Jon Krakauer, in his book Into the Wild, describes Chris McCandless’ life and how he had left behind his family and entire life to leave off into the wild, seeking to find a new life in a journey he decided to take. Krakauer develops the biography by directly giving away McCandless’ fate to pique the reader’s interest and to make them want to know what happened to McCandless. He also develops the book by bringing in his own stories and experiences to compare them to McCandless’ journey and by also sharing the thoughts of those McCandless had encountered along his way. Krakauer documents McCandless’ life in order to share his unique output on life and to inform people on how decisions have a huge impact on not only themselves, but also to those they are surrounded by.
Krakauer presents his biography on Chris McCandless in an understanding, empathetic way to his readers to show that he can understand where McCandless is coming from and how he can see why McCandless made the decisions that he made. Although McCandless caused his family pain by leaving them behind, McCandless’ decision to go on his journey and gain new experiences allowed him to completely achieve his goal of creating a meaningful life.Prior to starting his journey and seeking out a new life, McCandless had grown up in a wealthy family, to which he would eventually find unnecessary in his life. He was privileged, attending the prestigious school of Emory University, getting nearly perfect grades that he boasted “…
would be good enough to get into Harvard Law School” (Krakauer 119). However, he soon came to the conclusion that becoming successful and being wealthy did not matter. This train of thought inspired him to take off on his journey, leaving his family behind.
His decision to do so greatly affected them, his mother and sister in particular. McCandless’ death was exceptionally hard to handle, it states his mother “…breaks down from time to time, weeping as only a mother who outlived a child can weep…” (132) and that his sister “..
.can’t seem to get through a day without crying” (129). Though McCandless caused his family pain, he took initiative and did what he thought was right in order to create a meaningful life for himself.If asked what gives life meaning, most would respond that building relationships and creating an impact on others is most important. Throughout McCandless’ journey, he encounters many people who, most of the time, take a quick liking to him and offer to help him with whatever they possibly can.
In South Dakota, he encountered Wayne Westerberg, whom McCandless stayed with and visited on later occasions. On one of the times that McCandless had stayed with Westerberg, Westerberg’s mother had invited McCandless over for dinner, and they quickly hit it off and talked for hours. She had reflected on this dinner upon hearing about his death and said, “Considering that I only spent a few hours in Alex’s McCandless’ alias company, it amazes me how much I’m bothered by his death” (67). Even people that McCandless had just met, he was able to instantly connect with them and have an impact on them.
Another person he had greatly impacted was Ronald Franz, an older man in his 90s, who met McCandless in Salton City and gave him a ride back to his camp, starting their friendship that would lead to them to spend the next few weeks together. Franz cared deeply for McCandless as he reminded him of his son that had passed away, and he even went as far as to ask McCandless if he could adopt him: “So I asked Alex if I could adopt him, if he would be my grandson” (55). This shows that even though Franz had spent a short amount of time with McCandless, they were able to bond and become so close that Franz had begun to consider him a grandson. Both Westerberg’s mother and Franz are examples of how McCandless had made a meaningful life through creating meaningful relationships and leaving behind an impact on the people he met on his journey, even if the contact with them was brief.McCandless had wanted to leave behind the materialistic world that he had lived in, and start anew by going on a journey that was filled with only the bare essentials. His intention was to get away from his family and escape the life he did not enjoy living. In leaving everything behind and starting anew, he was able to live the life he wanted, letting no one stop him from achieving his goal and living out his dreams.
Westerberg’s mother had described McCandless as “…the sort of person who insisted on living out his beliefs” (67). This is true of McCandless and because he followed his dream of going on his journey, he was living out his beliefs and filling his life with personal meaning.
During the last few days he was alive, McCandless had wrote on a blank paper, “I have had a happy life and thank the Lord” (199). Although McCandless didn’t live what society would view as a fulfilling life, McCandless had surrounded himself with the things he had found to be meaningful and lived a life that he clearly enjoyed, which in turn made his life meaningful.McCandless had been an avid reader and had carried books along his journey, highlighting passages and leaving annotations when he thought he read something relevant to his life. These highlighted passages and little notes he left behind are important, because they give us some insight as to what was going on in his mind during his journey. In a book that had been found with McCandless’ remains, a passage was highlighted from Leo Tolstoy’s “Family Happiness” that said, “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 found no outlet in our quiet life” (15). This quote reflects the path in life that McCandless had chosen to take. The life he was previously living did not have the excitement and adventure that he had wanted to experience. He felt an energy inside him that was not able to subside, because the life he lived before taking his journey did not allow him to go out and do the things he truly wanted to do.
Another significant passage that McCandless had highlighted was from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, which stated, “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth” (117). Rather than all of the things he could get from his old life, he just wants to seek out truth, he wants to find real meaning in his life, rather than things he thinks he does not need or want in his life. So, by going out on his journey and seeking his truth, he was able to gather meaning for his life.McCandless was unsatisfied with how his life prior to his journey was, so he left his old life behind and started a brand new one. Although McCandless abandoned his family without telling them anything about what he was going to do and caused them pain, McCandless was still able to achieve his goal of creating a meaningful life.
By creating relationships with the people he met along the way and leaving an impact on them, fulfilling his beliefs, and living his life the way that he wanted, he was able to achieve happiness.