Claude Mulindi

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Into The Wild - Jon Krakauer

In a few words

Frustrated by the conformity imposed by modern living, Chris McCandless retreats to Alaska to be one with nature. Months later, his decmoposed body is discovered.

Krakauer touches on several themes - the blinding idealism of youth, the joy of unfettered exploration, and the complex relationship between boys and their fathers.

While critics of McCandless call out his hubris, Krakauer paints a nuanced portrait of a young man who feared living a mediocre life more than the inhospitableness of the wild.

McCandless' letter to Ron Franz is especially powerful. See below.


"Alaska has long been a magnet for dreamers and misfits, people who think the unsullied enormity of the Last Frontier will patch holes in their lives. The bush is an unforgiving place, however, that cares nothing for hope or longing."

While a change of scenery can bring perspective, certain problems follow us wherever we go.

"He was alone", as James Joyce wrote of Stephen Dedalus, his artist as a young man. "He was alone and young and wilful and wildhearted, alone amid a waste of wild air and brackish waters and seaharvest of shells and tangle and veiled grey sunlight."

"At long last he was unencumbered from the stifling world of his parents and peers, a world of abstraction and security and material excess, a world in which he felt grievously cut off from the raw throb of existence."

"Franz has been living a solitary existence for many years. He had no family and few friends. A disciplined, self-reliant man, he got along remarkable well despite his age and solitude. When McCandless came into his world, however, the boy undermined the old man's meticulously constructed defenses."

"McCandless conveniently overlooked the fact that [Jack] London himself had spent just a single winter in the North and that he'd died by his own hand in his California estate at age forty, a fatuous drunk, obese and pathetic, maintaining a sedentary existence that bore scant resemblance to the ideals he espoused in print"


McCandless to Ron Franz:

"I’d like to repeat the advice I gave you before, in that I think you really should make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been to hesitant to attempt. 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. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun. 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 to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see it’s full meaning and its incredible beauty. And so, Ron, in short, get out of Salton City and hit the Road. I guarantee you will be very glad you did. But I fear you will ignore my advice. You think I am stubborn, but you are even more stubborn than me. You had a wonderful chance on your drive back to see one of the greatest sights on earth, the Grand Canyon, something every American should see at least once in his life. But for some reason incomprehensible to me you wanted nothing but to bolt for home as quickly as possible, right back to the same situation which you see day after day after day. I fear you will follow this same inclination in the future and thus failed to discover all the wonderful things that God has placed around us to discover. Don’t settle down and sit in one place. Move around, be nomadic, make each day a new horizon. You are still going to live a long time, Ron, and it would be a shame if you did not take the opportunity to revolutionize your life and move into an entirely new realm of experience.

You are wrong if you think Joy emanates entirely 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 out habitual lifestyle and engage in unconventional living.

My point is that you do not need me or anyone else around to bring this new kind of light in your life. It is simply waiting out there for you to grasp it, and all you have to do is reach for it. The only person you are fighting is yourself and your stubbornness to engage in new circumstances.

Ron, I really hope that as soon as you can you will get out of Salton City, put a little camper on the back of your pickup, and start seeing some of the great work that God has done here in the American West. You will see things and meet people and there is much to learn from them. And you must do it economy style, no motels, do your own cooking, as a general rule spend as little as possible and you will enjoy it much more immensely . I hope that the next time I see you, you will be a new man with vast array of new adventures and experiences behind you. Don’t hesitate or allow yourself to make excuses. Just get out and do it. Just get out and do it. You will be very, very glad that you did."


"He brooded at length over what he perceived to be his father's moral shortcomings, the hypocrisy of his parents' lifestyle, the tyranny of their conditional love."

"Unlike most of us, he was the sort of person who insisted on living out his beliefs."

Scathing criticisms of McCandless abound. Nick Jans: "I've run into several McCandless types in the country. Same story: idealistic, energetic, young guys who overestimate themselves, underestimate the country, and ended up in trouble...[his] contrived asceticism and pseudoliterary stance compound rather than reduce the fault."

Wallace Stegner on Everett Ruess (who disappeared in circumstances similar to McCandless) - "The peculiar thing about Everett Ruess was that he went out and did the things he dreamed about..."

"For children are innocent and love justice, while most of us are wicked and naturally prefer mercy." - G.K. Chesterton

"Children can be harsh judges when it comes to their parents, disinclined to grant clemency."

"He measured himself and those around him by an impossibly rigorous moral code."

"Like many people, Chris apparently judged artists and close friends by their work, not their life, yet he was temperamentally incapable of extending such lenity to his father."

"He chose instead to make a secret of his dark knowledge and express his rage obliquely, in silence and sullen withdrawal."

"I disappointed my father in the usual ways. Like McCandless, figures of male authority aroused in me a confusing medley of corked fury and hunger to please."

"He climbed not for sport but to find refuge from the inner torment that framed his existence."

"That it wouldn't be easy was the whole point."

"I was surprised, as always, by how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility."

"I had convinced myself for many months that I didn't really mind the absence of intimacy in my life., the lack of real human connection, but the pleasure I'd felt in this woman's company - the ring of her laughter, the innocent touch of a hand on my arm - exposed my self deceit and left me hollow and aching."

"By and by your attention becomes so intensely focused that you no longer notice your raw knuckles, the cramping thighs, the strain of maintaining nonstop concentration. A trancelike state settles over your efforts; the climb becomes a clear-eyed dream. Hours slide by like minutes. The accumulated clutter of day-to-day existence - the lapses of conscience, the unpaid bills, the bungled opportunities, the dust under the couch, the inescapable prison of your genes - all is temporarily forgotten, crowded from your thoughts by an overpowering clarity of purpose and by the seriousness of the task at hand."

"You had to hand it to me, I thought: I had a knack for living up to the old man's worst expectations."

"The revelation that he was merely human, and frightfully so, was beyond my power to forgive."

"At the age of twenty-three, personal mortality - the idea of my own death - was largely outside of my conceptual grasp."

McCandless on the back pages of his journal: "Deliberate Living: Conscious attention to the basics of life, and a constant attention to your immediate environment and its concerns, example -> A job, a task, a book; anything requiring efficient concentration (Circumstance has no value. It is how one relates to a situation that has value. All true meaning resides in the personal relationship to a phenomenon and what it means to you)."