Last Updated on February 4, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1479
Jon Krakauer, the author of Into the Wild, has his own theories about Chris McCandless's state of mind when he retreated into the Alaskan wilderness. His belief that McCandless's death was solely accidental, and not the manifestation of a death wish, is based on evidence collected from McCandless's writings and interviews with those who knew him, but even more than that, it is an insight that derives from a more personal perspective. There are numerous striking parallels between Krakauer's experience and that of Chris McCandless, and it is these parallels that make the character of McCandless so fascinating to him, and that allow him to examine the intricacies surrounding McCandless's fate with such sympathy and understanding.
Like Christopher McCandless, Jon Krakauer as a youth was "willful, self-absorbed, intermittently reckless." He had a passionate nature, paradoxically rebelling against authority even as he longed to please. Energetic and imaginative, Krakauer pursued his interests with "a zeal bordering on obsession;" during his young adulthood, this obsession was mountain climbing.
In 1979, at the age of twenty-three, Krakauer "got it into (his) head" to climb the Devils Thumb, an imposing peak rising from a frozen bald called the Stikine Ice Cap in Alaska. Inspired by authors and philosophers, many of whom were favorites of McCandless as well, Krakauer, convinced that the experience would be life-transforming, decided to attempt to scale the mountain alone. As soon as his decision was made, he precipitously quit his job as an itinerant carpenter, packed up his car, and headed for Petersburg, Alaska, the closest city to his destination. When he arrived at the glacier, oblivious of the extreme danger of the undertaking, he "staggered" slowly upward for two days under the weight of an enormous pack, his emotions amplified, a "young man inebriated with the unfolding drama of his own life." It was not until he reached the "phantasmagoria of shattered ice" of the Stikine Ice Cap that Krakauer first became "truly afraid." The author somehow managed to navigate the treacherous terrain in stormy weather, despite almost falling to his death on multiple occasions into crevasses hundreds of feet deep. He had arranged for additional food and equipment to be airlifted to him when he reached the foot of the Thumb, but when he finally arrived, inclement weather made flight impossible. By the time the plane, several days late, managed to get through, Krakauer was down to the last of his supplies and frantic with the awareness of his complete isolation and vulnerability. The next day, the skies cleared, and though he was no longer mentally prepared, Krakauer began his climb up the mountain.
After a grueling commencement, Krakauer was able to establish focus and settle into a rhythm in his ascent. He experienced a period of "overpowering clarity of purpose" and happiness, but his euphoria was cut short when he reached a point of solid rock. Unable to find an area where he could continue his climb, he was forced to give up and return to base camp. Heavy snow and winds again engulfed the mountain, and as the author waited for the weather to clear, he was faced with the decision of whether to try again or to return home. After three days, crazed by his confinement, he accidentally started a fire, burning a section of his expensive shelter. What bothered Krakauer the most about this blunder was that the tent had been lent to him, unwillingly, by his father. When he returned, he would have to face him, having once again lived up "to the old man's worst expectations."
Like Christopher's father Walt McCandless, Lewis Krakauer was volatile, confrontational, and ambitious. He was a loving father, but "relentlessly competitive," and he...
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