Into the Wild Questions and Answers
by Jon Krakauer

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How is Henry David Thoreau related to Into the Wild?

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Like Christopher McCandless, Thoreau turned his back on what he perceived as a false, corrupt urban civilization in order to get closer to nature. He romanticized the natural world, seeing it as a place of peace and repose where a man could lead an authentic life, free from the artificialities of city life.

Throughout his adventures, McCandless sees Thoreau as almost like a lifestyle guru, guiding him through the various challenges he must face. But it's not enough for McCandless to lead a simple life as Thoreau did; he must go one step further and strip down his very existence to the barest of bare essentials. In that sense, Thoreau is to McCandless what Virgil was to Dante in The Divine Comedy; he'll lead him up to the gates of the paradise he seeks, but the pilgrim on this spiritual journey must make that last fateful step on his own.

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As noted above, Thoreau, and especially Walden,  was intimately woven, as was Tolstoy, into McCandless's emotional life and his quest to strip away the...

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Both Henry David Thoreau and Christopher McCandless believed that an escape from modern society was necessary to experience a more meaningful life. They saw nature as being pure, in contrast to the materialism and complexity of modernity. McCandless valued the ideals of Transcendentalism described by Thoreau and was determined to live a simpler, more meaningful life by removing himself from society and entering the wilderness.

Both men thought of their experiences as parts of a spiritual journey that would result in more authentic happiness. Transcendentalists, including Thoreau, strove for a closer relationship to nature. Transcendentalism also emphasizes the importance of self-reliance, which McCandless attempted to demonstrate in the ways he traveled, worked and gathered food and supplies.

Thoreau is one of several significant inspirations for McCandless's worldview. McCandless demonstrated an extreme interpretation of Thoreau's call for simplicity: he gave away or destroyed most of his personal belongings before setting out for Alaska to experience nature in the wildest form available to him.

Thoreau believed that the wildness of nature was important. He wrote:

"We need the tonic of wildness. ... At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”

Though he could not find somewhere truly wild and untouched by humans (he settled in a deserted bus), McCandless nonetheless desired to find an unexplored wildnerness. Therefore, he created a sense of wilderness by traveling without a map of the landscape.

Neither man fully exiled himself from society. Walden Pond, where Thoreau built his small home, was located on Ralph Waldo Emerson's property near Concord. Thoreau frequently visited the town and could hear the trains passing nearby. Similarly, McCandless set up his camp less than thirty miles from Healy, Alaska. After only a few months in the wilderness, he decided to return to civilized society. However, he was forced to stay because the river he'd crossed to get to the bus had risen significantly and become impossible to cross.