What was the importance of the authors Jack London, Leo Tolstoy and Henry David Thoreau for Chris McCandless from Into the Wild?
London, Thoreau, and Tolstoy all wrote books and lived in ways that questioned a complacent and materialistic middle-class existence. Reading these authors intently in college and on his own travels helped form and guide McCandless as he sought to forge an alternative lifestyle to that of his affluent parents.
London, a socialist and wanderer, lived and worked among the poor and lower classes and identified with their plight. He tramped for a time, as did McCandless. McCandless, like London, sought out and identified with marginalized people living on the social fringes.
McCandless was also taken with Thoreau, who was determined to "front life" and not die without having really lived. Thoreau wanted to strip life down to its essentials and see what he could learn by doing so. This led him to live by Walden Pond and write about his experiences in Walden, a book that influenced Chris as he embarked on his own quest to "front life" in the wilderness. (Thoreau, it should be noted, stayed close to civilization.) Chris, like Thoreau, wanted to suck the marrow out of life.
Tolstoy, who gave up a vastly wealthy lifestyle to live in solidarity with the peasants, was not shy about judging people he felt lived in excess. Tolstoy influenced Chris deeply in the path of asceticism and seeking an alternative to middle-class living.
All three men influenced Chris not just through their writing, but also in that they actually went out and lived their beliefs.
Thoeau advocated simpler living in the wilderness, where he believed that Man could come to terms with his own existence and find a higher purpose. London wrote about the powerful, individualistic men who worked in harsh, Northern climates. Tolstoy advocated a life of poverty instead of glorifying wealth. Chris McCandless read and admired all these writers, and imitated some of their ideals in his own life:
Long captivated by the writing of Leo Tolstoy, McCandless particularly admired how the great novelist had forsaken a life of wealth and privilege to wander among the destitute. In college McCandless began emulating Tolstoy's asceticism and moral rigor...
(Krakauer, Into the Wild, Amazon.com)
Tolstoy was perhaps the largest influence on Chris, who also came from a well-off family and did not need to live in poverty; his choice to abandon his old life and seek a simpler one was in pursuit of his own ideals and dreams, which were shaped by the above authors as well as many others. His passion for living alone in the wilderness was influenced by Thoreau, and his desire to pit himself against the harshness of Alaska came from London's stirring adventure stories. Each author added to Chris's personal philosophies, and he followed their examples as much as he was able.