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Into the Wild written by John Krakauer follows a true story of Christopher McCandless, a young man who grew up in a well-off family in a suburb of Virginia. Following endless back and forth communication with his parents, McCandless became frustrated, donated his $25,000 college fund to the charity Oxfam and burned the rest of his money before traveling along across the western United States, living almost entirely in the wilderness. McCandless managed to survive a total of 100 days before his dead, emaciated and severely malnourished body was found in a car. The book was developed on from an expansion of an article written by Krakauer on McCandless which was published in 1993. The book also was later adapted into a full-length feature film. It was a story that resonated with a lot of young disgruntled youth and people that were secretly yearning for an adventurous life. The story is one of a severe desire to escape a consumerist lifestyle and experience living in the wild with no boundaries or things tying you down – in the last section of his diary, McCandless wrote that he had had a happy life and he thanked the lord before noting down his final goodbye.
The Wilderness was very important for McCandless, he saw it as an area whereby he could live free from society’s rules and oppression, without any of the evils that he witnessed within the modern world. McCandless yearned to live in absolute freedom without other people telling him what to do and commanding any authority over him, following a world where he has to only abide by the laws of nature. He certainly did this, but at a cost to his life. McCandless chose to enter his quest for freedom in complete isolation, going into the wild on his own, but he realized that his romantic ideas aren’t as easy to live by as they seemed, and he soon noticed that it was, in fact, very tough to try and survive completely on his own – basic comforts that would be easy to obtain in the “real world” such as shelter and having enough to eat were difficult to get in wild. McCandless’ diary that was later recovered illustrated the desperation of trying to survive.
Themes of temptation and risk are key to Krakauer’s book. McCandless wants to risk everything he has and is equally tempted to fulfill his fantasy. His passion and ambition help him to keep going, even though he doesn’t last particularly long. Krakauer wants us to consider how we might feel tempted at times and what it would take for the temptation to win us over. At one point in the novel, McCandless rejects the attraction to receive better clothing from a random person, even though it would have probably helped him survive. Although it would be highly risky to try and persevere like McCandless did, Krakauer puts the theme of risk throughout his book, from the uncertainty of the initial idea to risking eating various plants and even risking trying to capture animals to eat. Perhaps, Krakauer is trying to make a point about civilization having its own current problems but that the risks and temptations to reject certain key parts of society have overbearing costs.
McCandless is constantly trying to challenge himself in unpredictable and hazardous situations, driven by the need to experience danger. In some way, there is a dichotomy between the safety of the modern world and the danger of challenging situations. Throughout McCandless’ travels, he is very driven by an inability to forgive his parents mistakes in a seemingly selfish way. The author is trying to make a point about family and listening to others – if you can’t forgive, it will lead to all sorts of problems further down the line.
McCandless is a highly principled man and has many core ideas that he strictly adheres to. For one, he rejects materialism and capitalist society outright, choosing to live in a world where money does not affect him. He makes this part of his personality known right from the start whereby he gives away all his money to charity and he believes this is the true decision to make. On one side this is an admirable action, yet McCandless’ actions also hurt those he loves and those in his close circle tremendously as they struggle to live with deep anxiety about what McCandless is doing. McCandless’ principles always come first and before anything else, regardless of what other thoughts people may have, though he doesn’t even discuss anything with his parents before leaving and donating his money – a mistake or a good choice? The reader can decide for themselves.
The novel ponders the question to the audience of whether or not our dreams can become a reality. McCandless certainly lived his dreams as he lived out in the wilderness without any material stresses or monetary needs, but at what cost? He did die rather young as a result, but was he happy or not? It is difficult and ambiguous to make a decision of whether or not he truly lived better as he decided to fulfill his dreams. The sad fact is that if McCandless would have had more preparation before setting off, perhaps he could have lived out his dream a whole lot longer, but with no food, phone, tools (apart from his rifle) and armed only with a few books, the harsh reality was that he simply was not prepared for survival. Although the ending is a tragic one, Into The Wild takes the audience on an interesting journey and leads us to question our dreams and the realities of life.