Into the Wild Intrigues

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer is one of the popular American literature texts in the U.S. It is a classic coming-of-age tale where a lone protagonist leaves the comfort of the family to chart his course in life. As a testimony to its popularity, Into the Wild sold more than 2 million copies in print and was ranked among the 100 New York Times bestselling books for up to two years when it was made available in the market. This paper examines some of the core reasons why Into the Wild is loved by the American audience. To achieve that, the paper explores the thematic features and inherent aspects of the lone protagonist’s story that intrigue the American readers and endear the book to them. The allure of non-conformity as espoused by Chris McCandless and his coming-of-age enlightenment are the main reasons why the American audience loves Krakauer’s Into the Wild and similar narratives.

One of the core reasons why the American audience fell in love with Into the Wild is because it is a typical story of non-conformity. The central theme of the story is about defeating the society’s strictures and doing what seems right in an individual’s judgment. For example, Chris McCandless, the lone protagonist in the story, did not fancy staying at his home with his parents, which is the norm if one completes his university education but is yet to secure an employment opportunity. Instead, McCandless packed his bags and moved out to live on his own, working odd jobs while hiking his way across the Western America. He goes against normalcy, and this is what intrigues the American audience. It does not only creates the conflict that drives the story forward but also sets McCandless as an astute and incisive individual.


Another element of non-conformity in Into the Wild is the self-imposed excommunication. For example, McCandless cuts communication with his family members, even though they had not essentially wronged him. He undeniably had a complex and charged relationship with his father because of his infidelity in the past but that friction, under normal circumstances, does not warrant the drastic decision to exile oneself. Additionally, Chris McCandless gives away his college fund to Oxfam, a charity establishment. He also, against better judgment, abandons his 1982 Datsun car. These bizarre decisions depict McCandless not only as a lone ranger but also as a non-conformist, a renegade even, who does as he pleases. Chris McCandless’ queer decisions defy the natural way of life, and these elements of an oddity in the story intrigue the American audience.

The American public is also intrigued by Krakauer’s Into the Wild because it is a story of hope, of fighting against the odds. For example, when McCandless heads into the wilderness, he had little supplies to last him a considerable time in the cold environment, but he is confident he has had enough knowledge and training on how to hunt and gather wild fruits. His chances of surviving the harsh weather conditions around Mt. McKinley, on his own, were minimal, yet he ventured into the wilderness nevertheless hoping for the best. McCandless later died in the wilderness indicating that his zeal was thoroughly misinformed. Regardless of the outcomes, though, such stories of hope have a great allure and, especially, prove attractive to the bulk of the American audience that hopes for better outcomes in dire situations. Such texts are used in homes and schools to teach the students to test themselves and build their capacities. Crucially, Into the Wild is a text on being optimistic and looking at the brighter side of life. Such narratives are actively appropriated to defeat the portrayals of popular culture and the societal strictures in which some sections of the society are boxed in. For example, they can be used to encourage women and racial minorities to devise own ways in life to become successful and not necessarily seek the affirmation of the majority or the defeating of negative stereotypes.

Fundamentally, Krakauer’s Into the Wild intrigues because it is, essentially, a coming-of-age narrative. At the center of the story is a narrative about personal enlightenment, of establishing what is important to self in life, as opposed to following the masses. For example, McCandless established that, to him, materialism was detrimental to his benefit-finding. Consequently, he donates his U.S. $25,000 he had saved while studying at Emory University to a charity foundation. Another appropriate example of finding self and rejection of the existent materialism is apparent where he opts to keep as little money and physical possessions as possible. Ordinarily, a person would want to accumulate as much wealth as possible; McCandless did the exact opposite because he had found something authentic in life to live for and did not require physical possessions and wealth.

The possibility of enlightenment is intriguing to the American audience and acts as the magnet that pulls the reader into McCandless’ story. It is evident that there is a realization that provided the impetus behind his actions. Having been born in an affluent family, it made no sense to leave the house to do odd jobs in a bid to reinvent oneself and experience a new realm of being. Such examples of enlightenment are not few in the American literature. Another good example of a lone protagonist who achieves enlightenment is Mary Anne in Tim O’Brien’s Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong. Mary Anne’s story mirrors that of Chris McCandless. Just like McCandless, she is also from the suburbs and personifies the innocence of a young person. For example, when Mary Anne reached Tra Bong, she displayed her curiosity and moved about with ease despite the area being an active war zone. For instance, she would interact with the Vietnamese soldiers and inquire from them about the Vietnamese language and culture. To Mark Fossie, Mary Anne was a sweet girlfriend who had flown all the way from the U.S. to keep him company in the Vietnam jungle. However, by the time Mark Fossie was returning to the U.S., his girlfriend, Mary Anne, had experienced extensive transformation and did not even accompany him back. O’Brien writes, “The way she quickly fell into the habits of the bush. No cosmetics, no fingernail filing. She stopped wearing jewelry, cut her hair short and wrapped it in a dark green bandanna”. Mary Anne transformed from a Cleveland Heights girl to a jungle girl and disregarded even her hygiene; instead, she took to operating machine guns and disassembling M-16. Her anticipated marriage to Fossie no longer became a given. Ultimately, the pull of the jungle became too much, she left the base and headed into the forest, never to be seen again.

Americans are especially intrigued by the potential of finding self, and especially with characters that explore the potential to transform oneself. For example, McCandless realized that he was unhappy and unfulfilled in his life and had to find a way to escape the constraints of materialism. His abandoning of his parents and sister, Carine, and his changing of name to Alexander Supertramp shows he was desperate to rid himself of the old being and assume new identity, experience the raw throb of life, and possibly discover a new authentic things in life. Mary Anne, too, in O’Brien’s Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong, finds something authentic to live for. When she arrived at Tra Bong, her only mission was to keep her fiancé company. However, as time went by, Mary Anne realized that she derived her satisfaction from living in the jungle. For example, as O’Brien aptly notes, when she was with the Green Beret soldiers and carrying out ambushes in the middle of the night she felt satisfied, her mood brightened, and her eyes shone. When she was alone, she just stared into the dark green mountains and felt at home. In the end, Mary Anne found satisfaction in the jungle life. Her adaptation to the jungle puzzled even the soldiers who had been there before her. For example, she started going barefoot into the jungle; she also stopped carrying a weapon; and occasionally took death-wish chances, things that even the Green Berets were afraid of. Just like McCandless in Into the Wild, Mary Anne finds a place where she feels she belongs; and this finding is what that gives the readers a sense of satisfaction and closure.

Similarly, the McCandless’ story intrigues the American audience particularly because it validates the American Dream. McCandless story essentially re-conceptualizes the definition of the American Dream. For example, many would expect McCandless’ American Dream would involve graduating from Emory University, being gainfully employed, and ultimately raising a family while creating wealth. That was not to be the case. Chris McCandless achieved his happiness, freedom, and satisfaction through deserting his family, donating his college savings, and changing his name to Alexander Supertramp. He, like other lone protagonists who have chosen the path of non-conformism, demonstrates that there is a myriad of ways to conceptualize the American Dream. Such narratives that provide alternative schools of thoughts are loved and appropriated by the American audience to defeat simplistic views and absolutist ideologies that do not promote diversity.

Critically, the American audience is also captivated by the portrayal of the American wilderness in Krakauer’s Into the Wild. The American wilderness intrigues and stimulates the reader’s imagination. McCandless himself was thrilled by the chance of finding solitude in the American wilderness, and that is why he decides to head towards the Alaskan jungle. In as much as McCandless wanted to find peace and solitude he also intended to explore the deeper secrets of the jungle; otherwise, he could have just moved to another town. His motive was not only to be alone and experience the allure of wilderness but also to test himself against the rigors of nature.

McCandless’ story resonates with Mary Anne’s in O’Brien’s Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong. For example, Mary Anne, too, is attracted by the Vietnamese jungle. As O’Brien aptly notes, the jungle seemed to draw her in. She would go for ambushes in the jungle and return tired-looking, but cheerful and happy. She found solace in living in the woods. Ultimately, Mary Anne found the pull of the jungle too strong to ignore. She left without informing anyone and headed into the jungle; her fate was never determined. The high-risk activities of both McCandless and Mary Anne intrigue the readers and prompts the question of what is it that attracts and pulls such characters into lonely, and potentially dangerous, jungles. Into the Wild does not satisfy this curiosity; instead, Krakauer amplifies it and leaves the reader yearning for more. It is the source of the profound pull of the story.

In conclusion, it is evident that Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild is a popular American literature text. Into the Wild has sold millions of copies and is among the books that have been listed as best sellers by the New York Times. The American audience loves Krakauer’s story because it is essentially a narrative of non-conformism. The lone protagonist from an affluent family makes a series of decisions that go against the society’s strictures. The audience is also captivated by the narratives of enlightenment, finding self, and the reconfiguration of the American Dream. These aspects together with the inherent lessons in the narratives, collectively, make Into the Wild a tour de force that the American Audience cannot help but love.

Feb 8, 2020 in Research
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