Formal Response

“Into the Wild”




#4.    Gordon Young, who reviewed Into the Wild, said that McCandless did not die in vain, and that his life was enviable in many respects. Young asserts that McCandless was “a profoundly American figure, uncompromising 'in his approach and thoroughly optimistic about the future.” How is McCandless representative of the American character? Or how does McCandless fall short of what it means to be an American? Indeed, does McCandless in any way represent everything that is wrong about the American character?



       Children at a very young age begin the “I can do it myself” stage.  Often, this stage lasts an entire lifetime where these children become adults who prefer to “do it by themselves”.  Americans, in general, have a similar image to carry:  strong, bold, unique, individual, and independent.  We are the so-called “most powerful” country in the world and the people of it should be as well.  Many people of our country acquire these ‘independence’ traits and meet these expectations.  However, there are many people who misunderstand what they, as an American, are to stand for.  They sometimes take it too far.  This often leads to disaster, and in the case of Chris McCandless that is exactly what happened.

       Gordon Young, after reviewing “Into the Wild”, said that Chris McCandless’ life was “enviable in many respects.”  I have to agree with this.  McCandless was a young man who read many books about adventurous lifestyles, then boldly decided to make it his own way of life.  Many people would like to change something about their lifestyle, maybe not everything, but something.  Unfortunately, this is very complicated for most.  We as a society care so much about what others think and say; we are practically begging others for acceptance.  Chris McCandless would do no such thing! 

So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future.  The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure… (p 57)

He found it invigorating to be rebellious against the “norms” of society.   In that respect, his lifestyle, or the principle behind his lifestyle, was enviable, or desirable.

       Young also states that McCandless was “a profoundly American figure, uncompromising 'in his approach and thoroughly optimistic about the future”.  McCandless had an inflexible idea and nothing was going to stop him.  He tried to convince some of the people whom he had met along his journey to begin a life similar to his own. He writes to a friend, Ron Franz, and says:

If you want to get more out of life, Ron, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you as crazy.  But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty…You are wrong if you think Joy emanates only or principally from human relationships.  God has placed it all around us.  It is in everything and anything we might experience.  We just have to have the courage to turn against our habitual lifestyle and engage in unconventional living.  (p 57)

McCandless was excited about his life and he wanted others to know how wonderful it could be as well.  Nothing was going to stop him-he was going to enjoy every “endless changing horizon”.

       Chris McCandless was, in fact, very representative of the American character.  He was strong, bold, unique, individual, independent, and a “do it himself” type of man.  Before Europeans found America, this country was inhabited by Native Americans who roamed the land freely.  Both, Europeans and Native Americans journeyed this land before this country was polluted with urbanism.  Before many of the forests were destroyed these people traveled this land making their own adventures along the way.  McCandless is really an American at its finest when thinking of the first, true Americans.

       Although McCandless represents the character of what it means to be American, he also represents much of what is wrong with the American character.  His yearning for independence and uncultivated freedom is taken to an extreme.  He has a rebellious attitude and defiant relationship toward his parents.  After he graduated from college his relationship with his parents became nonexistent.  American families are becoming so dysfunctional that this does not seem too unusual.  This is becoming a great problem since family time and values are supposed to lay the foundation of the child’s personality, morals, and future. 

       McCandless craves adventure and risk.  There is a ‘natural high’ which is gained by certain risks and the American society developed an addiction to these.  Some examples are bungee jumping, sky diving, and extreme sports.  Some of the more dangerous risks are vandalism, theft, even murder.  These ‘natural highs’ could be obtained by physically doing these acts or witnessing them on television.  This is corrupting our country! 

       Overall, McCandless has the correct principal values; however, he, just like Americans, took them to a dangerous extreme.  He suffered the ultimate sacrifice because of his ‘craving’ and as Young stated, “he did not die in vain”.  He stood for excellent values yet found the extreme over exhilarating.