If well done literature is meant to evoke an emotional response, I guess we could classify Jon Krakauer’s into the wild as a good novel. However, I hesitate to say novel because it reads like a two hundred page magazine article comprised of dense blocks of text and investigative quotes created by leading questions. I hesitate to say good because, in my own opinion, it wasn't. However, this is clearly not a unanimously held view. So I began to discuss the book with a diverse group of friends and found a few trends about the target audience.
If you're an affluent, privileged individual stifled by the opportunities handed to you, this book is for you. If you despise society based off of an arbitrary set of lofty ideals formed from emulating authors that give you the right to judge others, this book is for you. If you're selfish enough to believe that the pursuit of your own, singularly personally valuable dreams at the expense of the worry and emotional pain of those that love you, this book is for you. You mirror what seems to be the motivations of Chris McCandless, aka Alex Supertramp, Vagrant of the Ages! Others may not so easily identify with the deceased main character, therefore making it a bit of a tough read for an entire high school class.
Unlike the average student, Chris McCandless was graced with the endless opportunity created by his own natural talent and resources most only dream about. No one can say that he wasn’t gifted with brains and athletic prowess. However, he did not necessarily appreciate all he was given by circumstance, or allowed his attitude to get in the way of taking advantage of these opportunities. Firstly, he failed a high school physics class because he refused to adopt the lab report format his teacher assigned to make grading more manageable. His college education (at Emory, no less) was paid for in full by his parents. He also expressed intent in becoming a lawyer to his parents, and they agreed to pay for his future law school in full. However, he abandoned the financed path by donating the money to OXFAM America and taking off across the country without alerting his parents to his whereabouts along the way.
This could be easily countered by bringing up the recent abuse allegations against his parents, backed by his sister. Regardless of whether these are correct or not, he seems to mistreating someone in his family. Chris is either leaving Carine to fend for herself with abusive parents and taking away the emotional support he probably provided, or blatantly rejecting his parent’s love and support. Throughout the novel, McCandless disregarded their advice and dodged their help, leaving them in a constant state of worry and distress, completely devaluing all that they had given him, including his first experiences with the wilderness be loved so much. He even died in a sleeping bag sewn by his mother.
Which brings me to my point: we should honor his memory, but not glorify his decisions or the way he treated his family. He did not always express respect for those that aided him, hiding gear given to him in cars and never contacting his parents or sister. Often refusing aid from those that loved him out of principle, he made life harder for those around him by knowingly causing them worry and emotional pain about his safety and whereabouts. Yet, he continued to expect help from those along the road, hitchhiking and accepting free meals from stranger. By doing so, he was putting himself in further danger, a decision that was only amplified by his choice to go into the woods of Alaska alone, despite everyone’s contrary advice.
People often strongly agree or disagree on whether Chris was justified in leaving society, which is the kind of controversy that makes the book widespread and read in schools and homes. The question is whether we should expose individuals to the kind of glorification of his poor decisions that hurt those around him deeply. This becomes especially relevant when we realize the biases of the author towards McCandless’s decision and the sway that past explorers and adventurers had on them both. Therefore, it’s not only important to analyze the motivations and consequences of Chris’s actions, but also Jon Krakauer’s decision to glorify his choices. In fact, the biases in the writing may skew his story to the point where Chris loses his original motivations and depth. This is a book review, after all.
The entire book is biased by Krakauer’s identification with these hair-brained schemes. He stops halfway through the actual story to recount his own similar experiences of rebelling against a father that gave him everything by almost dying. He strategically puts his own story alongside those of famous historical swashbucklers and explorers, literally by putting them in adjacent chapters, making his own experiences seem noble in themselves. Honestly, this is a testament to his writing, because when you take the time to reflect on that twenty page diversion, you realize he was a kid trying to climb a mountain. And then he climbed the mountain. And then no one actually cared. But Chris is “special”, making his story worth idolization. (I wish I was just being harsh, but it's actually how I’ve interpreted the end of chapter fifteen)
Simply put, screw the glory of Chris McCandless. His value system of escapism, moral integrity, and individualism may have been refocused by the lense of the novelist, and his story seems only to spite those around him. The new information coming out in following years, which Krakauer obviously wasn’t privy to, paints Chris simply as a damaged child, another story we should portray as a cautionary tale instead of painting as noble. He does not deserve in the slightest for his limp, poorly thought out story to be hoisted onto the pedestal it currently occupies or for his poor decisions to be glorified in a way may encourage others to follow. If this review ever makes it back to anyone who knew him, sister or families or friends, I am so sorry that you had to deal with such a callous rejection of your love and support. Alternately, if Chris’s true story is that of an abused child taking refuge in solitude and travel, it’s equally unfortunate that his deep personal struggles have been turned into the holy grail of masculine fulfillment.