What do you perceive to be Chris McCandless's goal in Into the Wild?

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There are readers that are likely to defend that Chris McCandless's goal was some kind of grand ethereal plan to find the meaning of life; however, I have never been on board with that idea. Chris McCandless is different from a lot of other people, but I don't believe that...

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There are readers that are likely to defend that Chris McCandless's goal was some kind of grand ethereal plan to find the meaning of life; however, I have never been on board with that idea. Chris McCandless is different from a lot of other people, but I don't believe that his core beliefs are different. What is different is his execution of those core beliefs.

McCandless's main goal is hedonistic. He seeks pleasure, and he stops at nothing in his pursuit of it. What is unique about McCandless is that he doesn't pursue hedonism through materialism like many other people have a tendency to do. For McCandless, dying with the most toys isn't winning. He who dies with the most toys still dies.

McCandless doesn't find happiness in owning things. He finds happiness in an ever changing horizon. He finds happiness by pursuing that horizon whenever he wants to. There is a sense of carpe diem about McCandless, but he isn't always capable of seizing the day. His nomadic life forces McCandless to be patient, but that doesn't change the fact that he embraces a personal happiness found through an ever changing horizon. The best textual evidence to support this idea is McCandless's letter to Franz. It's a letter that encourages Franz to pursue the ever changing horizon for no other reason than being happy.

The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun. If you want to get more out of life, Ron, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty. And so, Ron, in short, get out of Salton City and hit the Road. I guarantee you will be very glad you did ... Don’t settle down and sit in one place. Move around, be nomadic, make each day a new horizon.

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I would say that McCandless's goal, especially as it manifested itself in the Alaskan wilderness, was to face life and nature in the most stripped down way possible in order to test himself and learn about himself. He wanted to prove that he could survive on his own, without all the civilized props and aids he felt he had been smothered with all his life.

In this way, he was very much like Thoreau, who simplified his lifestyle as much as possible in order to find out what life really was about in its essentials, so as not to feel, on his deathbed, that he had never truly lived.

Those who criticize Chris as a fool for not going properly equipped into the wilderness miss the point: Chris's primary motive was not to have a "safe" wilderness adventure where he, say, saw as much wildlife or had as much wilderness "experience" as possible but to confront life in a way that wasn't entirely safe and secure—to reject a society based on security—and see how he would do in that situation. He hedged against risks but deliberately didn't eliminate them.

As he lived on his own in Alaska in his final adventure, he read Tolstoy and gained clarity on what gave life meaning, which for him was never material goods. He decided that he wanted to do good in the world, marry, and have a family. It is unfortunate that he did not get a chance to achieve his goals, but from what evidence we have, he died content with how he had lived.

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Chris’s ultimate goal is to seek happiness and finding the meaning of life. Chris loves the works of transcendentalist writers and Jack London, and he believes that society has obfuscated happiness.

He views his family as slaves to consumerism and materialism, where inanimate objects are assigned more value than they inherently deserve. One of the final breaking points for Chris is when his parents try to buy him a car. Instead, he decides to act like a transcendentalist and surround himself with nature. In nature, he is rid of materialistic possessions and societal norms. Instead of making decisions based on what materials he will acquire, he is forced to make decisions based on survival. This process will ultimately allow him to focus completely on his life and gain an understanding of what makes him truly happy.

Ultimately, Chris died because of his decision, unable to survive in the Alaskan wilderness. In his final photograph he is smiling, and some of his final words thank God for the happy life he led. While his life was cut short, it’s very possible he died in a happier state than if he lived a long life in a career he didn’t love, chasing possessions he didn’t truly need, which can be read as a realization of his goal.

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Into the Wild follows the true story of Chris McCandless, who left behind the comfort and safety of his life as a college student in order to travel the United States. After giving away his college fund and cutting off contact with his family, McCandless traveled through the West, hitchhiked to Alaska, and attempted to survive in the wilderness on his own. He made it approximately 113 days into this odyssey before dying of unconfirmed causes. 

Thus, I would argue that Chris McCandless' goals were to embark on a journey of self-discovery, to clarify his own identity outside of the superficial and often consumerist context of society, and to grow closer to understanding the meaning of life. His quest was toward enlightenment and minimalism, and he was clearly influenced by the Transcendentalist value of individualism. 

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Given that you are only reading about him from other people's accounts and from Krakauer's own biased view of his life, it is difficult to decipher exactly what Chris' goals were.

He clearly wanted to escape some of the bounds of regular society that he felt held him back from perhaps discovering his true self or perhaps even being truly happy.  He finds companionship and things that are worthwhile in working for people and finding those folks that he doesn't find to be fake or untrue, but he also quite actively works against people getting close to him, whether they are family or friends.

One other goal is simply to push himself to a level he likely can't himself so escaping to nature may bring those challenges to him.

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