Into the Wild Criticism

Instructor: Carly Rudzinski
Jon Krakauer's 'Into the Wild' was originally published in 1996. The book tells the true story of Christopher McCandless, a recent college graduate who left everything he knew behind to journey into the Alaskan wilderness.

The Beginning of the Story

Right now, for just one moment, pretend that when you wake up tomorrow morning, you'll leave everything that you know behind - your job, your family, your life as you know it. You'll have a small backpack full of things you think you'll need, the clothes on your back, and your vehicle. You don't know where you're going, but you know that you have to have an adventure, that there is some undeniable desire deep down in your soul that is making you do this. This is similar to how Chris McCandless may have felt when he started on his 'Alaskan Odyssey' in 1992.

Chris grew up in an affluent suburb of Washington, D.C. and was regarded as intelligent, thoughtful and athletic. He was the son of Walt and Billie McCandless, who ran their own successful consulting firm. After graduating in 1990 with honors form Emory University, McCandless gave most of his savings to charity, burned the rest of his money, abandoned his car, and left his family behind as he went on a journey that eventually led him to Alaska.

Outside Magazine and Book Publication

Jon Krakauer first told McCandless' story in an article in Outside magazine in 1993. He later chronicled McCandless' epic journey in his bestselling book Into the Wild. Krakauer begins the book by telling the reader how the story ends: Chris McCandless died in the Alaskan wilderness, alone and twenty-four years old, in a bus he was using as a shelter.

In the first few pages, Krakauer lets the reader know that he's not an impartial biographer. Something about McCandless' desire to live free of restrictions and off the land appealed to his younger self. The author details Chris' journey from his home in Atlanta - how he leaves no word for his family as to his whereabouts; his travels through Arizona, Mexico, California, and South Dakota; how, through his journals, he chronicles his adventures and missteps; how he told nearly everyone he met that he was preparing for his Alaskan Odyssey; how he re-christened himself as 'Alexander Supertramp'; and his eventual death in Alaska.

The Wilderness

Alaskan Wilderness

Heading into the Alaskan bush is dangerous even for the well prepared. The river currents are unpredictable, often leading to flooding or impassable waters. The terrain is tough and ragged, and there are plenty of stories about men and women who try their hand at living in the wilderness that never make it out alive. By all accounts, McCandless seemed ill prepared to spend any time in the Alaskan wilderness, much less to 'live off the land for a few months,' as was his plan. When McCandless walked into the wilderness in April 1992, he carried on him a ten-pound bag of rice, a camera, and a 22-caliber rifle. Roughly four months later, he was dead.


Responses to Krakauer's telling of McCandless' story were swift: many readers thought McCandless was heartless and arrogant; prideful and stubborn; selfish and inexperienced. One letter to Outside magazine read, 'His what killed him. And while I feel for his parents, I have no sympathy for him…just another case of underprepared, overconfident men bumbling around out there and screwing up because they lacked the requisite humility'.

Krakauer himself received criticism. Craig Medred, a writer for the Alaska Dispatch writes that, 'The book was actually as much about Krakauer wandering the world searching for the meaning of life as about McCandless, but the dead wanderer ended up as the big star.'

Readers questioned how someone from a seemingly affluent and prosperous family could leave his family and his well-educated life behind. By all accounts, Chris was extremely intelligent and read classic authors like Tolstoy, Thoreau, and especially, Jack London. Little is known about his romantic life, but Krakauer seems to think that, like Thoreau and London before him, McCandless rejected intimate connections with either the same or opposite sex. McCandless had a very close relationship with his sister, Carine, and Krakauer alludes to some familial discord, but never delves into anything specific. This left many readers wondering what the reasons were for McCandless' actions.

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