By Connor Bird
Was Chris McCandless, from “Into The Wild” by Jon Krakauer, a complete madman, or a mere transcendental idealist? Does it matter? Years after his death, his actions are still being debated by everyone from Krakauer and other columnists to arm-chair psychologists.
Like many young adults trying to find their way, McCandless believed society was a detriment to him, and he would be better off without it. Krakauer didn’t exactly portray the connection between McCandless and his family as a close and loving one, but he had all he needed; such as support, food and shelter.
So why did he do this? What happened?
McCandless studied in Emory, Atlanta, so he clearly wasn’t stupid.
Maybe he had split personalities-or-dissociative disorder? This is possible, and many have considered mental illness was at hand; especially Craig Medred, writer for the Alaska Dispatch. Medred opposed Krakauer’s response to McCandless’ journey and disputed Krakauer’s portrayal of a potential madman. The fact that McCandless had developed a secondary identity (Alex Supertramp) decided to journal his adventures in a third person perspective stating things like, “Alexander is jubilant,” all support the madness theory.
People who suffer from mental illness often have a hard time accepting reality for what it is. Supertramp had showed something similar in the fact that he took in the tales of Jack London as reality; as if his portrayal of the wild was whole, and accurate. The writings of London, such as “Call of the Wild” (a tale of a man trekking into the Alaskan wilderness) had inspired McCandless since he was young, and is likely the tale that lead him up to Stampede Trail to begin the last chapter of his tale. Where McCandless had perhaps gone wrong, was where he built his reality off of the fictional tale of London, and his half-truth portrayal of the very harsh Alaskan wild.
Reportedly a good-hearted man whose spirit was always soaring, McCandless struggled with talking to people. Once he got to know them though, he was as open as any man. Never telling the entirety of his tale, nobody could ever decide why he was on his journey. But regardless of his backstory, people always seemed to know that there was some underlying truth written behind his story.
Another possibility is that McCandless was just genuinely upset with the way society had conducted itself, not unlike many other Americans and people around the world. His studies in college indicate he was well aware of things like famine and hoarding of resources; and McCandless was a man who sought genuine thrill, and total experience. He wanted to live in a world that was perfect in every way, where man had pursued their destiny of personal growth.
But I can’t blame him for it; sometimes I can see myself making the same escape. Society is a bit of a burden; or at least the way it conducts itself today. Now, I wouldn’t go as far as to move into a bus after months of successful experience seeking and view broadening; but that might be because I know how harsh the Interior of Alaska can be, like many other Alaskans around me. I understand wanting to be independent, but in this world, there are necessities that cannot be ignored; like money, food, resources and tools. If he had gathered these things in advance, perhaps his experience and thrill seeking adventure wouldn’t have been the death of him.