When writing an argument in favor of McCandless, be prepared to meet a crossfire of opinions regarding the topic. Therefore, to argue that McCandless is a "hero", you should have both the evidence to support your statement and evidence that can debunk any counterargument coming your way.
Let's start with the latter.
The story of McCandless has been under fire for some years now, with people from all backgrounds and fields expressing either agreement or disagreement about Krakauer making the man into some sort of legend.
According to the Anchorage Daily News, 2007 Craig Medred wrote:
"Into the Wild” is a misrepresentation, a sham, a fraud. [...] Krakauer took a poor misfortunate prone to paranoia, someone who left a note talking about his desire to kill the “false being within,” someone who managed to starve to death in a deserted bus not far off the George Parks Highway, and made the guy into a celebrity.
Opinions such as these are neither to be condoned, nor condemned. All points of view on the matter have been justified by those who have postulated them, and each point is valid within its own parameters.
This being said, prior to defending McCandless, be ready to expect criticism. For this reason, you should refer to writer Ronald Hamilton's paper which defends McCandless's defense mechanisms and establishes that the man died from neither being unprepared nor ignorant about his project.
Hamilton was the first to make a thorough study debunking the myth that McCandless was an "unprepared fool" who died "not far off the...highway."
Therefore, for any argument in favor of McCandless as a hero, it is very important to cite Hamilton's “The Silent Fire: ODAP and the Death of Christopher McCandless" as a way to fight back any point of view trying to downplay your theory based on the way that he died.
Now that you have your "bases covered" on McCandless's possible cause of death, let's focus on his life. The best pointers that would indicate that McCandless was a hero in his own right, or that he could be a heroic figure to many who still follow his cult, are the following:
- McCandless is a visionary
Very few people have neither the gumption nor the opportunity to shift entirely from their comfort zones and enter a zone of complete chaos for survival. He does this because he has an inner call which helps him visualize something much higher than himself. He is willing to undergo a complete external and internal shift for the sake of this vision. This is indeed something heroic on its own.
So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security[..]which may appear to give one peace of mind, but [...]nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit [..]than a secure future.
- McCandless chose the road less traveled
To use the phrase coined by Robert Frost (and borrowed by psychiatrist and author M. Scott Peck for his 1978 autobiographical work The Road Less Traveled), Christopher chose the road that was most difficult to take in order to understand the meaning of the things that he had heard and read about. To some, his road was unnecessarily tough. To others, this is the only way to achieve complete redemption. No mystic, or metaphysical seeker, has ever achieved the way to the higher power of knowledge through ease and pleasure. The sacrifices endured by McCandless were part of his journey.
And now after two rambling years comes the final and greatest adventure. The climactic battle to kill the false being within and victoriously conclude the spiritual pilgrimage.
- McCandless did more than just become inspired by readings
He imbibed the spirituality of the readings, adopted them as his way of life, and continued on to pursue the real messages hiding between the lines. McCandless learned things that most people would just take for granted, or dismiss altogether. He actually took those giveaways as facts and hoped to lead a life where he could live by those examples and reach a higher connection with the collective universe.
All true meaning resides in the personal relationship to a phenomenon, what it means to you...
The hero argument
Those who support the point of view of the book agree, like you, that McCandless is a hero of non-conformity. He is a hero because he decided to challenge everything that he had ever know. He moved himself out of his comfort zone and into a war zone of survival and constant problem solving. Moreover, he analyzed his whole life and meaning in isolation. This is, perhaps, the ultimate manifestation of commitment to exploring life walking down the road that nobody else would walk.