It’s easy to argue that Chris McCandless is to blame for his own death. On another note, how could death be easy to explain at all? Many Alaskans refuse to talk about Chris’s death because “it was his own damn fault”, and they also refuse to read the book about it. The story Into the Wild provides a different theory on Chris’s death, a theory that proves he wasn’t really to blame at all, and no one else was, either.
First off, Chris’s death was way too ironic for it to have been his doing. During high school Chris embodied a very strong passion in ending hunger. Not only did he spend his Friday nights buying burgers for homeless, hungry people downtown rather than partying like most high schoolers, Chris had even planned on going to third world countries and giving people supplies first hand. He didn’t want to “save” these people through their government, because the government really wasn’t helping them at all. He wanted to help them under the table, and risk his own life for their happiness. “At the time of autopsy, McCandless’s remains weighed sixty-seven pounds. Starvation was posited as the most probable cause of death.”(14). I believe that Chris truly did want to help nourish people who were hungry, and it wouldn’t make sense of him to die that way by intention. Maybe Chris’s death of starvation would create awareness of hunger to the people’s lives he touched, but it wouldn’t have touched the lives of those who are hungry – and Chris would have chosen the latter. He wanted to save people.
Against what many people (particularly Alaskans) like to think, Chris was not stupid or crazy. He isn’t the only young romantic that has gone off into the wild to live off the land trying to find themselves or some deeper meaning to life. In fact, countless people have. The difference is that Chris died on his escapade; many others did too, and many also were lucky enough to live to tell their tale. An ancient group called “…the papar risked their lives – and lost them in untold droves – not in the pursuit of wealth or personal glory… ‘these remarkable voyages were… undertaken chiefly from the wish to find lonely places, where these anchorites might dwell in peace, undisturbed by the turmoil and temptations of the world.’ They were drawn across the storm-racked ocean, drawn west past the edge of the known world, by nothing more than a hunger of the spirit, a yearning of queer intensity that it beggars the modern imagination.”(97) These people remind me a lot of Chris, and they were (and are) deeply respected by many for their courage, yet many of the people who call the papar their idols consider Chris to be an idiot. Ancient beings, however, are not the only romantics whose lives were relatable to the one Chris had. The author, Jon Krakauer also had a similar mindset at age twenty-three. “When I decided to go to Alaska that April, like Chris McCandless, I was a raw youth who mistook passion for insight and acted according to an obscure, gap-ridden logic. I thought climbing the Devil’s Thumb would fix all that was wrong with my life. In the end… it changed almost nothing… And I live to tell me tale… I suspect we had a similar intensity, a similar heedlessness, a similar agitation of the soul.”(155) Krakauer learned from climbing the Devil’s Thumb that he wasn’t invincible, Chris just wasn’t lucky enough to return from his Alaskan journey.
When Chris McCandless went into the wilderness, it wasn’t some kind of suicide mission. He wanted to push himself to his highest capabilities, and he didn’t want to die. Chris pushed himself his whole life. In high school he pushed himself through running. In college, he had amazing grades. As a young adult, his challenges for himself became more extreme, yet more realistic. When Chris went to Alaska, he challenged himself to survive. And although Chris may have come to Alaska unprepared based on possessions, he had experience. “…he was sufficiently skilled to last sixteen weeks on little more than his wits and ten pounds of rice. And he was fully aware when he entered the bush that he had given himself a perilously slim margin for error. He knew precisely what was at stake.”(182) Chris believed that “… a challenge in which a successful outcome is assured isn’t a challenge at all.”(182) Chris knew that living off of the land in Alaska would be different than living off of the land anywhere else, it would be more dangerous, a bigger challenge, and that’s why he went there. At one point McCandless attempted to leave Alaska, but had the misfortune of coming to the river too late. It was flooded, flowing rapidly, and Chris was a weak swimmer. Crossing it regardless “…would be suicidal. It simply wasn’t an option.”(170) After returning to the bus, and when food supplies became scarce, Chris improvised by eating wild potato seeds because their roots were too tough to eat. “It wasn’t the seeds of the wild potato that had done McCandless in; he was probably killed instead by the mold that had been growing on those seeds. The plant that poisoned him wasn’t toxic… McCandless simply had the misfortune to eat moldy seeds.”(194) And because of that misfortune, Chris died from swainosinine. “If you ingest too much swainosinine you are bound to starve, no matter how much food you put into your stomach.”(195)
In the end, it wasn’t Chris’s stupidity or arrogance that killed him, but rather the misfortunes that his destiny placed into his life. “One suspects that Muir wouldn’t have thought McCandless terribly odd or incomprehensible… McCandless went into the wilderness… to explore the inner country of his own soul.”(183) And on his deathbed, Chris wrote in his journal, “I HAVE HAD A HAPPY LIFE AND THANK THE LORD. GOODBYE AND GOD BLESS ALL!”(199) Finally, “Chris McCandless was at peace, serene as a monk gone to God.”(199)