illusion of the american dream
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Illusion of the American Dream
Into the Wild (1996) authored by John Krakauer is a critically acclaimed literary work that has elicited multiple interpretations from different circles. The novel chronologically documents the life of Christopher Johnson McCandless from the time of his graduation from Emory University in Georgia, up to the time his remains are found in Alaskan Wilderness. The non-fiction work reconstructs McCandless experiences, relating them to real life issues facing member of society. Central themes in John Krakauer’s Into the Wild is that American boys and young adults struggle with issues of materialism, idealism, innocence, ignorance, arrogance, and misplaced sense of self as they struggle to understand the civilization they live in while seeking escape into the wild. Upon gaining independence and a self of self, they realize that the American dream they have been chasing throughout their life is just but, an illusion.
American Materialism and Idealism
From the outset, it is evident that Chris McCandless is seeking to and finally reinvents himself into a different character Alexander Supertramp. McCandless believes that a transcendental experience is only possible by rejecting all the worldly material objects. He, therefore, donates all the money in his college fund, the sum of $24,000, to OXFAM hence renouncing his privileged background (Krakauer 16). To further realize his quest for what he calls ‘raw, transcendent experience’ McCandless leaves his car into the Mojave Desert and finishes all his leftover cash as a clear rejection of all the capitalistic realities that he has been made to believe in. McCandless actions are highly influenced by his belief in the ideologies of Leo Tolstoy, a renowned author who also renounced his privileged background to live among the poor (Krakauer 4).
The extreme nature in which he adopts Tolstoy’s philosophy and abandons all his possessions to the detriment of his health and eventual death shows his complete rejection of the material culture (Krakauer 5). By showing an ambivalent attitude towards both work and charity, McCandless is evidently in total rejection of the capitalistic ideals. His nature, is, however, in line with the majority of capitalistic individuals and their drive to achieve success. The author notes that ‘Mc Candles was an intense young man…’ (3) Who was possessed with extreme idealism in complete opposition of modern way of life. This reflects the personality of an individual who is so idealistic that he no longer cares of his physical wellbeing (Krakauer 3).
Additionally, it is evident that McCandless resists all help that he can get as documented in his multiple journal entries. McCandless was extremely dehydrated and had already lost 25 pounds by the time he reached the desert (Krakauer 27). His extreme idealism bordering on illusion, had, however, prompted him to declare that ‘his spirit’ was ‘soaring,’ (27). By pursuing his ideals that are clearly unsustainable, McCandless rejects and denounces American materialism rejecting his suburban lifestyle, his parents and the entire setting in which he was raised in. Although not mentioned, McCandless tends to believe that the root cause of all evil affecting the American society is the unbridled materialism. From his record entries, material possessions have driven individuals to resort to all means of evil hence McCandless complete drive for dematerialism (Spurr and Lloyd 244).
Innocence, ignorance, and arrogance
From the initial reports of McCandless’s death, it is evident that the young adult has died from sheer stupidity, incompetence, arrogance, and lack of proper understanding of the wild. Despite expected ridicule of Alaskan’s natives who are well versed with living in the world, the author question’s McCandless’s ignorance and whether he just another statistic of an individual who underrated the wild. The literary significance of the book, therefore, goes beyond the mere reporting of the events that surround the death of McCandless but is more mysterious questioning an ideology and character eventually caused McCandless’ death. From his narration, it is clear to Krakauer that McCandless’ character coiled in extreme arrogance coupled with his ignorance and lack of experiences were the root cause of his demise (Krakauer 51).
Evidently, McCandless was unable to survive in the wilderness without any outside help yet he overestimated his ability and experience. Secondly, he was both underprepared and ill equipped yet his arrogance could not allow him to recognize that his inadequacy. This prompts Krakauer to note that, McCandless’ death can be attributed to ‘ two seemingly insignificant blunders’ (Krakauer 64) which included being unable to go through the trail and mistakenly ate poisonous wild potato seeds on the basis of the guidelines he received from plant guide. Based on the documented evidence from McCandless’ own account, the author concludes that McCandless could have survived had it not been for his own ignorance, innocence, arrogance and naivety. McCandless’ death results from the paradox that, while looking for experience and self-knowledge, he dies from lack of both (Moroz and Jolanta 30).
Misplaced sense of self, Risk, and Self-Reinvention
McCandless’ journey to the Alaskan wilderness was clearly motivated by the lack of a sense of self and the need for self-discovery and realization. Although initially trying to completely abandon his family and education ties, he quickly transforms into an amateur mountaineer and wanderer. The need for self-re-invention is also evident when he transforms his name from Chris to Alexander while on the road before further transforming to Alexander Supertramp. Name change not only illustrate shifts in character but also portrays a very deep and unwavering need to create his identity (Krakauer 66). Nonetheless, the events surrounding McCandless’ disappearance are nothing short of risky and the need to experience dangerous situations.
Evidently, McCandless believes that by living in isolation, he is going to gain some form of transformation. However, from his accounts, he realizes that such experiences did not change him hence the need to push further his limits. The author further notes that McCandless realizes that discovering oneself is not only elusive and illusionary but surrounded by unnecessary life threatening risks. McCandless is not alone, but a representation of a cross section of young Americans that the author describes as “young men of a certain mind’ possessing passion, ideals, stubbornness and pride (Krakauer 64). By noting that at a certain stage the youth tends to look for an elusive ‘dark mystery of mortality,’ the author notes that they cannot resist risking the edge of doom (Krakauer 107).
McCandless’s story reflects a common story in American literature in which young adults seeking self-actualization and self-realization find themselves in natural environments unable to free themselves. Krakauer’s account of McCandless’s experiences relates to the works of David Thoreau, a reclusive author from Concord, Massachusetts (Krakauer 82). In trying to relate to the renowned author, the young McCandless not only had texts documenting Thoreau’s life but sought to emulate specific events from the author’s life by seeking refuge in an abandoned bus deep in the middle of the forest in order to seek self-discovery. Although the transformative ability of self-isolation cannot be denied, the whole concept of complete reclusion remains questionable.
Stylistically, Into the Wild, relates to a number of leading American literary texts which recounts the experiences of young adults who died while searching for transcendent experiences in the wild. Key individuals who underwent the same experiences as McCandless include Gene Rosellini, Carl McGunn, and Everett Ruess (Krakauer 52). There is, however, a difference in the way McCandless accounts for his experiences making them more interrogatory of the experiences. Krakauer is able to interrogate the already established mythology of the American wilderness while also presenting the dangers as well as the adventures that surround such experiences. The novel, hence, does not only idealize nature from illusionary eyes of naïve idealistic individuals like McCandless but also tries to bring out the realities of the real world (Moroz and Jolanta 30).
The desire to find absolute freedom by completely abandoning the elusive American dream and extremes drives McCandless to chase yet another elusive state of absolute freedom. McCandless sees complete isolation in the wilderness as the only means of attaining a pure state devoid of the evils of the materialistic and evil world. Based on McCandless journals, it is evident that although he finds certain answers to what, he also comes to terms with the day to day realities of living in the world. He realizes that his search of ultimate freedom by running away from what he perceives as the oppressive rules of society is still evasive. Generally, he believes that in order to achieve absolute freedom, all forms of intimacy and relationship with others must be completely severed then, one can create own rules in nature (Spurr and Lloyd 244).
Critical lessons that the author deduces from McCandless’ experience is that implicit leading in isolation is only illusionary since one is serving their self-interest. Like most young adults, McCandless’s freedom is definitely limited in scope hence is not only dangerous but also out rightly disastrous. Besides, it is clear how elusive identity is since even Krakauer who studies McCandless’s experiences for years, is unable to relate to the young man’s quest for self-identity. It is evident that isolating self from society so as to attain self-knowledge is a reflection of deep emotional issues arising from McCandless early life (Krakauer 53)
Into the Wild is an amazing story of a young man full of idealism, energy and arrogance which seeks to find enlightenment in the wild. Although he survives a total of 119 days in the wilderness, he eventually succumbs to death due to his naivety and inexperience. From the time, he graduates from Emory University in Atlanta on May 12, 1990, to the time hunters discover his body in September 1992, interesting thematic experiences emerge. In summary, materialism, survival in the wilderness, risk and self-re-invention, ignorance, arrogance and innocence all blend to describe the experiences of a young man who had so much to live for, but chose to isolate self in the name of attaining enlightenment.
Krakauer, Jon. Into the Wild. London: Pan Books, 2007. Print.
Moroz, Grzegorz, and Jolanta Sztachelska. Metamorphoses of Travel Writing. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2010. Print.
Spurr, Barry, and Lloyd Cameron. Excel Hsc Standard English 2004-5. Glebe: Pascal
Press, 2000. Print.