the wilderness between fathers & sons

It’s hard to understand the self-destructive impulse in some people. Take for instance, Chris McCandless.

McCandless was a young man disaffected with his father, the government, and basically any authority structure. So much was his discontent, that he isolated himself from all those institutions and relationships. Somewhere along the line, he equated an agrarian, natural life with the antithesis of what he felt a corrupt and Machiavellian world.

Nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure.

— Chris McCandless, April 1992, 4 months before he starved to death in the Alaskan wilderness

I read Jon Krakauer’s moving biography of Chris McCandless recently. It’s a harrowing story for sure. I was really puzzled with Chris’ almost fatalist vision. He was an ideologue so dissatisfied with the world and his parents that he was driven to complete isolation. That his isolation evidenced itself as a predisposition to the wilderness, to a more earthen existence was perhaps no coincidence. There’s something almost romantic about a more materially fundamental life. It’s less complex.

And yet it’s presicely the unforeseen complexities of the natural world that finally claimed McCandless. Curiously, Krakauer sympathized with Chris in some striking ways, perhaps like a lot of men:

Lewis Krakauer loved his chidren deeply, in the autocratic way of fathers, but his worldview was colored by a relentlessly competitive nature. Life as he saw it was a contest… It was drilled into me that anything less than winning was failure. In the impressionable way of sons, I did not consider this rhetorically; I took him at his word. The revelation that he was merely human, and frightfully so, was beyond my power to forgive. Two decades after… I came to understand that I had baffled and infuriated my father at least as much as he had baffled and infuriated me. I saw that I had been selfish and unbending and a giant pain in the ass.

— Jon Krakauer, author of Into the Wild, the biography of Chris McCandless

7 Comments

  1. Sounds like a fascinating and very sad book. There is definitely a part of me that yearns for spending time in the wilderness, getting away from it all, etc. but I can’t imagine getting to the point where I would want to forsake everything to isolate myself from life.

  2. really great book. a lot of controversy surrounding this book — did chris mccandless walk into the wilderness intending to commit suicide or was he simply recklessly naive?

    while i was in alaska this summer, i spoke to a few park rangers in denali (the site of his bus was a few miles north of the park) about mccandless and the book…. apparently, most alaskans can’t stand him, nor do they approve of krakauer’s romantic portrayal of him.

    i think krakauer saw a bit of himself in mccandless, which is why he wrote the book. krakauer wrote about his own “alex supertramp” type adventure on the moose’s tooth in another book, “eiger dreams.”

    krakauer is a good writer… check out “banner of heaven,” if you haven’t done so already!

  3. I can’t believe anyone would criticize Chris McCandless’ life. His life epitimized the struggle any adventurous male goes through in life. Krakauer has an amazing ablity to put McCandless’ life in perspective. We all do crazy andventures when we’re young. Some unfortunate dudes happen to perish along the way. If you can not relate to the words & preachings of Chris McCandless you are either too old or too conservative. Either way, I don’t believe you have lived life in search of true meaning. Life is meant to be lived, not watched.

  4. Well, there you have it, Had. Not much more can be said. So which is it? Are you too conservative or old?

  5. “His life epitimized the struggle any adventurous male goes through in life.”

    Not just male.

    This book/story hit me extremely hard for a multitude of reasons. More so, even, than a lot of males that I know.

  6. Megan, you are correct. In re-reading my post, I see now how it’s rather sexist in exclusion. I think that:
    1) I was writing with regard to the story at hand, which is specifically about one particular father and his son, and
    2) I was reflecting personally (me, being a man)

    But I stand corrected in agreeing that these themes are gender-neutral. Thanks for the thoughts. Have you seen the film yet?

  7. I love Christ! the nature Christo!Well he saw into the future and decided it wasnt for him, and got an early retirement into the wild, out of the manipulation of money and others human beings, in the rat race, in the world of violent dog eat dog culture!I happens to understand his soul,pity about not having a map, and more research into the area! tragic accident,I would very much have like to meet him at the bus!

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