Wayne Westerberg

How does Wayne Westerberg describe Christopher McCandless from "Into The Wild"?

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Jon Krakauer's initial 1993 article in Outside magazine on Chris McCandless's death became one of the most read and commented on stories in the history of that publication. Many readers contended that Chris was an arrogant fool who deserved to die for going unprepared into the wilderness. Others defended him. Because of the strong reaction to the article, Krakauer wrote Into the Wild.

Krakauer, as he says in his book, identified strongly with Chris and wanted to tell a sympathetic story. His narrative is meant to persuade the reader that Chris was a person of character and not a fool. Westerberg's memories of Chris help support that argument.

Westerberg's memories of Chris are fond and largely exemplary. He praised Chris in ways likely to appeal to a wide range of readers: Chris was hard-working, had integrity, did not use women, and was personable. Westerberg's descriptions of Chris are convincing because they don't show him to be perfect or a saint: Chris was self-willed, did not get along with his father, and could have a cold streak. They also track very closely to other people who Chris met and made friends with on the road, such as Jan Burres and Ron Franz. Like them, Westerberg found Chris to be an intense, likable idealist to whom he was deeply drawn.

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Wayne describes Chris as short, lean, and wiry. He hypothesizes that Chris may have had a trace of Greek or Chippewa blood in his heritage. Wayne also relates that Chris was near-sighted and that he was gifted with sensitive good looks.

According to Wayne, Chris was also a hard worker who could be trusted to perform the dirtiest jobs at the grain elevator. Chris worked with diligence at every task he was given, and he was respected by the other laborers for his thoroughness and integrity. Wayne relates that his young friend fit in well in Carthage; Chris was the kind of young man who appreciated Carthage's small town coziness, its modest respectability, and its working-class ethics.

In the book, Wayne also describes Chris as an obstinate young man who lived by a set of extremely rigid principles. Wayne deduces (rightly) that it was probably Chris's uncompromising personality that caused an irreparable rift to develop between him and his father, Walt.

Wayne relates that Chris was also a very idealistic young man: he prized chastity and moral purity in the same way Tolstoy and Thoreau did. As a result, Chris did not take relationships with women lightly. Wayne reports that Chris might well have been celibate during the entire time he knew him. Chris's idealism led him to be obsessed with the wilderness. In the spirit of John Muir and Thoreau, Chris sought communion and union with nature. He sought the wild in the same way that some men sought women.

In all, Wayne describes Chris as a peerless young man who charmed everyone he interacted with in Carthage.

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Wayne Westerberg is a combine crew foreman and grain elevator owner in South Dakota who took Chris McCandless in during Chris's travels. In exchange for work, Wayne fed and housed Chris, and became fond of him as a hard worker, respectful and conscientious, and very intelligent:

"He was the hardest worker I've ever seen... if he started a job, he'd finish it... He read a lot. Used a lot of big words. I think maybe part of what got him into trouble was that he did too much thinking... he always had to know the absolute right answer before he could go on to the next thing."
(Krakauer, Into the Wild, Amazon.com)

A common interpretation of their relationship is that Chris saw Wayne as a father-figure and more in touch with his personal ideals than his own family. After their initial meeting, Chris stayed in touch with Wayne with occasional postcards and letters. One-and-a-half years later, Chris returned to South Dakota and stayed with Wayne for over a month, saving money for his ultimately fatal trip to the wild-lands of Alaska. Wayne was one of the principal witnesses who identified Chris's body, and worked with Chris's family and Sean Penn on the film Into the Wild, which he sees as a faithful and compassionate tribute to Chris's life and ideals.

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