Christopher McCandless: Selfish or Just Misunderstood?

Kevin Valdez, Journalist

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This August 27, 2014 photo shows a replica of the bus Chris McCandless lived in along the Stampede Trail in Alaska. This bus was used during the filming of the movie “Into the Wild.” (Photo by Madeleine Deaton, licensed under Creative Commons)

The tale of Christopher McCandless and his ventures trying to find freedom into the wild was first published in a January 1993 issue of Outside Magazine, and later in the book “Into the Wild” by author Jon Krakauer.

Since then, there have been mixed reactions from audiences across the nation. Some readers thought he was selfish leaving behind his family to live a life of his own while others felt like he was misguided by peers and motivated by his real-life struggles.

Personally, after reading “Into the Wild” myself, I think that McCandless was driven away from his family by his belief that his parents were too strict.

McCandless’ father Walt was described as being a perfectionist, pushing Christopher over and over to be the best he can. However, it’s typical for a father-son relationship to have its ups and downs from time to time.

It was evident that McCandless was growing a resentment to his father, yet he was also acting like him pretty often. Still, he wasn’t the only one who was forced to come to terms with his father.

According to McCandless’ younger sister Carine in her own book “The Wild Truth,” she describes the times of Walt going through drunken rampages which usually end with whippings and beatings to not only Chris but also to herself.

After her book was released on store shelves, the parents wrote in a statement to ABC that they stand by their actions, believing that her writings were “fictionalized” and saying that “the whole unfortunate event in Chris’ life 22 years ago is about Chris and his dreams.”

McCandless’ unhappy childhood probably did a lot to shape his development into adulthood. By being pressured into being a purist, he lost sight of the fact that everyone must be prepared for life in a serious fashion. This leads me to another thing that I think about McCandless.

I also believe he was selfish when it came to being prepared to live in the wilderness on his own. Nobody can confront the problems of life without putting in some serious preparation.

Education is important, but when dealing with nature, you have to use a great deal of common sense and good judgment. Most people that came in contact with McCandless before he left on the journey felt that he was ill-prepared in many areas to take on the trip he had in mind.

People who live with nature always have to be prepared for something other than what they had planned. His extended education and love of books were fine principles, but when you’re dealing with nature, it’s even more important to be able to improvise. He refused many times help, supplies, and guidance from experienced outdoorsmen.

McCandless became very stubborn about taking other people’s advice and thought he knew everything necessary for survival. I beg to differ about his last impression.

I’ve been involved with Boy Scouts since 2007, and during this time my troop often camps out on various occasions. We always come prepared, bringing camping equipment, food, and other essentials that fit in my leader’s trailer along with other personal items that sometimes gets loaded into other cars. After all, the official slogan for the organization is “be prepared.”

Every time we leave the campsite, it’s mostly because our leader has assigned us to hike up trails. Each member of our troop goes up as a group with a backpack, some snacks, and a water bottle since we’re hiking for about an hour or so. We later regenerate back at our campsite when we’re finished hiking.

In the TV show Alaska: The Last Frontier, the Kilcher family have lived in the outdoors for generations. They save everything and find out that they can use items to complete projects they are working on and always make sure they have a full winter’s stock of food and supplies which are properly stored. The Kilchers and their neighbors are always ready and willing to help each other in times of need, knowing that no man is an island.

McCandless, on the other hand, had very limited experience in the wilderness, and never took advice from any outdoorsmen. When he did, however, he acted like knew everything he needed to know, only taking things when they insisted.

His final journal notes indicate that he realized he made an irreparable mistake:

“Attention, Possible Visitors. S.O.S. I need your help. I am injured, near death, and too weak to hike out. In the name of God, please remain to save me.”

McCandless never had the proper hunting equipment (which he also didn’t have a license to use) to hunt large game and when he did shoot something sizeable, he didn’t preserve it and it went bad after a few days, wasting all the good meat.

McCandless’ death has been a mystery over the years, and will probably remain so. There is little proof of whether he died of starvation or poisoning, but obviously, the main cause of his death was being ill-prepared for the life he chose, despite the fact that he disagreed with the way his parents raised him.

He obviously didn’t have the answers, either, instead believing in his ability to survive on his own, but it became obvious, even by my standards, that he wasn’t really ready.