Why did Chris McCandless go into the wild?

Why did Chris McCandless go into the wild? He was young, he wanted adventure, and he wanted to get away from materialistic things, but what are some more detailed reasons?

While it is impossible to know exactly why Chris McCandless went into the wild, in a letter to Ron Franz, it is clear that McCandless desired and sought never-ending adventure and new experiences and believed that the abandonment of security would lead to true happiness.

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The two reasons that you have listed are good reasons for why Chris McCandless wanted to go out into the wilderness. Keep in mind that McCandless's passion to be out in the wilderness did end up killing him; however, he also managed to survive living in the wild for quite some time before he even began his Alaskan debacle. McCandless passed away during the trip, so Krakauer couldn't ask him why he chose to live like that. Readers are left to come up with our own reasons, but McCandless's letter to Franz is really good support of the two reasons that your question has already listed.

The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. 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.

Notice how McCandless emphasizes the passionate pursuit of adventure. He longs for the endlessly changing horizon. McCandless continues his letter by saying that in order to get more out of life, Franz needs to lose his sense of security. For many people, that sense of security is in owning things, so I think your assumption that McCandless went into the wild to get away from materialistic security is a good one.

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.

One thing to also note from the first provided quote is the emphasis on finding joy. It is conceivably possible that McCandless did all of the things he did for no other reason than following hedonistic tendencies—seeking pleasure. His idea of pleasurable fun is quite different than most people's, and I think that is why most people find him crazy; however, it has to be said that McCandless found pleasure in his simple life that provided an endlessly changing horizon. A bit later in the letter, McCandless will again hint that he lives the way that he does because it gives him joy.

You are wrong if you think joy emanates only or principally from human relationships. God has placed it all around us. It is in everything and anything we might experience. We just have to have the courage to turn against our habitual lifestyle and engage in unconventional living.

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I think the biggest reason Chris wanted to drop out of society was his sense of adventure. The word “adventure” crops up over and over again in Krakauer’s book, and it is a favorite way for Chris to describe his life to others. In his explanatory note to Ron Franz, Chris writes:

The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. 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.

This idea of “adventure” became, for Chris, a kind of spiritual and political practice. Chris does what he does for the fun of it. In a sense, all Chris wants to do is meet new people, have new experiences, learn new things. When he meets Jan Burres, even though he is “hungry, hungry, hungry” trying to get enough to eat by foraging berries, he clearly is in love with his freedom and the challenges being self-sufficient poses. (Burres says “He was tramping around the country, having a big old adventure.”)

But “adventure” also comes to mean an intentional way of living. No adventure was more important to Chris than his “Alaskan adventure,” of course, but I think that in Alaska, he tried to live out principles he had been formulating during his years of travel in the west. In his bus in Alaska, there is his famous sign, declaring his purpose:

AND NOW AFTER TWO RAMBLING YEARS COMES THE FINAL AND GREATEST ADVENTURE. THE CLIMACTIC BATTLE TO KILL THE FALSE BEING WITHIN AND VICTORIOUSLY CONCLUDE THE SPIRITUAL REVOLUTION. TEN DAYS AND NIGHTS OF FREIGHT TRAINS AND HITCHHIKING BRING HIM TO THE GREAT WHITE NORTH. NO LONGER TO BE POISONED BY CIVILIZATION HE FLEES, AND WALKS ALONE UPON THE LAND TO BECOME LOST IN THE WILD.

The “false being within” can be understood as Chris the honor roll student, the gifted athlete, the standout at Emory —the Chris that has been the product growing up in the suburbs. Civilization is poison that can only be counteracted by somehow getting out of civilization—by embracing adventure. There is a sense that for Chris, the “right” way of living is incredibly simple—that by being true to your innermost self, by living the “adventure,” you live in a way that is filled with joy, and therefore is politically radical and spiritually pure.

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According to a letter he wrote to Ron Franz, Chris McCandless believed that true happiness comes from experiencing new things.  He says that

...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.

Chris believed that he had to abandon the constraints of society and civilization in order to truly experience the beauty of life. 

Chris McCandless also romanticized survival in the wilderness.  He felt that shedding his reliance on money and material possessions would in some way bring him closer to nature and a sense of purity and freedom that were impossible while following the expectation of the world.  This sensibility (or lack of sense) was fed by McCandless's love of a Tolstoyan way of thinking.  He internalized the writings of Tolstoy, Thoreau, and others.

McCandless simply could not accept the world he lived in.  He felt he had been mistreated by those he loved, whether justly or not, and could not understand what he perceived to be cruelty.  He also could not fathom human desire for "things" when there was a lack of motivation to attain what he believed truly mattered:  purity, beauty, joy, etc.

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