How is McCandless a figure characterised by tragic foolhardiness in Into the Wild?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is important above all else to identify the ambivalence that surrounds the figure of Chris McCandless in this text. On the one hand, it is absolutely clear that he was foolhardy. He went, by himself, into a savage, unforgiving part of the world without being properly prepared and without even taking a map. This was something that even people who were used to Alaska found immensely stupid, and his lack of a map was part of what led to his death, as he was unaware of a way of crossing the river that prevented him from returning to civilisation. Again and again it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Chris died because of his own reckless foolhardiness.

However, at the same time, Krakauer also presents an alternative way of considering what happened to Chris:

It is hardly unusual for a young man to be drawn to a pursuit considered reckless by his elders; engaging in risky behavior is a rite of passage in our culture no less than in most others. Danger has always held a certain allure.

Therefore, although Chris was foolhardy, Krakauer makes the very valid point that many young men engage in reckless endeavours as part of proving themselves as men. He also hints at the way that if Chris has succeeded and had not died, we would praise him for his bravery. It is important to recognise therefore that although the text does point towards Chris being foolhardy, at the same time there is also a certain amount of ambivalence expressed by the author towards this tragic figure that reveals his admiration and respect for him.

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Into the Wild

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