an analytical paper on jon krakauers into the wild

An Analytical Paper on Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild

Thesis Statement and Introduction

            When Jon Krakauer wrote Into the Wild, he had one thing in mind: to discover and understand why a young man who had almost everything in his life would throw all that he had just to venture into the wilderness. Chris McCandless had everything, but he found no comfort in having everything. He wanted to detach himself from his current life and start a new life, perhaps with the notion of erasing the previous life that he had—and went to the wilderness, because people tend to believe that the wilderness is completely another world untouched by time and man’s desecration, thus, it is where one can begin a new life, understand who one really is, and achieve transcendence (Cronon 360).

It was April 1992 when Chris McCandless decided to hitchhike into the wilderness of Mt. McKinley. After four months, he was found dead by a group of hunters (Krakauer n. pag.). Of course his family was stricken with grief, for the young man had everything in his hands, a college degree, a car, money, and possessions other people would be proud to have, and yet for some reason, he left it all behind, ventured into the wild and found, perhaps, that the wilderness was not what he thought it would be (Krakauer n. pag.). Perhaps he found what he was looking for, but of course, that it beyond the comprehension of the public. Some people said he had been very brave and courageous to do something which involves detaching oneself from worldly possessions in order to pursue some form of transcendental understanding; however, some have said that he was just one foolish boy who did not know what he got and threw it all away in order to satisfy his hunger for adventure, or perhaps, self-fulfillment (Krakauer n. pag.). In many ways, McCandless’ story was a “heart-rending drama of human yearning” (Lehmann-Haupt).


            According to William Cronon (360), the wilderness provides people with an illusion that if they can somehow make it there, they will have a chance to “escape the cares and troubles of the world in which [their] past has ensnared [them]” (Cronon 360). This may be what Chris had been thinking when he decided to throw everything away and venture into the wilderness with barely anything to keep him alive. In fact, if you can see in the opening paragraphs of the book, Chris had even changed his name to Alex. Apart from this, he had “documented the burning of his money” (Krakauer 29), which one can say symbolizes his yearning to finally throw away everything he had, even his money, just so he can escape his current predicament. In a nutshell, people tend to view the wilderness as a different part of this earth. It is viewed as unspoiled land, where one can be closer to God, perceive the world as what it really is, and discover one’s self. Of course, that is what people tend to think about what the wilderness should be; however, the problem lies in the fact that people look at the wilderness as detached from this world, as if it is some sort of portal to inner understanding rather than a place in this earth that people are related to (Cronon 360). People believe that by venturing into the wilderness, they can “somehow wipe clean the slate of [their] past and return to the tabula rasa that supposedly existed before [they] began to leave [their] marks on the world” (Cronon 360). Apart from this, people tend to convince themselves that where they belong to is in the wilderness, and not where they are, when in fact, people have to accept that the wild is not an otherworldly place, but an extension of their homes and who they are (Cronon 360).

McCandless’ actions are justified by this simple piece of information, for while it is a fact that people may not be able to pinpoint his exact reasons as to why he left his previous life, it is assumable that he may have been looking for something which he did not have. If he had wanted change, he would have done something different, but he wanted something else, something more than mere change and this somehow pushed him into leaving everything and traveling into the wilderness.

During his travels, he had kept a journal, where he documented his travels, and from reading his journal entries, one would see that he had experienced extremely difficult obstacles and heartbreaks, making him almost seem crazy to the people he encounter across the way, however, despite the troubles he had experienced throughout the way, he had not hesitated to continue his journey. In fact, during his travels, McCandless had met a man named Ron, and had wrote him a letter, saying that one must not be afraid to pursue a journey—“Don’t hesitate or allow yourself to make excuses. Just get out and do it” (Krakauer 58). In a way, McCandless was a strong-willed young man, who, despite obstacles, was not willing to give up on his quest. Some people may have found it foolish or naïve to continue a journey to the wilderness despite the many drawbacks it would have. However, it is assumable that McCandless believes that the wilderness will offer him understanding of who he is and what the world really is.

According to Cronon (361), only if people learn to accept the wilderness as an extension of them, and not as an alienated portion of the earth, will they be able to see that it can be considered a home. Perhaps it is true that the wilderness offers comfort to those who are seeking refuge, understanding, enlightenment, or transcendence, but if people treat it as a means for escape, the wilderness would not offer anyone any form of understanding regarding their lives.

In the end of Krakauer’s documentation of Chris McCandless’ short life, stated that one of McCandless’ last acts “was to take a picture of himself, standing near the bus, under the high Alaska sky” (Krakauer 199). It was stated that McCandless looked extremely thin, as if he was almost skeletal. However, if McCandless had any thoughts of self-pity because he was alone, dying at a young age, and his body and will had failed him—it does not show in his last photograph. He was smiling despite his current situation, and perhaps, he had accepted the wilderness as an extension of oneself and the world like what Cronon had stated. If one looks at the photo, it would seem as if McCandless had been able to find what he wanted in the wilderness, for he had accepted it as a part of his home and who he is, and his eyes show that he was “at peace, serene as a monk gone to God” (Krakauer 199).


            As seen in the aforementioned information, McCandless was a young man who was not foolish in giving up everything in order to go into the wild. While it may seem at first that he was merely trying to escape what he already had, he was, in fact, searching for something else in order to understand who he is. In the end, as seen in his journals, he was not a miserable person who pitied his decision—as Cronon had said, “learn to honor the wild” (Cronon 361), and this was exactly what McCandless had done, and in the process, despite the fact that he was dying, found peace and understanding.

Works Cited

Cronon, William. “The Trouble with Wilderness.” Environmental Ethics: The Big Questions. Ed. David R. Keller. West Sussex: Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 359-361. Print.

Krakauer, Jon. Into the Wild. New York: Anchor Books, 1996. Print.

Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher. “Taking Risk to its ‘Logical’ Extreme.” New York Times on the Web. 4 Jan. 1996. Web. 22 Jul. 2010.

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