One man’s logic is another man’s senselessness. One man’s routine is another man’s torture. Chris McCandless is not far from this analogy. In the novel, Into the Wild by John Krakauer, the eccentric story of a man who was living the American dream abandons society and takes off on a wild adventure, traveling America with nothing more than cheap hiking boots, a small riffle, and a ten pound bag of rice. But if McCandless had such an ideal life, why would he desert it? Perhaps there was an underlining issue that ate at his soul each day he followed society’s rules and his parent’s extraordinary expectations.
When McCandless decided to “live off the land”, he was also deciding to disassociate himself from his parents; more specifically, his father Walter. When Chris discovered his father’s double life, he was “smoldering anger… harboring his resentment, letting bad feelings build and build” (Krakauer 122). His entire life, his father set high standard for Chris when the entire time, Walt was betraying his family. This newly found insight traumatized Chris. He could no longer look at his father the same. Going into the wild was not just an escape from the truth that shocked Chris deep into his core; it was a reaction from his post traumatic stress disorder. Traumatic events can cause a sense of helplessness that may inflict “lasting changes in the human nervous system” (Frey). As a result, research has proven that, “Patients attempt to reduce the possibility of exposure to anything that might trigger memories of the trauma” (Frey). Christopher McCandless was abandoning his life because it was his natural response to the trauma his father burdened on him. He was not crazy, he was just a victim rejecting the ghastly truth behind his not- so- perfect father.
Along with his hubris personality, Christopher McCandless embarked on a journey in search of a more pure world where he could feel his spirit free and find forgiveness in his heart. In McCandless’s journal, he wrote, “the beauty of this country is becoming part of me. I feel more detached from life and somehow gentler… I have always been unsatisfied with life as most people live it. Always I want to live more intensely and richly” (Krakauer 91). From this passage, it can be concluded that Chris found the wholesome place was seeking. After his many near death experiences and hardships while “lost in the wild”, Alex admits, “happiness only real when shared” (Krakauer 189). By writing this, Al ex expresses his forgiveness and acceptance that love, family, and human relationships overall are meant to exist in each individual’s life in order to share feelings of mutual joy. What is happiness when one is all alone? The answer is lonely. It took McCandless nearly two years to finally reach this conclusion; however, he did indeed find exactly what he was looking for: freedom and forgiveness.
Christopher McCandless broke all ties to his past life and changed his name to Alexander Supertramp. Along his trip across the country as a new man, he met a woman named Jan Burres. They grew a special bond; one that is unlike anyone else he had encountered up to the point of their acquaintance. He could relate to her free spirit. After picking up McCandless, Jan explains, “He was a really good kid. We thought the world of him… he made a point of staying in touch. For the next two years Alex sent us a postcard every month or two” (Krakauer 31). Over the course of Chris’ travels, he met hundreds of people, but he made it a point to keep in touch with Jan. She filled the parental void that was missing in McCandless’s life. Because of her maternal instincts, she cared for him, fed him, and provided a place to sleep. Chris may not have ever admitted that he missed the company of his mother, but by maintaining a relationship with complete stranger, it is clear that he used Jan to fill the void in his heart. Ronald Franz also cared deeply for Chris McCandless. He emotionally depended on Chris just as much as Chris physically depended on him. Ronald provided funds, housing, and transportation whenever Chris needed it. The death of his son had a large impact on his attachment to Chris. After stopping at the Golden Nugget Casino, Ronald asked if he could adopt Chris (Krakauer 55). This was his attempt in trying to fill the void in his heart from the loss of his child. While Chris did consider Ronald a good friend, he did not want any personal relationships holding him back from his adventure. Ronald was just simply Chris’s go- to- guy when he was in need. Chris was obviously not ready for another father figure in his life, just a temporary good friend.
From a “perfect” life in society to a fulfilling life in the wild, Chris McCandless learned a lot through his journey. He made friends, broke hearts, learned basic boy scout skills, found peace, learned to forgive, and died knowing that he lived a good life. While he may have never embarked on this adventure if it had not been for the utter shock and post traumatic stress of his father’s affair, it is true that everything happens for a reason. Chris taught this world that the term “rich” is not monetary. Richness is gained through experience, appreciation of the natural beauty that surrounds people, and relationships. It is gained through freedom and forgiveness. This is why McCandless’s story is one that must be heard.
Frey, Rebecca J., and Andrea Nienstedt. "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder." The Gale Encyclopedia of Environmental Health. Ed. Laurie J. Fundukian. Vol. 2. Detroit: Gale, 2013. 732-739. Gale Power Search. Web. 9 Dec. 2013 Krakauer, Jon. Into the Wild. New York: Anchor, 1997. Print