Is Into the Wild an example of tragic foolhardiness or heroic idealism?
Debate on Chris's ideals and his death continues to this day. Many outdoors enthusiasts view Chris as a well-to-do young man who didn't understand the real hardships and difficulties of living in the wilderness. Others view him as living and dying in pursuit of his pseudo-transcendentalist ideals, and so as a heroic figure. Krakauer deliberately leaves the issue open, writing about his own opinions as well as those of others. One particularly critical passage comes from Nick Jans, a writer who lives in Alaska:
...there's quite a few of these guys hanging around the state, so much alike that they're almost a collective cliché. [...] (Jack London got it right in "To Build a Fire." McCandless is, finally, just a pale 20th-century burlesque of London’s protagonist, who freezes because he ignores advice and commits big-time hubris)....
(Krakauer, Into the Wild, amazon.com)
Despite this criticism, Chris became a folk hero for many people, being one who refused to be constrained by society and lived life according to his own ideals. In this perspective, he threw off the shackles of society to live according to his own moral and ethical standards; no one could tell him what to do, making him an extremely individualistic figure. It is partly that individualism that led to his death, however, as he ignored advice to study deeply about woodcraft before going into the woods. Ultimately, Chris's story will be interpreted differently by different people according to their own ideals.