Passage highlighted in one of the books found with Chris McCandless’s remains: “I wanted movement and not a calm course of existence. I wanted excitement and danger and the chance to sacrifice myself for my love. I felt in myself a superabundance of energy which I found no outlet in our quiet life.” –Leo Tolstoy, Family Happiness (Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer, 15)
Chris McCandless, the man whose story forms the premise of the novel Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, and otherwise known by his preferred name—Alexander Supertramp, kind of reminds me of myself… I know that’s kind of scary.
But I strongly sympathize with Alex.
Alex was a young man who just graduated from Emory University and desperately wanted to find meaning in his life. He was passionate beyond measure and overtly intelligent (his intelligence isn’t a characteristic I associate with myself). He entertained his time reading profound novels and living a simple lifestyle. Yes, he took his passion and frustrations to a major extreme by deciding to venture off into the wilderness in an attempt to reject society. Yet despite all of his outrageous actions, I wholeheartedly believe his frustrations with society were legitimate.
Because I am similarly disappointed on a daily basis.
Within the first twenty pages of the novel, it is revealed that Alex died. (Reading about his death overcame me with immense and immediate sadness.) He was found in an abandoned school bus where his remains caused an “overpowering odor of decay” (Krakauer, 12). After discovery, it became evident that Chris McCandless had been dead for two and a half weeks. “The body was taken to Anchorage, where an autopsy was performed at the Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory… At the time of the autopsy, McCandless’s remains weighed sixty-seven pounds. Starvation was posited as the most probably cause of death” (Krakauer, 14). Ironically, Alex donated all the money in his college fund prior to his departure to OCFAM America—a charity dedicated to fighting hunger.
But society needs to know you are starving in order to help you.
Since it is revealed early on that Alex did not survive his ventures, it is evident that the meaning of the novel lies is in his story and the lesson in his experiences. Alex hated society, yet every time he nearly died, he sought out society for essential assistance. He worked for money and often was taken care of by kind citizens of the world he rejected. He was fed, clothed and housed on more than one occasion. His ultimate end happened because he finally isolated himself completely.
He did seek out society’s help right before his death however.
Although I understand the book thematically, I learned more from Alex as a person than I did from the emphasis placed on the importance of society. Alex was seriously disillusioned. “Westerberg reflects, ‘He read a lot. Used a lot of big words. I think maybe part of what got him into trouble was that he did too much thinking. Sometimes he tried too hard to make sense of the world, to figure out why people were bad to each other so often’” (Krakauer, 18). Alex could not accept human nature. That he was merely one person who must focus on his own positivity rather than the world’s shortcomings. He understood the messages seeping from the pages of his favorite novels incorrectly, and used his misinterpretation as motivational fuel for his ventures. Alex was overwhelmed by the inevitable problems in a society maintained by imperfect individuals. Alex channeled his passionate nature into a selfish venture that caused his family distress and sadness for those who cared for him along the way. Rather than use his passion as an opportunity to make a difference, he rejected civilization and died too young.
Alex was merely young and confused. He was ironically described as “extremely ethical” (Krakauer, 18). Yet he took existentialism to an extreme. “He had pretty high standards for himself” (Krakauer, 18). He needed to merely find himself. He instead lost his life and never got the chance to live up to his own expectations.
In the end it is Jon Krakauer who uses Chris McCandless’s tragic story to positively influence society.
Alex teaches me to always have faith. In myself. And in society. Disillusionment is dangerous if it is overly focused on. I need to ensure my passion is not unfortunately wasted. Political Science may be a frustrating major, and people may prove disappointing through their contemporary and historical actions, but there is always hope. I may not be able to change the world in its entirety, but I can work my entire life to positively affect those I have the pleasure to encounter.
It is my goal to work in the Peace Core sometime after graduation.
“It may, after all, be the bad habits of creative talents to invest themselves in pathological extremes that yield remarkable insights but no durable way of life for those who cannot translate their psychic wounds into significant art or thought.”-Theodore Roszak, In Search of the Miraculous (Krakauer, 70)