What Was Chris Mccandless Seeking In The Wilderness

What was Chris McCandless's purpose for going into the wild? Did he discover or fulfill what he was looking for?

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When Chris heads alone into the wilds of Alaska, he hitches a ride with Gaylord Stuckey. Chris tells Stuckey he has wanted, "since he was little," to spend a summer in the bush, all by himself, to prove he can live off the land and make it on his own. 

When Chris establishes his camp at the deserted bus, he is ecstatic. He writes that this is his "final and greatest adventure." He wants to

kill the false being within and victoriously conclude the spiritual revolution.

All through his wandering travels, Chris has been seeking authentic life and experience, trying to rid himself of what he considers the poisons of materialism, status symbols, and consumerism. Like his heroes Tolstoy, Thoreau and Jack London, he wants, in Thoreau's words "to front life" and not die feeling he never really lived.

Chris, of course, dies in this final struggle for spiritual revolution, but I would argue that he does find what he is looking for. He writes, at the end of his existence, realizing he is dying

I have had a happy life and thank the Lord.

In his last picture, though emaciated, he his smiling. He dies in peace, knowing he has been true to himself. 

slcollins eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A number of elements come together to provide Chris's purpose for walking into the wild. Much of his motivation was related to his parents and the resentment he harbored toward both of them. He disliked their materialistic life and disliked it even more when they tried to force that materialism onto him, as evidenced with his reaction to the car they want to buy him. He also harbors even more deep-seated hatred for his father after finding out about the double life Walt McCandless had led. That's part of the motivation. Another part of the motivation was his love for literature. He seemed to be trying to follow in the footsteps of some of the authors he idolized, like Thoreau and London. His Alaskan adventure seemed driven, in part, by Jack London's Call of the Wild. This is oddly ironic, though, because he idolized a fictional narrative so much that he thought he might be able to live it. Did he find what he was looking for? Hard to say since we don't know exactly what he was looking for; most of the above are inferences. He certainly came to some realizations on his Alaskan adventure; he came to understand that happiness is only real when shared with others, which prompted his failed attempt at coming back into society.

chsmith1957 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Chris may not have known for sure what he was looking for, but he did know what he wanted to escape from: a life in the suburbs with people he could not trust. (His parents, for example.) He wanted to live life on his own terms, to avoid taking on a lifestyle or heading down a career path merely to fulfill the dreams or expectations of others. In this, we could say that he succeeded. His solo travels across the country led him to meet a variety of authentic and encouraging individuals. Most helped and advised him as best as they could: understanding that this young person wanted to work toward a certain level of self-sufficiency. Chris’s eventual goal was to live alone in the Alaskan wilderness; and he did do this for several months. Evidence shows that he wasn’t as prepared as he should have been for this venture, however. And when he realized this fact for himself and made an attempt to return to civilization, he discovered that his route was blocked by the raging river. He had to turn back and face his fate. But at least it was one that he chose and was responsible for, himself. Only he could have told us whether or not his decision was worth the risks.

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Into the Wild

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