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Arts and Entertainment

Book Review: The creativity of ‘Into the Wild’

Krakauer’s "Into the Wild" is a modern rendition of classical Monomyth, the Hero’s Journey, overlayed on the real journey of a young boy searching for meaning in his life.
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/izzyuan99/" target="_self">Izzy Yuan</a>

Izzy Yuan

June 29, 2022
Jon Krakauer’s “Into the Wild” portrays the journey of a young teenager named Chris McCandless who made national headlines when he was found alone and dead in the wilderness. Before his death in 1992, McCandless embarked on his own adventure into the wild to explore feelings of freedom and quench his desire to do whatever he wishes without the obligation of being stopped or judged.

However, as his journey continues on, McCandless discovers that modern heroes are unable to completely escape their reality thus ending his journey. 

Krakauer creatively tells the story of McCandless in a biography of his journey by drawing from certain aspects of the Monomyth. The Monomyth, better known as the Hero’s Journey, is a term coined by Joseph Campbell, an American professor of literature, who used the phrase to describe a classical series of actions present in many stories.

Although it is impossible to know the exact reason why McCandless went into the wild without personally asking him, his letters to the people he knew as well as the interactions he had with them assist in painting a reason for his abandonment of society. It’s easy to infer that McCandless’s reason for separation, the first phase of the hero’s journey, is due to pressure from his parents. In a letter he wrote to his sister, Carine, Chris swears that he is going to disown his family and live a life in the Alaskan wilderness. 

It’s apparent that McCandless had developed some sort of tension between him and his guardians; this is due to the fact that his parents never took him seriously, or in other words, never saw him the way he wanted to be seen. From a young age, it can be deduced that McCandless was raised in a strict household with massive amounts of pressure for him to excel in school. Information such as grades is acquired through the samples of his letters given by Krakauer. 

A copy of his final transcript, a short thank you and a quick update on his life were the last things that Chris’s family had ever heard from him. The tone of the letter to his parents appears to be void of any possible emotions, indicating that the letter may have just been written on a whim. It can be concluded that McCandless only wrote the letter because it seemed mandatory for him to speak with his family about his well-being.

In addition to the brief letter, McCandless also mailed a copy of his final grades with nothing else, indicating that the letter is completely business-related and revokes any sense of sentiment. The letter alone can be indicative of the reason why McCandless left. 

The Call, also known as the opportunity for adventure, is the first subsection of separation in the Monomyth. In terms of the hero’s journey, McCandless’s parents were the reason for his leap into the wild, making it synonymous with any beckoning.

However, McCandless did not accept his calling right away. During college, McCandless partakes in multiple short road trips, but none of them correlate with his real adventure, rather they’re just forms of preparation. McCandless reaches his threshold, or jumping-off point, after college when he decides to travel west. 

At this point, McCandless does his best to rid himself of his physical belongings from his past life, which can be compared to a hero leaving the known limits of his/her world and venturing into a new state where rules and limits are unknown.

McCandless, according to the novel, conceals his car as best he could beneath a brown tarp, buries his deer-hunting rifle, and promptly reduces the remainder of his money to ash and smoke. During this moment, McCandless ends the phase of separation in his version of the hero’s journey and promptly begins the second phase: initiation. 

During the initiation phase of the Monomyth, the hero enters a special world and faces a series of tasks and challenges before he/she reaches the climax or abyss of the story. Throughout his journey through the special world, McCandless repeatedly faces challenges related to nature as well as issues with his own conscience. For example, temptations of danger, a subphase of initiation, repeatedly cross McCandless’s path.

However, these forces of danger are due to McCandless’s desire for thrill and adventure. The sheer idea of risk-taking is bewitching to him and in order to satisfy this desire, McCandless incessantly shoves himself in the face of danger. In his May 1992 journal entry, McCandless sprawled out a declaration of independence.

McCandless is clearly proud of himself and what he has accomplished so far on his journey. His addiction to not only the thrill of dangerous situations but also the gratification of the aftermath will continue to push him forward on his journey, ultimately causing more challenges to come. In addition to internal pressure, McCandless also needs to fight the frigid temperatures of Alaska.

Along the way, he is able to receive help from a select group of people which include Jan Burres and Bob, Jim Gallien and Ronald Franz; however, none of them are unable to convince McCandless from ending his journey and instead they fulfill the roles of supernatural aid and the Goddess in the hero’s journey.

During the spring of his journey in Alaska, temperatures reached the low thirties and would drop into the low teens at night. Being unable to completely adapt to the cold as well as the fact that he was lacking the proper equipment and food for the climate, McCandless suffers the most during this point of his journey, ultimately leading to the abyss, the most treacherous part of his story.

Now ending the initiation phase, a hero must face some sort of transformation, whether it’d be a death, a rebirth or an epiphany. In other words, one part of a hero must die in order for a new part to be reborn.

McCandless faces this sudden epiphany after he manages to kill the moose. In his journal he writes: “I am reborn. This is my dawn. Real-life has just begun.” After killing the moose, McCandless’s pride skyrockets. He takes a photo of the carcass of the moose and spends days trying to cure the meat.

However, since he was unable to cure the meat properly and in time, it ultimately ended up spoiling and becoming inedible, making him have to leave it for the wild animals to eat. 

From this experience, McCandless comes to the realization that the value of an object or idea is measured via only its value to an individual. This means that to other people, the moose carcass has little to no value and is seen as a waste. He also recognizes that happiness really only matters when it’s able to be shared amongst other people.

Reflecting on his epiphany or rebirth, McCandless writes in his journal that he has lived through much and now he thinks that he has found what is needed for happiness: a mate and children. After all the hardship he’s faced, McCandless realizes that true happiness can only be around people, causing him to want to integrate himself back into society, leading to the Return.

Unfortunately, McCandless’s story is not one with a happy ending. Due to either starvation or poisoning, McCandless is unable to return back to society and finish his hero’s journey, cutting it short and thus, leaving the cycle unfinished. 

Krakauer’s “Into the Wild” is a modern rendition of classical Monomyth, the Hero’s Journey, overlayed on the real journey of a young boy searching for meaning in his life. During his ambitious travels throughout North America, Chris McCandless’s journey follows many of the components of the original hero’s journey.

However, in the end, it becomes apparent that seeking a traditional hero’s journey often falls short as the reality of survival prevents McCandless from completing his adventure.