Was Chris courageous or stupid?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The answer to this question is completely subjective. It is up to individual reader opinion; however, I don't think it is fair to say that Chris McCandless was one or the other. I think he was definitely both. I'm not trying to be finicky in my analysis of McCandless either....

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

The answer to this question is completely subjective. It is up to individual reader opinion; however, I don't think it is fair to say that Chris McCandless was one or the other. I think he was definitely both. I'm not trying to be finicky in my analysis of McCandless either. There are things that he did that I think are incredibly brave (perhaps borderline reckless). His canoe trip down into Mexico sounds amazing, and I would love to do something like that; however, I'm not brave enough to take that kind of risk. I think his propensity to live a solitary life and move from place to place is both admirable and brave. Most of society looks at that behavior as weird. For him to stand firm in his beliefs and follow his dreams with such razor sharp focus in the face of societal criticism is brave. With all of that said, he made some really stupid decisions. Heading out into the Alaskan wilderness without the proper gear was dumb. Wanting to survive out there is brave. Not being prepared for it is stupid. Krakauer makes a point of telling readers that McCandless likely could have gotten himself out of his situation if he had a topographic map of the area. Even Gallien, an Alaskan native, tried to persuade McCandless to take an extra day or two to secure the proper gear. Not taking that kind of advice was stupid. It's especially stupid knowing that McCandless revered Jack London so much. London's short story "To Build a Fire" is all about a guy that didn't take wise advice and headed out unprepared.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This question is entirely a matter of personal opinion. Jon Krakauer claims to have tried to treat Chris as objectively as possible; he admits to personal bias and shows that Chris failed to properly prepare himself for the struggle of living in the wild. Krakauer notes in the introduction:

Some readers admired the boy immensely for his courage and noble ideals; others [thought] that he was a reckless idiot, a wacko, a narcissist who perished out of arrogance and stupidity -- and was undeserving of the considerable media attention he received.
(Krakauer, Into the Wild, Amazon.com)

Most opinions concerning Chris are based in judging his actions; was he correct to cut his family off from correspondence? Was he correct to refuse emotional connections with others? Was he correct to pit himself with little training and gear against the Alaskan wilderness? More importantly, were his goals and ideals worth the potential cost of his own life? Only Chris could have answered those questions, and only from a position of experience and hindsight; today, interpretations of his life are entirely subjective.

In the end, Chris made decisions and they cost him his life; his courage or stupidity (circumstantial stupidity, since he was very smart otherwise) is less important than the lessons the reader learns from reading about his life.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team