From Into the Wild, who was Chris McCandless?

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A vigorous debate broke out in the early 1990s over the question of who Chris McCandless was. This debate helped inspire Jon Krakauer to expand his popular 1993 Outside Magazine article on Chris's death into a best-selling book. As readers argued about Chris's death, two factions emerged: those who thought Chris was an arrogant fool who went into the wilderness unprepared and deserved to die, and those who understood Chris as a sensitive visionary whose death was an unfortunate byproduct of following through on his ideals—ideals that made him deliberately reject some of the precautions he was condemned for not taking.

Krakauer falls openly in the latter faction: he writes the book out of his identification with and sympathy for Chris and his quest. He presents Chris as an idealistic, if angry, young man searching for his identity. His Chris is a passionate reader of writers like Tolstoy and Thoreau, writers who rejected the materialistic life. Krakauer's Chris sought not only to read about simplicity and, in Thoreau's words, about "sucking the marrow out of life," but really tried to live that way, unencumbered by material baggage. Krakauer's Chris is a highly charismatic, strong-willed person who sought the unconventional and made a lasting impression on the people he met.

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Chris McCandless was a young American traveler and self-described "supertramp," a person who rejected the ideals of modern society to live in constant motion. His philosophies were based in Transcendentalism, which advocates a life of deliberate simplicity. Chris was born to relatively well-off parents, but rejected their lifestyle as being corrupted by materialism. People who met Chris described him as intelligent and quick-witted, and very passionate about his idealism.

He was an extremely intense young man and possessed a streak of stubborn idealism that did not mesh readily with modern existence. 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.
(Krakauer, Into the Wild, amazon.com)

Chris spent over two years traveling in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada, and eventually found an abandoned bus in Alaska where he set up his camp. He intended to spend time communing with nature and finding his own inner peace and purpose, and according to his recovered journals, he did find what he described as "what is needed for happiness." Unfortunately, he made several critical errors in his knowledge of woodcraft and survival, and eventually starved to death in the bus, where he was discovered by hunters. The book Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer describes this period in his life, and was adapted  by Sean Penn into an award-winning film.

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