By Cheyenne Mathews
If you are cold, you turn up the heat or find a coat. Hungry? Go to the fridge. Tired? Go to sleep. If you want to help others, you donate to charity or volunteer your time. Unless, you are Chris McCandless and decide that materialism, satiation, and socialization are pointless. There are better ways to give your life a purpose than shunning material goods and donating your life savings to charity.
McCandless was raised in a suburb of Washington D.C., and had no experience with Alaskan forests. According to Jon Krakauer’s book Into the Wild, McCandless cut off all contact with his family, donated his college fund, and literally walked away from that lifestyle.
“More than twenty-four thousand dollars remained at the time of Chris’s graduation… he would shortly donate all the money in his college fund to OXFAM America, a charity dedicated to fighting hunger.”
McCandless had good intentions, but sometimes the thought is not what counts, but the action taken. If he really wanted to help those who were starving he could have utilized his talents- his excellent education and his ability to make people remember him, and actually benefited others. Instead he decided to live on the edge of starvation himself and ironically die of hunger.
Maybe McCandless just wanted to leave society because he didn’t wish to conform, but there are so many others ways to ‘rebel’ from society. McCandless couldn’t find a suitable outlet for his ideas so he walked away. I’m not saying that taking the occasional break from people is wrong. I’m saying that whether he intended or not, McCandless went about it the wrong way. He was never prepared. He was too sure of himself to heed warnings or advice. He wasn’t living truthfully because he wasn’t living at all by modern standards because he had no purpose. He went back on years of human progression to a time when humans had no other purpose but survival.
McCandless was lucky. He could have died in Mexico, Carthage, or in Arizona, but he didn’t and that I attribute to luck. By writing Into the Wild, Krakauer made McCandless seem noble. For conclusion Krakauer pins the death of McCandless on a potato seed. Krakauer makes McCandless death a fault of an inept plant guide, when in reality McCandless would have survived if he had brought his own food and wasn’t foraging from unrecognizable plants. Later research concluded that the seed that ‘killed’ McCandless was not actually at fault for his death.
McCandless led a life that I would not chose for myself because I value my life, my sanity, I like having a cause and a purpose, and I would not want to waste away instead of mixing in with society.
For everyone who read Into the Wild and thought, “Wow, simple and honest! I should go off into the wild and find some of this truth myself.” I urge you to rethink. Alaska is a beautiful place, but survival is not simple. McCandless may have set off to find truth and simplicity in his life but remember… he died. He didn’t have the proper equipment or knowledge and even if he did, there is no guarantee he would have survived. Even prepared Alaskans have died in the wild because of an accident, or a machine failure, or even weather conditions. Be smart. Be prepared. If that’s not your style and you want to live ‘true’ like McCandless, then at least write about your travels and experiences, so that when they find your body more Alaskans can criticize your choices later on.
It’s harsh. But so is the Alaskan wilderness.