- Some view the postcards Chris sent to his friends as evidence that he was suicidal. Make a case that Chris was not suicidal, using at least three specific pieces of evidence to prove that McCandless intended to return from his journey into the wild.
“Please return all mail I receive to the sender. It might be a very long time before I return South. If this adventure proves fatal and you don’t ever hear from me again, I want you to know you’re a great man. I now walk into the wild.”
Postcard to Wayne Westerberg.
“This is the last communication you shall receive from me. I now walk out to live amongst the wild. Take care, it was great knowing you.”
Postcard to Jan Burres
- Alex/Chris seemed make a lasting impression upon so many people whom he met. Describe what aspects of Chris’ personality seemed to make him so endearing to others.
“I’ve given jobs to lots of hitchhikers over the years. Most of them weren’t much good, didn’t really want to work. It was a different story with Alex. He was hardest worker I’ve ever seen.”
Wayne Westerburg, Into the Wild, 182
“He was a really good kid. We thought the world of him. When he left, we never expected to hear from him again, but he made a point of staying in touch. For the next two years Alex sent us a postcard every month or two.”
Jan Burress Into the Wild, 30-31
“Please do not make these facts available to anybody till I know more aout his death for he was not just the common wayfarer. Please believe me.”
Ronald Franz in a letter to Outside Magazine, Into the Wild, 48
- In chapters 14 and 15, Krakauer recalls his own reckless youth. How does his perspective as an older adult give insight into McCandless, who died young? Identify at least two revelations Krakauer makes that came to him because he survived his experience and grew older.
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I will address your final question below.
In Into the Wild, Krakauer’s account of his attempt to climb Devil’s Thumb as a young man helps the reader associate him with his portrayal of Chris McCandless. Both were unsatisfied with normal life, both wanted to do something dangerous and special, and both headed for Alaska. Also like McCandless, Krakauer forged some important relationships in his travels.
One of Krakauer’s relationships is with a woman named Kai, in Petersburg, Alaska, where he journeys to reach Devil’s Thumb. The woman gave him a place to stay for the night, and this led to one of his revelations:
I had convinced myself for many months that I didn’t really mind the absence of intimacy in my life, that lack of real human connection, but the pleasure I’d felt in this woman’s company—the ring of her laughter, the innocent touch of a hand on my arm—exposed my self-deceit and left me hollow and aching.
We can imagine that Chris might have had similar feelings about human contact during his adventures, especially since he kept meeting and making impressions upon various people. In the end, he chose to be alone, but in getting there he sought human companionship.
Krakauer also uses his own experience to address the issue of whether or not Chris might have been suicidal. Some people thought that Chris’ actions were directed by a death wish, and Krakauer, who was similarly reckless in his youth, shares his experience and thoughts on this:
The fact that I survived my Alaska adventure and McCandless did not survive his was largely a matter of chance; had I not returned from the Stikine Ice Cap in 1977, people would have been quick to say of me—as they now say of him—that I had a death wish. Eighteen years after the event, I now recognize that I suffered from hubris, perhaps, and an appalling innocence, certainly; but I wasn’t suicidal.
Someone who is overconfident and ignorant of danger might well appear to be intentionally courting death, but according to Krakauer it is the lure of nature and the challenging experience that makes a young person seek what to others appears to be a foolish goal. Krakauer acknowledges that he learned that he was indeed foolish in his youth. McCandless, tragically, did not live long enough to gain the experience to come to that realization.
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