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Is Into the Wild’s Chris McCandless a Hero?

Chris McCandless

Chris McCandless, also known by the pseudonym Alexander Supertramp, was an American hiker who sought an increasingly itinerant lifestyle as he grew up. He is the subject of Into the Wild, a nonfiction book by Jon Krakauer that was later made into a full-length feature film.

We asked our readers to sound off on what they thought of the Chris McCandless and his adventure. These are their answers:

“The dictionary’s definition of a hero is a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities. Chris McCandless fits this definition perfectly. Ability he did not lack, and he had an abundance of courage with anything he tried. Chris was extraordinarily talented. He excelled in almost anything he attempted and let nothing stand in his way. During Chris’s year and a half adventure around the Western United States he showed all of the qualities of a hero. He dropped everything he owned to take away the barriers that society had subconsciously imposed on him to discover who the real Chris McCandless was. A bold and stubborn risk it was, but more importantly Chris took the risk—something many people would never dream of even attempting because they can’t predict the outcome. That’s why Chris is a hero, because he did something so many can’t. He set out on an adventure to enjoy what little time he had on this beautiful planet.”

—Austin Peton, Blacksburg, Va.

“I think from a literary sense John Krakauer has made Chris McCandless an example of a hero. As a human being, I feel it’s a shame that McCandless’ life ended at such a young age. I wish he would have made better decisions in many of his outdoor pursuits and the way he dealt with his family, but as a character I believe he is an essential lesson in social progression. Currently in America, we are losing sight of the simple things through working too many hours, while we live among homogenized suburban trappings and big-box hell. Many times I have wanted to step away from it all and release my free spirit within. Reality inevitably prevents this. But every time I go back and read “Into the Wild” I can’t help but feel inspired to at least make small changes in my life, appreciate my natural surroundings, and embrace the purest things around me, even if they aren’t always easy to see. If McCandless can make me see these things, then personally I have no choice but to call him a hero.”

— Jim Barry, Raleigh, N.C.

Many, many people waste away their lives being a slave to something (career, debt, etc.), not really ever being free from its grasp. Chris was just someone who did what we all should do: follow your heart.

“While many of the underlying principles by which he tried to lead his life are indeed admirable, I don’t believe he can be called hero. Like many of us, he found that the societal trappings of everyday life in America made him long for a more simple existence. The reason however that many of the rest of us choose not to walk away is that we have a responsibility to those we love and those that love us. There’s a point in a person’s life where they must realize that they do not just live for themselves. Christopher McCandless was unfortunately too selfish to ever come to this realization. He instead chose to put his family through what I could only imagine must have been two years of hell without so much as a whisper of his whereabouts. Could you do such a thing to your loved ones? A hero, in my mind, must be selfless—someone who puts the lives of others above their own. Christopher McCandless does not fit that description.”

Jeremiah Leroy, Asheville, N.C.

“It’s cool that he went out and explored the world and didn’t get caught up in society’s expectations. That’s great—I’m all for it. Many, many people waste away their lives being a slave to something (career, debt, etc.), not really ever being free from its grasp. Chris was just someone who did what we all should do: follow your heart. This doesn’t make him a hero, but it does make him pure and true.”

Jon Livenood, Knoxville, Tenn.

“Chris McCandless was a troubled young man who tried to live off the land in the wilds of Alaska and starved to death. He went into the bush without bothering to master necessary skills. He didn’t have a map, wore jeans (a real sign of a newbie), and carried 10 lbs of rice but no crampons. McCandless had no respect for wilderness, too much arrogance, or maybe he just wasn’t thinking. He was not a kid or a boy; he was a 24 year old man. If Chris had a map, he would have seen that the safe way out, the best way to cross the river was only a half-mile down where there was a gauging station built by the U.S. Geological Survey. That’s how Jon Krakauer, the author of “Into the Wild,” and his companions reached the bus. Chris wanted to go into Alaska as terra incognito but there was a bus there and cabins a few miles away. How incognito could it be? In a documentary about the movie, Krackauer explained McCandless’ thinking: “If the whole world is mapped, then don’t look at the map.” That’s suicidal.”

Danny Bernstein, Asheville, N.C.

Want to learn more about Chris McCandless’ bus?

Was Chris McCandless’ death mystery solved?

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