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Some people choose unconventional lifestyles to distinguish themselves from others or comprehend the purpose or sense of their existence. Into the Wild, a non-fiction book written by Jon Krakauer narrates a story of such a man named McCandless who quit civilized living and started his wild journey across America. This paper will summarize the plot of the work, describe its characters, and discuss the issues raised by the author.
The Summary of the Novel
The book is based on the story of a real person, Christopher McCandless, who, at the age of 22, right after his successful graduation from Emory University, voluntarily became a vagrant. He left a note for his parents, which said that they would never see him again, gave his college savings to charity, and started his journey. For the first month of his wandering, he traveled by car, but he had to abandon it as a flood damaged it. On his way, he sometimes stopped in cities and performed unskilled jobs to get food and lodging. In 1991, while he was in Los Angeles, McCandless thought of applying for ID and getting a job but changed his decision and continued his wandering. During his journey, he made acquaintance with some people whom he sent postcards as he proceeded with his traveling.
In the spring of 1992, he headed for Alaska, carrying only some rice, a gun, a camera, and a few books, including a guide to the edible plants of the area. Upon arriving in the region, he found a bus in which he decided to live for a while. During his stay in this area, McCandless ate berries and hunted animals. In summer, he became exceedingly weak after eating some seeds and noted this in his travel journal. He left an SOS sign outside of his bus, and shortly afterward, he died inside of it, and hunters found his dead body only the following month.
Discussion of the Main Characters
The main character of the book is Christopher Johnson McCandless, who adopted a pseudonym Alexander Supertramp at the beginning of his journey. He was “a well-educated young man with an above-average intellect and remarkable spiritual ambitions1 which means that he could have achieved success in a civilized world, but he deliberately chose a vagrant lifestyle. McCandless believed that it was beneficial for a human to live in harmony with nature, separated from other people. To test his point of view, he spent time wandering across the American West before proceeding to a more dangerous region of Alaska. Perhaps, he could have survived in the severe conditions of that area if he had been more prepared and less self-assured.
Jon Krakauer, the author, added the story of his attempts to travel across Alaska to his narrative, which made him another character of the book. He did not just state the facts of McCandless’s biography but supplemented them with his judgments and assumptions. Perhaps, he was so interested in the young man’s story because he had a similar experience and wanted to prevent the public from condemning McCandless for his nonsensical death.
The Themes of the Book
The book tackles several issues, one of which is the relation between man and nature. The protagonist believes that one’s personality can form properly only outside of civilization.2 According to McCandless, “the very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure,”3 which means that a person truly lives in extraordinary circumstances available only in the wilderness. However, the young man was so obsessed with the idea of connecting with nature and escaping from civilization that he underestimated how dangerous and severe the environment could be. Instead of proving that he was capable of surviving on his own, without any conveniences and other people’s help, he showed by his example that a human could not live independently in a harsh wilderness for a long time.4 Thus, McCandless’s story reveals that nature is not always favorable to man, and if there is a confrontation between a person and the wilderness, the former will be defeated.
Another theme of the book is individualism and the role of society in human life. McCandless was convinced that he would manage to live outside of the community, and this would set him free from triviality and impurity of other people’s existence. However, it is recorded in his journal that at some point during his wandering, he was ready to return to his former way of life, as he understood that, perhaps, society was not that malign.5 Despite this intention, he did not reunite with the community, and perished alone, which leads to the conclusion that living among other people is crucial to an individual’s survival.
The book also raises the motif of rejection of money and objection to consumerism and the accumulation of material things. McCandless showed his aversion to the modern economic system by donating $24,000 to charity and becoming an itinerant pauper. From his point of view, wealth and abundance of material things hinder a person from enjoying life and developing spiritually.6 He was right in his reflections, but he seems to have gone too far in his attempts to live within basic needs.
Personal Opinion and Conclusion
Overall, the protagonist of the book does not arouse sympathy because his actions were unreasoned, and he was unprepared for his adventure, which eventually caused him to die from poisoning in a forest. A promising young man with plenty of opportunities to build a career or succeed in any other field wasted his chance to make himself useful for society or live a long, eventful life. Indeed, he fulfilled his intentions to reject material values and isolate himself from the community, and it may have made him proud of himself. However, the whole story would have been better if he had treated his adventure with a greater responsibility, which would have prevented his sudden death.
In conclusion, it may be said that this book is worth reading because it makes readers think about things that attach significance to their lives. The novel serves as a warning to individualists since it shows that excessive self-reliance may lead to deplorable consequences because some things are too complicated for one person to handle. It also teaches that before making a life-changing decision, such as quitting a career or undertaking a venture, one should weigh all pros and cons and thoroughly prepare for the upcoming change. Finally, as the book is based on a real-life event, it is likely to influence readers more effectively than a fiction story because it involves credible facts rather than imaginary plot twists.
Kam, Tanya Y. “Forests of the Self: Life Writing and ‘Wild’ Wanderings.” Life Writing 13, no. 3 (2016): 351-371.
Krakauer, Jon. Into the Wild. London: Pan Macmillan, 2018.
Krehan, Hannes. “Trust Me – It’s Paradise”: The Escapist Motif in Into the Wild, The Beach and Are You Experienced? Hamburg: Anchor Academic Publishing, 2014.
Vera, José Sánchez. “Thoreau as an Oblique Mirror: Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild.” American Studies in Scandinavia 47, no. 1 (2015): 40-60.
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- José Sánchez Vera, “Thoreau as an Oblique Mirror: Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild,” American Studies in Scandinavia 47, no. 1 (2015): 43.
- Tanya Y. Kam, “Forests of the Self: Life Writing and ‘Wild’ Wanderings,” Life Writing 13, no. 3 (2016): 352.
- Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild (London: Pan Macmillan, 2018), 57.
- Tanya Y. Kam, “Forests of the Self: Life Writing and ‘Wild’ Wanderings,” Life Writing 13, no. 3 (2016): 354.
- Hannes Krehan, “Trust Me – It’s Paradise”: The Escapist Motif in Into the Wild, The Beach and Are You Experienced? (Hamburg: Anchor Academic Publishing, 2014), 6.
- José Sánchez Vera, “Thoreau as an Oblique Mirror: Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild,” American Studies in Scandinavia 47, no. 1 (2015): 45.