In Into the Wild, how can McCandless’ feelings about his family be contrasted with his family’s feelings about him? How does the Thoreau quote that opens chapter 12 match Chris’ feelings about his family?

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Chapter 12 of Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild opens with a quotation from Henry David Thoreau:

Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me the truth. I sat at a table where were rich food and wine in abundance, an obsequious attendance, but sincerity and truth were not;...

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Chapter 12 of Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild opens with a quotation from Henry David Thoreau:

Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me the truth. I sat at a table where were rich food and wine in abundance, an obsequious attendance, but sincerity and truth were not; and I went away hungry from the inhospitable board. The hospitality was as cold as the ices.

This quotation directly mirrors how Chris feels about his family. In his family, Chris has access to plenty of food and material goods if he acts in an obedient manner. This means that Chris must follow the life path of his parents, including getting a job, to be able to one day provide the same food and material goods for his family. Chris cannot stand to think of these material goods as being the key to life’s happiness, and he vows to break that obedience in order to find the truth and happiness which will satisfy the hunger in his soul. For this, he resents his family.

This theme is contrasted with how his family feels about Chris. Both of Chris’s parents love him unconditionally, and they are unable to see how their wealth and privilege negatively affects their relationship. His parents want him to have access to everything that would allow him to build a successful life. They accept the fact that he does not want to live a traditional life, but they also think he might one day wake up and change.

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Chris felt that his parents, particularly his father, used their money to buy his compliance and to exercise power over him. Chris quotes Thoreau, the great champion of the simple life:

I sat at a table where were rich food and wine in abundance, an obsequious attendance, but sincerity and truth were not; and I went away hungry from the inhospitable board.

Chris identified with what Thoreau wrote. In his parents' home, Chris had rich food and many material goods. He was expected, in return, to be obsequious, which means to be servile and obedient. However, despite the material prosperity, Chris experienced life with his family as false. He was not told for many years about his father's other family, an omission which he considered a betrayal. He believed, too, that the material goods provided for him were meant to paper over a dysfunctional family dynamic. Although he grew up with everything he needed materially, he felt spiritually hungry. Chris, too, found the plenty he was offered as cold as ice. He, too, like Thoreau, wanted truth more than love, fame, or comforts. Therefore, he went on the road, seeking what was essential by living close to nature and shedding materialism.

While Chris was angry at his parents and determined to forge his own path, they loved him and were worried about his disappearance, going so far as to hire a detective to try to find him.

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Chapter Twelve opens with a quote by Henry David Thoreau, McCandless'literary mentor:

"Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me the truth. I sat at a table where were rich food and wine in abundance, an obsequious attendance, but sincerity and truth were not; and I went away hungry from the inhospitable board. The hospitality was as cold as the ices." (p. 117)

This parallels Chris's feelings about his family.  He feels betrayed by his father, because his father did not tell him that, while dating his mother and still continuing after Chris was born, he had an affair with his ex-wife. In chapter 12, Chris describes his childhood as feeling like a work of fiction, as if none of it were true. Throughout his short life, he simply could not let go of the fact that his father had never told him the truth.  He could not love a man who did not give the truth.

McCandless also resented his parents because they were rich.  Just as the quote says, McCandless simply wanted what he felt was the truth, more than he wanted love.  He felt that the truth was rich people were disgusting and they were ruining his country.  His parents were rich and he felt they tried to buy his respect so he could not love them.

However, this is in complete contrast with his parents' feelings about him. They loved their son and they were grateful they had the means to offer him things, like money for a new car and law school. They felt that giving him money showed their love because it would help him build a successful life. They also loved and respected most of Chris's choices. They understood he was made of a different cloth than most people, and he liked things done differently. For the most part, they respected this and loved him in spite of, or perhaps because of, his wild ideas borne of significant intelligence.

Therefore, while Chris could not love his parents because of who they were, Chris's parents loved him exactly because of who he was.

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