I recently finished reading Into the Wild written by Jon Krakaeur. It’s a true story about a young man from a well-to-do family in Virginia. His name is Christopher Johnson McCandless. Upon graduating from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, he decided to travel aimlessly through the country all while ceasing contact with anyone from his previous life. He donates his life savings, $25,000, to charity and even changes his name to Alexander Supertramp (I know, right?).
He spends the next two years hitchhiking from place to place, not dwelling in an area for more than a few months. He spends some time working, but he tries not to carry a substantial amount of money or many possessions with him. Eventually, he gets this crazy idea to travel to Alaska and survive in the wilderness. He spends some time learning to hunt, collecting edible plants, and mastering other skills necessary to survival in the wilderness.
After adequately preparing, he travels of near Mt. McKinney in Alaska. Refusing to have a map of the area, he enters the wilderness armed with a Remington semiautomatic rifle and 10 pounds of rice. He survives by taking shelter in an abandoned bus, hunting small game and foraging for edible plants. 16-weeks later he is found dead by a group of hunters and hikers. His demise thought to be caused by starvation. His death was more correctly caused by his hubris. If he had accepted a map of the area, he would have realized that he was staying less than a day’s walk away from a shelter that could’ve supplied him with medical attention and food.
For the most part, Into the Wild was an effective piece of literature. Jon Krakaeur used three components of effective writing that most English teachers seem to love: ethos, pathos, and logs.
He establishes ethos by describing his own Alaskan wilderness adventure. In doing so he relates himself to He said “When I decided to go to Alaska that April, like Chris McCandless, I was a raw youth who mistook passion for insight and acted according to an obscure, gap-ridden logic. I thought climbing the Devils Thumb would fix all that was wrong with my life. In the end, of course, it changed almost nothing. But I came to appreciate that mountains make poor receptacles for dreams. And I lived to tell my tale” (Krakaeur 155). This lets the reader known that Jon Krakaeur experienced what Alex did. As a result, he is more capable of telling Chris’ story.
Krakaeur did an excellent job of incorporating ethos to this piece. One example of this by Gail Borah, someone Chris met on his journey, when Chris about to set off for Alaska. She told Krakaeur “I noticed he was crying. That frightened me. He wasn’t planning on being gone all that long; I figured he wouldn’t have been crying unless he intended to take some big risks and knew he might not be coming back. That’s when I started having a bad feeling that we wouldn’t never see Alex again” (68). This not only foreshadows Chris’s death, but shows a side of him that we seldom see in the book. Seeing Chris in a state of weakness forces the audience to humanize him and relate with him in one way or another.
Krakaeur uses logos to explain Chris’ reasoning behind traveling to Alaska. Jan Burres, one of Chris’ friends, explained “I thought he’d be fine in the end. He was smart. He’d figure out how to paddle a canoe down to Mexico, how to hop freight trains, how to score a bed at inner-city missions. He figured all of that out on his own, and I felt sure he’d figure out Alaska, too” (46). This proves that Chris was not suicidal/mentally insane when he decided brave the Alaskan wilderness. He had proven himself proficient when it came to overcoming challenges. His confidence led him to push his limits. To Chris, Alaska was just another challenge – waiting to be defeated.
The only challenge to Into the Wild’s effectives is its credibility. Jon Krakaeur never met Chris. He had interpret information from Chris’ dairy entries (which were inconsistent), police reports, friends and supposed acquaintances of Chris’ to craft this story. He could have misinterpreted some evidence or received false information from a witness. The reader must trust Krakaeur’s judgement in order to consider this book effective.
If you’re into reading survival (or lack thereof) stories, I recommend that you read this book. It is short and well written. It’s very fascinating and only slightly depressing.
There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.
— Ray Bradbury