Into the Wild

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

Chapter 8 opens with some reactions from people to the article about McCandless that Krakauer published in Outside Magazine. What do most people think? Why did Krakauer put this material here in the middle of the book?

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Krakauer explains that he received a lot of negative mail after the original article about McCandless ran in Outside magazine, largely from Alaskans who thought McCandless didn’t respect the wilderness, and acted stupidly and stubbornly. There were a few others notorious in Alaska for similar things, including Gene Rosellini, a brilliant man who had decided to see if man could still live as in pre-technology days, and survived without any tools but those he could make himself for over a decade, until he killed himself.

This section is also the first time Krakauer describes the other famous and infamous characters to whom McCandless is now often compared. Krakauer makes his own beliefs clear—that though McCandless shares some characteristics and behaviors with these men, the only one who is truly like him is Everett Ruess. Carl McCunn was more naïve, John Waterman was actually mentally insane, but Everett Ruess was, like McCandless, simply deeply in love with the land, very romantic, and passionate about living by his principles. These comparisons show that removing oneself from society and living riskily can be a symptom of insanity or stupidity, but it is not inherently so.

This in turn emphasizes the need to look deeply into something before passing judgment. Those who compare McCandless to John Waterman, for example, are doing so based on a few parallels, but a detailed study of either character very quickly shows that their motivations and behaviors were very different indeed. This highlights the purpose of Into the Wild itself, which is not just to tell an adventure story, but to study McCandless in the closest possible detail, so that is anyone is to pass judgment, it is at least with all the necessary information.