How does McCandless from Into the Wild mimic Jack London's protagonist in "To Build a Fire?"

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sciftw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To be completely blunt, McCandless and the man from "To Build a Fire" are similar in the fact they both wind up being killed by nature's unforgiving attitude. The man dies of exposure and hypothermia, and McCandless dies from starvation and exposure. Both men feel that they are completely equipped for the adventure that is ahead of them, and both men are woefully wrong. The man is warned by the old timer to not go out in such cold weather, and the man ignores the advice. Late in the story, readers will see that the man realized his mistake about the old man's advice.

The old man on Sulphur Creek was right, he thought in the moment of controlled despair that followed. After 50 below zero, a man should travel with a companion. He beat his hands, but failed to produce any feeling in them.

Likewise, Jim Gallien tries to tell McCandless that his gear is pitiful and isn't going to make it out in the Alaskan wilderness. Gallien even offers to take McCandless into town in order to buy better gear for McCandless. McCandless won't be convinced. His current gear was good enough before, and he believes it's good enough now. Unfortunately, we never get to learn if McCandless ever admitted to himself that Gallien was right.  

Gallien offered to drive Alex all the way to Anchorage, buy him some decent gear, and then drive him back to wherever he wanted to go.

“No, thanks anyway,” Alex replied, “I’ll be fine with what I’ve got.”

Both McCandless and the man are simply way too overconfident in their own abilities to handle anything that nature throws at them. Consequently, they are not prepared with the proper gear and supplies to hold off nature's relentless efforts to destroy them. 

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Chris McCandless in Into the Wild is similar to the protagonist in "To Build a Fire" because neither of them truly comprehends their limits or understands that humans are powerless in the face of nature. McCandless believes that he can survive alone in Alaska without the proper gear or supplies. He enters the wilderness with only a ten-pound bag of rice, and his leather hiking books are not waterproof or insulated. The protagonist in London's tale is, like McCandless, new to the land –- in his case, the Yukon. Like McCandless, he does not listen to others who have more experience and tell him that he should reconsider being alone.

Both McCandless and the protagonist of "To Build a Fire" are driven by their own inner demons and desires. McCandless wants to escape from his familial bonds and the world of materialism, and the protagonist in London's story wants to visit an old claim to see if he can get out logs in the spring. Neither character is attentive to reality. They are instead driven by their own unrealistic desires, which wind up killing them in the end.

scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In a sense, McCandless shared antithetical views to London's dark naturalist themes. McCandless sought adventure in Alaska, but he also thought that he could prepare himself to beat the elements.  London, on the other hand, after enduring a severe "beating" by the Yukon's extreme environment focuses on man's inability to conquer nature or animals' instinct.

However, readers of both works cannot help but see the similarity between McCandless's lonely, harsh fate and "To Build a Fire's" protagonist's isolated death in the cold, unforgiving Yukon. Both men think that they will be different from others who have gone before them into the demanding elements of the north and met cruel deaths.  Chris does not listen to all those who worry about him and advise him not to go alone to Alaska.  Likewise, the newcomer ignores the oldtimer's advice about not traveling alone when the temperatures drop so low. In the end, both men die because nature defeats them--Chris is defeated by the cold and starvation, and the newcomer dies from hypothermia.  Both are alone in the end.