Why was McCandless compared to Sir John Franklin in Into the Wild Chapter 16, and how does Krakauer view this comparison?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

As noted above, Chris McCandless was likened to Sir John Franklin because both perished in the Alaskan wilderness from being insufficiently prepared for the dangers they faced. To native Alaskans, Franklin was the emblem of the arrogant outsider, coming in and believing he could survive without adapting at all to...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

the environment.

Krakauer challenges that comparison. He admits to superficial similarities between the two men: Chris, for instance, arrived in Alaska without a map or compass and lacked a powerful enough rifle. However, Krakauer goes on to argue that the two men actually had very little in common. Franklin, Krakauer states, wanted to subdue the land using military force and Victorian upper class virtues. Chris, on the other hand, wanted to enter the Alaskan wilderness stripped down to the bare essentials so that he could test himself and his ability to live off the land.

McCandless’s arrogance was not of the same strain as Franklin’s, however. Franklin regarded nature as an antagonist that would inevitably submit to force, good breeding, and Victorian discipline. Instead of living in concert with the land, instead of relying on the country for sustenance as the natives did, he attempted to insulate himself from the northern environment with ill-suited military tools and traditions. McCandless, on the other hand, went too far in the opposite direction. He tried to live entirely off the country—and he tried to do it without bothering to master beforehand the full repertoire of crucial skills. 

He was not a bumbler either, Krakauer agues:

It probably misses the point, though, to castigate McCandless for being ill prepared. He was green, and he overestimated his resilience, but he was sufficiently skilled to last for sixteen weeks on little more than his wits and ten pounds of rice.

The whole idea for Chris was to test himself. He chose stakes that were high because coming fully equipped would have taken the danger and the challenge out of the experience. If he hadn't gone in knowing he was risking death, it wouldn't have mattered to him:

And he was fully aware when he entered the bush that he had given himself a perilously slim margin for error. He knew precisely what was at stake.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Chapter 17 of Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer addresses what some people perceive to be similarities between Christopher (Chris) McCandless and Sir John Franklin.  According to what Krakauer writes,

By design McCandless came into the country with insufficient provisions, and he lacked certain pieces of equipment deemed essential by many Alaskans: a large-caliber rifle, map and compass, an ax.  This has been regarded as evidence not just of stupidity but of the even greater sin of arrogance.  Some critics have even drawn parallels between McCandless and the Artic's most infamous tragic figure, Sir John Franklin, a nineteenth-century British naval officer whose smugness and hauteur contributed to some 140 deaths, including his own.

Franklin chose to enter the Artic wilderness without taking all of the precautions available, such as packing extra reserves of food and learning native approaches to survival.  He is believed to have considered himself superior to common means of survival, which many people consider to have also been Chris's opinion of himself. 

When McCandless turned up dea, he was likened to Franklin not simply because both men starved but also because both were perceived to have lacked a requisite humility; both were thought to have possessed insufficient respect for the land.

Krakauer does not openly state the he disagrees with any comparisons between McCandless and Franklin, but he does maintain that McCandless did not posess the same type of arrogance that plagued Franklin.  Krakauer also asserts that native approaches are not always successful and that McCandless did posess sufficient skills to survive for an extended period in the wild.

Approved by eNotes Editorial