Into the Wild Materialism
“What is the purpose of life?” This simple question intimidates many who refuse to confront the reality of life. Living in a fast paced world consumed by technology and materialism, it is difficult for one to examine what is truly important to live life wholly. Because of this struggle, many settle with unhappy lives, wallowing in fear, regret and dissatisfaction. In John Krakauer’s novel Into the Wild, he examines the short life of Christopher McCandless, a courageous man who detached himself from his past life in order to pursue something elusive in the Alaskan bush. Although Chris McCandless withdrew from the company of his family and friends, he journeyed into the wild philosophically free; gaining total independence and personal triumph, and ultimately immersing himself in solitude for true happiness.
Chris McCandless’ bitterness towards his parents, which roots from their flawed decisions earlier in his life, is what drove him to emancipate himself and live on his own conditions. He harbored years of inner turmoil, quietly doubting material excess, injustice, and the values his parents had imparted in him. In an effort to speak of the truth to honor her brother, Carine McCandless reveals that as children, they suffered through their father’s “gin induced rages” and “constant domestic violence and threats” (McCandless). On top of this, it was during one of McCandless’ extended trips when he discovered his father’s past entanglements while with his first wife, a secret that was long kept. Carine’s revelation along with McCandless’ discovery urges one to suspect that the reason behind his animosity against the world he lived in was an early childhood trauma, making him believe that the world was full of deceit and immorality. His father’s actions have had a profound effect on McCandless, to the point that he began to slowly withdraw from the relationships he had with his family and his friends. In order to free himself from a family history of agony and deception, McCandless walked “alone upon the land to become lost in the wild” (Krakauer 163), determined to create a new beginning without the distraction of anything he deemed irrelevant. McCandless was liberated from the opulent environment he despised.
Growing up privileged under the wing of a NASA engineer, McCandless felt that it was unjust to live securely and excessively. He was a fundamental believer of following one’s dreams; which, in his case, was the need to escape a stifling society. Because of this, McCandless decided to pursue “the raw throb of existence” (Krakauer 22), an idea heavily influenced by the nineteenth century transcendentalist, Henry David Thoreau. Thereafter, McCandless began to call himself Alexander Supertramp, to prove that he is indeed “the master of his own destiny” (Krakauer 23), free from all sources of authority, whether they be his parents or the standards of society. McCandless walked into the wild by having the courage to abandon the inequities in his past life and the determination to find himself in the midst of the wild, McCandless achieved philosophical freedom and independence from the toxins of modern life.
McCandless abandoned a world of security and superficiality, in order to experience life in its most natural sense and seek his true purpose in solitude. Inspired by Thoreau, McCandless strongly believed that it was essential for man to abandon a world of abstraction and materialism in exchange to experience life in its rawest form. It is only apparent that McCandless chose to thrive in a secluded area in the wild, a place where it is logical to find oneself. Only in the breadth of the Alaskan bush was he able to be and do anything without the burden of judgement from any individual. Throughout his journey, McCandless affirms that “his spirit is soaring” (Krakauer 37), as he embraced the situations when he did not have a bed to sleep, money to spend, and adequate food for nourishment. The thrill he feels for merely surviving portrays his fascination of living life deliberately, shedding the unnecessary things that prohibits one to really live. Although his parents and the people he met along the way empathized with McCandless’ struggles, the undeniable truth is that he reveled in being nomadic, as evidenced by the notes he had written and the quotes he had underlined in his books.
Furthermore, McCandless constantly craved for adventure and uncertainty. With the immensity of his country accompanied by strong desires, he found that his purpose in life was to have “an endlessly changing horizon” (Krakauer 57). McCandless strongly believed that the joys in life radiate from one’s confrontation with new experiences. Additionally, McCandless’ confident and satisfied tone in his letter to Ronald Franz leads one to infer that he felt the exhilaration of the life he chose as he urged him to pursue the same goal. From the time he set himself free from his previous life to the time of his death, McCandless was able to reach his purpose because he was met with various encounters throughout his journey which eventually molded him into the man he came to be: driven and wise. It was in the wild where the lost boy discovered his true passion and identity, which many would consider to be challenging in a fast-paced world.
Although McCandless’ endeavors were unsuccessful in that he inadvertently died, it was in many ways a personal triumph because he lived by his personal principles until the end, free from the shallowness of society. He had the opportunity to “explore the inner country of his own soul” (Krakauer 183) and let loose his true personality, without being criticized by those who did not understand him. He was able to erase himself from a conformist society, eventually reconnecting himself through the wonders of nature. Additionally, Boris Pasternak states in Doctor Zhivago, a book McCandless brought with him into the wild, that the “two basic ideals of modern man [are] free personality and the idea of life as sacrifice” (Pasternak, 56). McCandless sacrificed his life by going into the wilderness ill prepared to let his true self reign.
This suggests that McCandless died fulfilling what he believed was the elemental principles of modern man, thus making one assume that he was satisfied with the decisions he has made for himself. Likewise, McCandless had written a note that he has “had a happy life and thank the Lord” (199), confirming that he has no regrets of abandoning his past life and creating a new one in which he believed in. McCandless has transformed himself so much as he perceived life through different lens, that maybe he could have never to his old ways. The end of his story was perhaps the only solution. Nevertheless, McCandless was, in the end, at peace with himself; he lived the last two years of his life as he wished, without the overbearing shadow of his parents. He obtained his long desire of his idea of personal freedom, and engulfed himself in pure happiness.
Some critics assert that McCandless walked into the wild selfishly, abandoning his parents and the privileged life he was fortunate to have. In one of the responses to Krakauer’s Outside article about McCandless, people have stated that he has caused his parents “permanent and perplexing pain” (Krakauer 71) and that his story is a “collective cliché” (Krakauer 71). Many critics think this of McCandless because he severed relations with his family and the details of his story match with past vagabonds. However, Carine McCandless has given Krakauer’s readers a glimpse of how their childhood in a middle-class family was really life. The inequities of the lives surrounding McCandless bothered him. He passionately adhered to his beliefs, which often clashed with the opinions of others, like his parents. Because of this, he decided to venture across America, where he could have his idea of personal freedom. McCandless may not be a unique story in the history of those who went into the Alaskan bush. However, it is his meaningful legacy to inspire others to take a risk that is more important.
McCandless, or Alexander Supertramp, abandoned the stifling world of his parents and peers in the hopes to practice his naturalist ideals and achieve self contentment. In the end, he was triumphant for he lived by his beliefs until his last breath. Although McCandless made few catastrophic mistakes in pursuit for his identity and freedom, he is the epitome of initiative and drive for his efforts in creating own character in an environment where he could live as he desired. It is essential for us to have the courage to walk away in pursuit of what we believe in – just like McCandless. In doing this, we are allowing ourselves to get the most out of the little time we have in this world. It is better to take risks in order to find our purpose, than to realize in the end that we have not lived at all.