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Chris McCandless: Hero, Soul Searcher or Dumb Jerk

By emileehopper19 Nov 14, 2013 645 Words

Chris McCandless: Hero, Soul Searcher or Dumb Jerk?
Emilee Hopper
Chippewa High School

This paper shows how Chris McCandless is a hero, a soul searcher, and a dumb jerk by using evidence from Judith Kleinfeld editorial “Chris McCandless: Hero or Dumb Jerk” and Sean Penn’s movie Into the Wild.

Chris McCandless: Hero, Soul Searcher or Dumb Jerk? At 24 years old, Chris McCandless died of starvation in the Alaskan wilderness. It’s not because of the reasons that you may expect. It is because he is a very complex and strange man. Kleinfeld tries to simplify him by implying he is just a dumb jerk, as opposed to a hero or soul searcher. However, he defies just one category. Christopher McCandless or “Alexander Supertramp”, as he called himself, can be classified as: a hero, a soul searcher, and a dumb jerk. Kleinfeld defines a hero as: “A person who is following their dreams, seeking to test themselves with adversity and risk in order to live life fully” (2001). By this definition, Chris McCandless can be classified as a hero. He followed his dreams to Alaska to live his life’s goal, regardless of the consequences. He went into the wilderness knowing that he may not come out. Even in the face of certain death, he wrote a note saying he lived a full life and had no regrets (Kleinfeld, 2001). To others, Chris was maybe more than a hero: he was also a soul searcher. A soul searcher, as Kleinfeld defines it “is a person abandoning social conventions in an effort to seek truth and to discover the true self that remains hidden under social constraints. A person striving to stick to their deepest values and convictions no matter what the cost” (2001). One would like to believe that he took on this great adventure to find himself and to figure out what he is going to do with his life. Maybe he was doing this to prove he was worthy since his dad made him feel inferior? Despite all of this he has become part of pop culture. His name is part of a new phrase. When someone embarks on a new adventure to find themselves, it is called “pulling a McCandless” (Kleinfeld, 2001). He held true to his beliefs. He even went so far as to burn his money because he did not believe in the government or society that was behind it (Penn 2007). While he was heroic and a soul searcher, he also had his less than great moments. There are many ways Chris can be classified as a dumb jerk. According to Kleinfeld, a dumb jerk is “a person who is futilely questing for something meaningless or worthless. A person who is woefully unprepared for a trip who clines to misguided, self-righteous principles, losing friends and hurting themselves and their family in the process” (2001). Not only did McCandless completely abandoned his family, he walked away from his friends and took away his own future. Since he was too arrogant to take the maps and supplies his friends had offered him, he brought himself to his own demise. Although we do not understand why Chris embarked on this adventure, we do know that it was not for a greater purpose. Through his selfishness, his family suffered a devastating loss. Not only did his mother lose his son, but his sister lost her big brother and protector. The categories explained add to the complexity of his character. The multiple sides to his personality leads him to be a hero, a soul searcher and a dumb jerk. However, this makes him human because these are traits we all share. Maybe that’s why so many people relate to him.


Kleinfeld, Judith. (2001, July 20).  Chris McCandless: Hero or dumb jerk?[Letter to the editor].  
Anchorage Daily News [Anchorage]
Penn, S. (Director).  (2007). Into the wild. United States:  Paramount Vantage.

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