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Christopher McCandless's relationship with his parents in Into the Wild

Summary:

Christopher McCandless's relationship with his parents in Into the Wild is strained and complicated. He feels suffocated by their materialism and expectations. This discord drives him to sever ties and embark on a journey of self-discovery, seeking freedom from societal constraints and familial pressures.

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How would you characterize Christopher McCandless's relationship with his parents in Into the Wild?

John Krakauer's story about Christopher McCandless, the young college graduate who forsook a promising future as a professional, probably lawyer, for the individualism and commitment to nature embodied in his subsequent life and early death, Into the Wild, depicts an uncomfortable relationship between parents and son.  Early in this sorrowful depiction of McCandless' death from starvation -- or, possibly, from toxins ingested from some of the plants he consumed -- Krakauer describes a relationship between youth and parents that clearly presages a break on the part of the former with the expectations of the latter.  As Krakauer quotes McCandless' father, Walt, an aerospace engineer, responding to Christopher's decision to forgo law school while donating his college fund to charity,  “'We misread him,' his father admits."  Chris was raised along with his siblings in a rather conventional setting in northern Virginia, his father employed by NASA and by prominent aerospace companies that support federal agencies until establishing his own consulting firm.  Walt and Billie, Chris' mother, had little inkling that their son aspired to a future radically different from what they envisioned.  In a telling passage, Krakauer describes the schism between parents and child when Chris unexpectedly gives his mother a box of candy for Mother's Day:

"It was the first present she had received from her son in more than two years, since he had announced to his parents that, on principle, he would no longer give or accept gifts. Indeed, Chris had only recently upbraided Walt and Billie for expressing their desire to buy him a new car as a graduation present and offering to pay for law school if there wasn’t enough money left in his college fund to cover it."

Chris' decision to head for Alaska to live off-the-land and commune with nature represented an enormous departure from the existence his family had known in northern Virginia, close to the nation's capitol.  That his parents weren't emotionally prepared for such a decision spoke to the depth of differences that separated them.

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How would you characterize Christopher McCandless's relationship with his parents in Into the Wild?

Obviously, Chris McCandless' relationship with his parents is problematic and complicated.  His relationship with his father, Walt, in particular is extremely strained.  From the beginning of the book, Krakauer places quite a bit of emphasis on that relationship as the primary reason, or a primary reason anyway, for why Chris was motivated to "drop out" of society.  They are both strong willed characters, and Chris obviously felt wronged and betrayed when he leanred the true reason why his father and mother's marriage ended.

While his relationship with his mother is better, and we get the sense that Chris felt sorry for her on some level, he can't seem to forgive her, and along with his sense of wanderlust and adventure, along with his transcendentalist idealism, this drives him west and north, as far from that betrayal as possible.

What complicates the story further is that, while the relationship between Walt and Chris was mostly destroyed, Walt obviously loved his son, and said so openly.  That's part of what makes this such a tragedy.

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What was Chris's relationship with his parents in Into the Wild?

To some extent, Chris's fateful journey into the Alaskan wilderness represents a decisive rejection of his parents and their values. Chris's parents lead a fairly comfortable, middle-class lifestyle in keeping with their wealth and social status. Unlike Chris, they don't see anything wrong with this and appear more than contented with their lot.

Inevitably, this drives a huge wedge between Chris and his parents. Over time, Chris has come to develop a profound hostility to the conventional, bourgeois values of his parents, which he sees as propping up an unfair society disfigured by disparities of wealth and opportunity. In rejecting his parents and the life that they lead, Chris is also turning his back on that society.

Chris's relations with his father are further strained by the shocking revelation that his father has been leading a double-life, maintaining a second home with his first wife. This revelation fuels Chris's growing conviction that society, as represented by his parents, is thoroughly rotten and immoral. Inspired by the work of Thoreau and Emerson, he believes that when faced with such a society, it is necessary to seek solitude away from its corrupting influence. So, under the circumstances, he feels that he has no choice but to escape from society if he is to cultivate his inner spirituality.

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What was Chris's relationship with his parents in Into the Wild?

Chris McCandless had a difficult, strained relationship with his parents and became estranged from them for the last two years of his life. Chris's father was a successful, intelligent man, who attained wealth and raised his family in a comfortable, affluent suburban household. As Chris grew older and entered high school, he began questioning society's ills and resented the fact that he was raised in a wealthy home with opportunities. Chris became a moral absolutist, who lost himself in the works of Thoreau, Emerson, and London. Chris's rather radical outlook on life differed from his parents, who subscribed to the typical American ideals of working hard and attaining financial success.

During the summer before his junior year, Chris discovered that his father lived a double life and continued to spend time with his first wife after he was born. Upon learning that his father was dividing his time between two households during his childhood, Chris became furious with his father and was unable to forgive him. Chris even confided in his sister that his "entire childhood seem(ed) like a fiction." Instead of confronting his parents about the situation, Chris became more and more distant and barely communicated with them during the last two years of his life. The last time Walt and Billie saw their son was at his graduation, where they mentioned that he seemed happy but were unaware of his deep feelings of resentment.

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What was Chris's relationship with his parents in Into the Wild?

Chris had a strained relationship with his parents and was estranged (alienated and separated) from them in the last few years of his life.

He rebelled and wanted a complete separation from them, so he left home without telling anyone, even his beloved sister, where he was going. He wanted to be free of their values. Though they eventually hired a private detective to try to find him, he eluded their grasp.

Chris principally rejected his parents' materialism. They had worked hard to build a successful business, and he believed they placed too much emphasis on money and material things. He believed his father, in particular, used money to control him. Chris went along with his parent's desires and graduated from Emory University, but as soon as he could, he broke away. He gave a $20,000 inheritance to Oxfam that his parents thought he would use to pay for law school. He burned his cash and abandoned his car. He worked on a farm and at McDonald's to earn what little income he needed. 

Chris also rebelled against his parents by attempting to live honestly. He was upset that they had lied to him about being married when he was born and that they had kept information from him about another family that Chris's father had had with another wife.

Chris might have reconciled with his parents as he got older, but he died too soon. 

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What was Chris's relationship with his parents in Into the Wild?

Chris had a complicated relationship with his parents, particularly with his father, Walt. In Chapter 11 of Into The Wild, Krakauer describes Chris's childhood. Walt was a perfectionist, who pushed Chris hard to be the best, but as Chris grew into adolescence he began to resent his father's overbearing nature more and more. In many ways, Chris resembled his father; he too could be stubborn and a perfectionist. Chris was a straight-A student, an excellent musician, a natural athlete and top long distance runner. But, on page 111, Walt laments that Chris, despite his great natural abilities, was uncoachable: if you "tried to polish him, bring out that final 10%, a wall would go up." On the other hand, Chris paid a moving tribute to his father when he graduated from college, giving him a telescope and thanking his parents for their many sacrifices. Yet when he discovered that his father had maintained his relationship with his first wife, having a child with her after starting a family with Chris's mother, and that both parents had concealed this, Chris came to reject his parents. In fact, Krakauer says that, because of his father's deception, his "'entire childhood seemed like a deception.'"

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Did Chris's relationship with his father influence his behavior in Into the Wild?

Jon Krakauer, the author of Into the Wild, provides readers with only a few clues and suggestions as to the true nature of the relationship between Chris and his father; this omission was deliberate, according to Chris's sister Carine McCandless. Because the violence and abuse that characterizes the father-son relationship was only hinted at in the book, some readers feel that Chris acted selfishly or that he pursued a foolish dream without a regard for safety, suggesting that he was mentally unstable. According to a memoir written by Chris's sister and published nearly twenty years after Krakauer's book, titled The Wild Truth, both their father and their mother were at times abusive toward their children, and these early life experiences most certainly motivated Chris to make the decisions that eventually led to his death.

According to Carine, living with abusive parents inspired Chris to take risks and to seek out extreme ways to express himself. Because Chris had always had a love for adventure and for nature, it makes sense that he would see an opportunity to prove himself that blended with these personal interests. From the point of view of Chris's sister, Chris's need to wander (documented in Into the Wild) was directly related to the difficult relationship he had with his father and his mother. Chris's urgent need to escape his parents and to disappear reflects the depth of the trauma he experienced at the hands of his parents, and thanks to Carine's account, the truth about Chris and his parents is now available to all readers.

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Did Chris's relationship with his father influence his behavior in Into the Wild?

Chris McCandless's relationship with his father, Walt, was the strained relationship of two people who are innately alike yet reject one another's principles. That said, part of Chris's desire to reject his stereotypical life and go out on his own seems to be uniquely him: his sister, Carine, stated: "Even when we were little...he was very to himself."

From a young age, Chris witnessed the grueling work his father and mother put into their consulting firm, and Krakauer notes, "it was a stressful experience," first due to the difficulties of earning enough to support Walt's children from both his first and second marriages and, second, due to Chris's parents' extraordinarily stubborn personalities. His parents were able to stay afloat and then make enough money to afford modest luxuries, which embarrassed Chris. 

In my opinion, Chris greatly resented the grueling work and arguments that eventually afforded his family these luxuries, and thus he was someone driven by his parents, particularly his father, to take to the wilderness. However, I also think that Chris's "overdeveloped social conscience" was a trait with him since birth, and also a contributing factor that led him to take his eventual trip to Alaska.

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Did Chris's relationship with his father influence his behavior in Into the Wild?

Chris had a troubled and very angry relationship with his father. This relationship--or Chris's rejection of it-- was centrally important to motivating Chris's behavior in the few years he had between graduating from college and dying in Alaska. 

Chris forcefully rejected his father's materialism, telling his sister that he didn't want to be "bought." In response to what he believed were his father's attempts to smooth over difficulties with money, Chris rejected money. He gave an inheritance he received to Oxfam, then later abandoned his car and burned his cash. He deliberately lived on the margins of society, working at different times at a ranch or at a MacDonald's. When he hit the road after college, he was so determined to be out from under his father's control that he didn't let anyone in his family know his whereabouts. This, as we know, had fatal consequences: when Chris got into serious trouble, nobody knew where or how to find him.

Chris also despised his father for having a second family that Chris knew nothing about growing up, leading him to believe his whole childhood had been a sham. Chris's determination to be different from his father drove him to read authors who advocated a simple life, such as Tolstoy and Thoreau, to live alone for long periods and to pursue his counter-cultural path. 

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Did Chris's relationship with his father influence his behavior in Into the Wild?

Considering the above post, making "truth" the focus of your essay would be a good way to go.  Use the essay to develop the many ways that Chris did not have "truth" at home -  the double life, the materialism, the "phony" socialite life - and then compare those things to the "truths" he is looking for in the world and in wilderness. 

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Did Chris's relationship with his father influence his behavior in Into the Wild?

Chris McCandless' relationship with his father was strained at best.  Chris was an opinionated, determined, and stubborn young man with high ideals and little room for compromise.  His father is a hardworking man with high standards who shared his son's inabilty to compromise.  Chris was always critical of his parents and their lifestyle, but that criticsm turned to outright anger when Chris learned that his father had lived a double life with another family for a time.  Chris saw his father as a liar and a hypocrit and he was never able to forgive his father.  A recurrent theme in Chris' journal was a search for "truth", and he linked that search to the lack of truth he perceived in his family life.  After graduating from college Chris felt the need to flee from his family and their expectations in order to seek the truth that he felt he had never experienced.

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