In Into the Wild, journalist Jon Krakauer pieces together the experiences of various people who met Christopher McCandless to paint a fuller picture of his character and his journey to Alaska. Ronald Franz, an elderly man living in Salton City, is one of these people. There are a few different ways Ronald Franz reveals the character of Christopher McCandless; you can decide which area to focus on.
In chapter 6, through Franz, we see McCandless as an intelligent, well-groomed young man. “He seemed extremely intelligent,” Franz states. Franz immediately recognizes that the young man, who introduces himself as Alex, is not the average hitchhiker. McCandless confirms this by telling Franz, “I have a college education. I’m not destitute. I’m living like this by choice.”
Despite his privileged upbringing, McCandless is accepting of people whom the rest of society treats with mistrust. Franz sees McCandless as “too nice a kid to be living ... with those nudists and drunks and dope smokers” at Oh-My-God Hot Springs; yet in his letter to Franz, after he’d left Salton City, McCandless defends the group of campers at the hot springs, saying that Franz doesn’t truly understand them.
Another characteristic we see in McCandless, through his interaction with Franz, is his confidence. At age twenty-four, McCandless feels free to lecture a man in his eighties, despite the fact that McCandless was benefitting greatly from Franz’s generosity. In his letter to Franz, McCandless encourages him to adopt a radical lifestyle, criticizing what McCandless sees as “a life of security, conformity, and conservatism.”
During his time with Franz, McCandless also shows himself to be artistically gifted. Franz is a leatherworker and teaches the skill to McCandless. McCandless’s first project is a tooled leather belt that tells the story of his wanderings in images. Krakauer writes: “Executed with remarkable skill and creativity, this belt is as astonishing as any artifact Chris McCandless left behind.”
A final element of McCandless’s character that Franz reveals is his seemingly conflicted approach to personal relationships. Franz, a lonely man whose own family was killed in a tragic accident, is partly drawn to McCandless because the young man stirs his “long-dormant paternal impulses.” Readers have to wonder if McCandless also formed such a strong bond with the older man out of his own longing for family. Is this longing for a father figure the reason that McCandless accepts, and even at times asks, for help from Franz? Whatever the case, McCandless’s ability to connect deeply and quickly with people is striking. Although the two met only briefly, the news of McCandless’s death grieves Franz to the point that he denies his faith and becomes an atheist.
Despite creating remarkable personal attachments like his friendship with Franz, McCandless shows discomfort with this level of intimacy. When Franz asks to adopt McCandless, McCandless “dodged the question.” In a letter to Franz, McCandless states strongly: “You are wrong if you think joy emanates only or principally from personal relationships.” Does this statement ease McCandless’s guilt at leaving the old man? Perhaps. It is certainly a clear reflection of McCandless’s belief—one that ultimately changes—about the path to joy.