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Themes

The Attraction of the Wilderness

Throughout the book, author Jon Krakauer shows how McCandless and other figures like him have been drawn to spend time alone in the American wilderness. Krakauer makes numerous comparisons between McCandless and men like Henry David Thoreau and John Muir. Similar to those earlier Americans, McCandless actively pursued a state of isolation in the wild. It was in those spaces that McCandless, Thoreau, and Muir found a spiritual wholeness that life in the city, surrounded by people, couldn't provide. Krakauer further explores nature's power to attract the wandering soul by discussing his own experiences in the American wilderness, as well as the experiences of men like Everett Ruess, Gene Rosellini, John Waterman, and Carl McGunn.

Isolation and Personal Freedom

McCandless was striving to live a freer, more authentic life, and he believed that living alone in the Alaskan wilderness would allow him to achieve that dream; shortly before his death, he wrote that he had at last discovered the "ultimate freedom." For McCandless, ultimate freedom consisted of living for himself and nobody else, not beholden to anyone else's expectations, rules, or authority. He found such authority oppressive and fought it by refusing to obtain a hunting license or change his name on tax documents. Extreme isolationism was McCandless's ideal form of personal freedom because it allowed him to live for himself and himself only. While this some readers might find this idea alluring, it is also possible to view McCandless's deep desire for personal freedom as selfish: he lived to pursue what he believed to be his own best interest and no one else's.

(The entire section is 417 words.)