Into the Wild

18Nov12

It would have been impossible for a reader to understand Chris McCandless if Into the Wild was written as a simple story or chronological telling of events.  Krakauer’s ehtnographic style paints a more vivid picture of McCandless and his adventures.  There is a certain effect felt by the reader when the story of a person is told through the testimony of a person who knew them.  How else could Krakauer have written McCandless’s story?  He could not have gotten testimony from McCandless himself.  Krakauer had to look through the eyes of personal acquaintances, feel the words of writings McCandless read and loved, and compare and contrast similar life stories including his own to give an account of the last times of McCandless’s life.

Seeing as Krakauer would have never been able to know Chris McCandless himself, I think that writing Into the Wild was a way for Krakauer to get to know McCandless by the best means possible, and by publishing the work giving readers that same understanding.

Chris McCandless may have been confident that he knew himself well and that he understood himself completely.  But not very many people are aware that the way they are perceived by the people who know them may differ from who they think they are.  Whether the Chris McCandless known by Chris himself may be different from the Chris McCandless his loved ones knew is only known by God.  This question of self and identity is a core theme in Into the Wild.  It is core to the ideas of existentialism as well.

Sartre argued that existence precedes essence, and that rather than being born as meaningful man creates meaning for himself as he goes through life.  In a similar way the essence of Chris McCandless was created through the course of his life.  From hunting with his grandfather to running cross country, from going to college to canoeing in Mexico, from working in South Dakota to living off the land in Alaska,  McCandless created meaning for himself as he accumulated various experiences and friendships, all in order to discover some sort of identity.  He left clues behind, whether it be notes scribbled in his journals or warm feelings in the hearts of his friends, that, if collected and recorded could tell the story of his quest for meaning.

McCandless’s story needed to be told for Krakauer’s own conscience, for the people who wanted to remember him, for the people who misunderstood him, and for the people who are like him. I got the sense that Krakauer wanted to say that there is a Chris McCandless in everybody.  If he could relate to so many people all over the country in his own life, maybe he relates to you and me.  Deep down, hidden beneath our conscious mind could lurk the secret desire to cast away everything known to pursue the lure of the unknown, the mysterious.

We know ourselves well as the person who sits in our place, but we could really come to know ourselves more if we see how we are in the world of the unpredictable.  We live in comfort and stability and always know our destination.  Imagine the one who is secure in not knowing his destination or place in the world, how much sense of self he must have.  If there is such a man who walks the earth today, then the saying must be true.  Not all who wander are lost.

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