shootout with police:
    Another “life in the bush” film I’d recommend is Werner Herzog’s “Happy People: A year in the Taiga” about the lives of Siberian trappers. These guys are the real deal:

  12. If you read the book one realizes McCandless could have ended up dead years before he did. Probability simply caught up with him.
    He followed the Colorado River all the way down into Mexico on a boat ignoring prissy formalities such as international borders and took it almost all the way back to the Pacific until it was an innavigable sandy brook in the middle of the desert.
    He almost got killed by security guys when hitching illicit rides on trains.
    This struck me as stoicism and philosophical contempt of inevitable death in its purest form. We have to die. Why cower and wait for it to come to us when we have the power to take the initiative at any time? We are alive for a short time but are unborn forever and dead forever.
    He was practically willing to live on nothing but rice and live a homeless life so he didn’t have to give a shit about what the mass society thought of him.
    Yeah, Supertramp has been a lightning rod for SWPL hate, but it he were truly deserving I imagine he’d be alive and well working in some air conditioned government agency surrounded by bitchy shemale coworkers.
    Yes, TrampCandless went over the edge and could have persisted with some modicum of moderation. He took stupid, unnecessary risks that eventually got him killed. He came from a privileged SWPL background that underlings would slit throats to get.
    Why does he attract such resentment? He threw away with contempt what lower levels of underlings would covet. Can one imagine a greater insult to their very existence?
    Yet I find it hard not to admire him nonetheless…

  13. “he hoped to survive the unforgiving Alaskan winter.”
    Not winter. Just a few months in the summer.

  14. The dude grew up down the street from me. His younger sister babysat me a couple times. Just thought I’d share.

  15. Dick Proenneke. Guy went to alaska with skills and bilt his cabin and lives for 40 years. Everything mccandless wasnt. Yet mccandless gets the press. Chrk out pronnekes videos on youtube. A skilled man at work.

  16. Dick Proenneke. Guy went to alaska with skills and bilt his cabin and lives for 40 years. Everything mccandless wasnt. Yet mccandless gets the press. Chrk out pronnekes videos on youtube. A skilled man at work.

  17. he forgot to learn how to be a real man before he left.
    total clown.
    If you are going “into the wild”, you better have the skills.
    this guy committed suicide by dumbassery.

  18. As a father when I read this book it made me sad to wonder what happen to this young man.

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