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Jon Krakauer: Into the Wild

Jon Krakauer: Into the Wild


The dynamics of each family comprises several key periods, including the family creation, its development, and the separation of children, who want to find and take their place in the life. They seek for the unique knowledge by gaining it through a closer communication with the family and society, or vice versa – slipping away from them. The book Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer tells a fascinating life story of Christopher Johnson McCandless, who decided to challenge own abilities, relatives, society, and nature. His journey began as an escape from the golden cage, in which he had been imprisoned by authoritarian parents for many years, and ended in semi-wild lands of Alaska. This essay aims to study the motives behind Christopher’s conduct, the analysis of his relations with the family and friends, and the causes of the tragic death. The character of McCandless was shaped under the burden of parental expectations and own inability to achieve the inner potential to the full extent of his power. It was the cause of his desire to leave people and comfortable life. Nevertheless, despite the fact that his dysfunctional family was significantly guilty in Christopher’s reckless quest to escape into the wild, which ended with his death, the nature of the young man and his beliefs became the determining factors of such resolution.

Dysfunctional Family and Interpersonal Relations

Family serves as the first educational institution, which is a part of the life of all its members. It contributes to the human self-assertion and stimulates one’s social and creative activity. In other words, it determines the primary socialization of children. The family’s failure to perform its functions causes the disruption of the development dynamics, which deals with the hierarchical organization or, in other words, the interpersonal relationship between members and life cycles (Schermerhorn and Cummings 12). The lack of a dynamic equilibrium causes the disintegration of the family by the parents’ divorce, children’s premature tendency to live separately, the rupture of family ties (the termination of all types of communication), or the reorientation to the formal co-existence.

Dysfunctionality considers families with the lack of educational resources and inadequate level of parents, who do not assist children in learning. Even outwardly wealthy parents are not able to give their child enough care if they are focused solely on own work. As a rule, such children have no financial needs, but they are deprived of the communication; thus, they gradually lose their attachment to parents. They tend to leave a family earlier and reject any adults’ advice. This stage is also an integral part of the family dynamics. A household with the normal development passes it when a son or daughter finds a partner and is ready to create an own family (Mulder 358). In the unhealthy family, it is derived from the desire to assert oneself and to prove the own independence. In a perfect world, when leaving parents, children should keep in touch with them and care for the procreation.

There are more stringent criteria. Families that experience demonstrative conflicts are also considered disadvantaged. Quarrels between parents have a devastating impact on the children’s psyche. Additionally, such instances result in a split in a family. Older children, as well as kids, feel their helplessness and fear. They perceive parents’ quarrel as a natural disaster, which they can neither influence nor change.

Finally, members of dysfunctional families have disparate differences in view of principles of the domestic setup, the desire to achieve individual goals at the expense of others, and subordination to the adults’ will, as well as the ability to control everyone. The situation in educationally incompetent families can be dangerous to the child’s development. The consequences of such upbringing include neglect, the lack of initiative, or a blind submission, for example. Thus, it is possible to emphasize that any violence in the form of the physical punishment or immoral behavior of parents (alcoholism or drug addiction) are not the only conditions for the assessment of a dysfunctional family. It is contributed by a number of latent and seemingly insignificant factors.

The interaction of parental control and heat determines such styles of parental behavior as authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, and indifferent one. Each has significantly varying effects on children, although they significantly differ across cultures; thus, it is impossible to choose any of them as being universal and optimal. Negotiations and shared purposes of parents and children are generally considered a positive development. In dysfunctional families, there are considerable barriers that are established between its members and that govern relationships inside a family. It is a system of prohibitions and submissions (McAdams 8). Typically, in such families, there is a tyrant, who is a head of a family. His or her partner has significantly less freedom, while children have no rights at all. The lack of equality in a family can break the dynamics of its development. It could be evidenced by analyzing the life of Christopher. An unhealthy atmosphere in his family was a core reason for his desire to get away from the society.

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Transcendental Odyssey of Christopher: Internal Motivation, Influence of Family Relations, and the Formation of a Character

Christopher’s Family as a Source of His Internal Disharmony

The family of Christopher McCandless was wealthy and prosperous at first glance. The boy grew up in Annandale, a prosperous suburb of Virginia. The family belonged to the well-being middle class (Krakauer 16). His parents strongly emphasized their status and sought to teach children to be motivated and self-sufficient according to their considerations. The boy’s father, Walt, was an outstanding engineer in the aerospace industry. He designed a number of the modern radar systems for the space shuttle and assisted on some other important projects for NASA.

In 1978, Walt founded a small but successful consulting company (Krakauer 16). In such a manner, the man started working and distanced from the household. When he met Billy, Chris’ mother, Walt already had a wife and children. However, Billie became his partner in every sense, including the job. Thus, there was a family model, in which both parents focused their attention solely on making money. Chris and Carine grew in abundance and could engage in any favorite hobbies. However, it was not enough, because they were experiencing an acute shortage of the parental warmth and love.

The book tells that Walt and Billie had started a profitable business, but could not stop earning money. Workaholism, which was discussed in the previous paragraph, began to poison the life of every family member. Their cohabitation was very tense. The couple was too emotional and did not want to compromise. Chris and Carine had witnessed their scandals, which were accompanied by usual threats of divorce. The girl suspected that those arguments were not too serious; nonetheless, she admitted, “It was one of the reasons our intimacy with Chris. We learned to rely on each other when mom and dad were at daggers drawn” (Krakauer 75). It is impossible not to pay attention to the fact that children experienced fear and psychological discomfort. Later on, this experience left a deep impression on the subconscious mind of Christopher.

It should be noted that the McCandless family was dysfunctional accordingly to other features. Walt clearly defined the role of a domestic tyrant, who was accustomed to command and to decide the fate of all family members. He controlled everything almost unconsciously and reflexively. Children (besides Chris and Carine, the family had six children from Walt’s previous marriage) noted that it was impossible to disobey their father. He immediately showed displeasure if someone provided him with the own opinion (Krakauer 73). In such a way, his authoritarian character, which controlled the whole family, was manifested.

Christopher was a freedom-loving and gifted child; thus, he took to heart everything. The duality in the parents’ behavior violated his inner balance. On the one hand, they provided him with a safe childhood and infinitely loved him. On the other hand, they could not show their parental tenderness towards children. Jobs and no competently constructed pedagogical strategies have caused a latent rift in the family, which had alienated Walt and Billi from their son forever. While growing up, the main character did not aspire to have a close contact with his relatives. Carine was his only friend in the family circle. He demonstrated tolerance towards parents up to the date when his journey began. Shortly before his departure, Chris complained Carine that parents’ behavior was “so irrational, so oppressive, disrespectful and insulting that and finally passed my breaking point” (Krakauer 46). The young man believed that they limited his choice in terms of the personal and career development.

Alaska as a Promised Land or a Flight from People

McCandless had not enough space inside the own family and society. After the graduation from the college, he made a strong decision to conduct a long journey that would lead him to Alaska. An irresistible desire to spend a few months in the solitude seemed a true madness and met some sharp disapproval from his family. However, the journey into the wilderness became his purpose of life. Chris did not fit into the framework of the traditional American society. McCandless adopted the idea of asceticism and moral firmness of Tolstoy, whose books he adored to such an extent that it made everyone be surprised and puzzled simultaneously. The young man felt no illusions about the harsh conditions of Alaska. He deliberately looked for hazards, disasters, and Tolstoy’s self-denial. He also grew up on books of Jack London. His romantic and vulnerable nature craved to acquire new knowledge and maintain the purity of the soul. At the same time, he wanted to harden the body and to reach its limits. Thus, it was a way to experience the life to the full.

Chris considered the College education as four-painful years of duty. He endured it for the sake of the family when getting ready to leaving it forever. Chris escaped the suffocating world of his parents and peers with only the most needful things in his backpack. The young man wanted to leave “a world of abstraction and security and material excess, a world in which he felt grievously cut off from the raw throb of existence craved (Krakauer 18). Apparently, he used to believe that a person did not need too much to be happy. The book mentions that periodically (for several weeks), Chris was eating only two pounds of rice. Such experience turned out to be disastrous because later on, it convinced him that he could survive with such a modest purveyance in the wild of Alaska.

For Chris, it was crucial to find the own way and do not allow anyone to push out of it. For such reason, he threw away or gave others all his things. Once, he even burned some money and left the car, which he considered a burden. Obviously, McCandless had two objectives. First of all, he wanted to separate from the parents and show them that he was able to be independent. The young man kept a deep resentment towards them, and this feeling pushed him to go even further. Second, Chris was going to start a new life on his own in order to gain freedom and taste the unfiltered reality. In order to mark a complete break with the past, he even took a new name. Thus, Chris McCandless became Alexander Supertramp, a master of his own destiny.

The main character of the book considered any difficulty a flood or a short prison sentence, as well as an opportunity to become stronger. He perfectly knew that Alaska did not like the weak in body and spirit. Nevertheless, it seemed to him that the wild lands were the most suitable place for a young pilgrimage. In one of his letters to an old friend, Ron Franz, McCandless wrote that people just had to demonstrate the courage in order to step away from the traditions and choose a creative and unique way. He reasoned, “No greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun” (Krakauer 40). Although a conscious choice of asceticism, Chris did not refuse simple communication and was willing to meet new people. The young man distanced himself from the family but absorbed the experience of other interesting acquaintances; in such a manner, he was gradually changing and preparing his inner world to the severe test of Alaska.

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Formation of Alexander Supertramp’s Character

It would be unfair to say that Chris’ parents were entirely guilty in his death. In many ways, the main cause of the tragedy was his character, which had formed under the influence of not only Walt and Billie but also his grandfather, friends, and other people, whom he met in his life, as well. It was proved that Chris grew in a dysfunctional family. Nevertheless, he was brought up as an educated and self-sufficient man, who could communicate in a very daring way. It concerned his personal diary entries and communication with people. Especially sharp was his behavior with his parents, who loved and worried about him. His good friend and employer, Westberg, was struck by his attitude towards own mother and father. He spoke angrily, “What the hell were you thinking? Not speaking to your family for all that time, treating them like dirt!” (Krakauer 46).

Chris respected his father’s commitment to the business. Obviously, he inherited some similar qualities. He was very similar to his father in being stubborn and willful. In my opinion, Christian was confident and usually used double standards in relation to other people. Krakauer wrote that chastity and moral purity were those qualities that McCandless respected the most. The collection of short stories, including “The Kreutzer Sonata” by Tolstoy, about an ascetic gentleman, who rejected the carnal love, was found next to Christopher’s remains (Krakauer 47). The guy was not paying attention to the sins of the Russian writer as a private person but admired his genius. He sincerely respected his new friends-vagrants. However, Chris could not forgive his father for the temporary bigamy, when the boy was small. Actually, this issue crossed out all the good that the young man received from his father in later years. Chris judged artists and close friends by their deeds and not their private lives (Krakauer 85). Nevertheless, for some reason, he could not be so generous with his father. He did not think that parents gave him an opportunity for the self-development. Finally, his character was formed under the influence of their example and authority. If parents had given him more time, he might have looked for his place in the life without sufferings and such an early death. Nevertheless, they provided him with everything they could, and he became enough opinionated and daring to issue a challenge to the society and nature.

Courage and romanticism, which contributed to the death of Chris, were brought up in young McCandless by his grandfather, Loren Johnson, who was a stubborn visionary proud man, a self-taught musician, poet, and a forest dweller (Krakauer 75). Understanding the wildlife and ingenuity of an old man made a lasting impression on the boy. Loren took him camping and taught to be not afraid of any difficulties. For that reason, Christopher grew so headstrong that he did not even try to accumulate the necessary knowledge before starting the odyssey. Despite the high ideals and strong friendship with various individuals, he was not able to understand the true value of the family ties and died before he could do much of what he had dreamed about and planned.

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A Comparative Analysis of Families According to the Dynamics of Their Development

Into the Wild touched me deeply. As a representative of Chinese culture, I cannot agree with actions and decisions of the main character. I understand his desire to go to Alaska because our traditions respect those who strive to achieve the inner harmony. Nevertheless, I think it was an unreasonable sacrifice. Moreover, I do not agree with the man’s behavior towards the family. In China, from where I come, Confucianism is honored much. This religion imposes a deep stamp on all aspects of the Chinese society, including the functioning of the family. The Confucian ancestor worship and the cult of filial piety have contributed to the development of a strong cult of a clan. The family has always been considered the heart of the society; thus, its interests are far superior to the interests of an individual, who has been viewed only in the family perspective, through the prism of its eternal (from ancestors to distant descendants) interests. My parents are people who do not have any prejudice. However, my grandmother strictly follows the traditions of Confucianism. She helped us to overcome possible differences and to mitigate any family conflicts.

My parent worked hard while I was growing up, just as it is described In the Wild. Nevertheless, they always had time for me. Workaholism or gross interference with the private life of a child (as well as some other issues) are not a norm and are defined as the factors that can corrupt a family. My parents have always been attentive to me and never exhibited stiffness. No one could call our family dysfunctional. I was raised in a reasonable rigor and taught to respect the elder. In my opinion, Chris was too self-confident and even spoiled. My father has never been a tyrant, but a head of the family; therefore, the issue of respect is not even discussed in our family. I believe that the dynamics of my family may be defined as stable and healthy because its members share common beliefs and traditions. In this respect, the Eastern type of a family is much more successful than the Western one.

Christopher’s story is close to me in some way. There was a period in my life when I wanted to experience more freedom. Thus, I went to a summer internship to Europe. It was an exciting adventure, and the first time when I did not obey my parents. They thought that I was too young to leave home, but I insisted on my decision. Finally, they accepted it. I had enough of that. I do not think that it is necessary to be zealous in such matters. Parents give us life, and we have no right to judge them severely for any errors or rigor. I was happy that we were able to set all issues peacefully. It is a natural way of solving any disputes. Only a couple of times in my life I saw my parents quarreling. They quickly put up and asked for forgiveness from all family members. It allowed me to feel my importance and understand that I was respected, as well.

I believe that Christopher was unfair to his parents. His father worked hard in order to ensure the well-being of the children. Unlike many teenagers, Chris had time to read numerous books and cherish his grievances. Despite the fact that his journey to Alaska had a sacred meaning, he acted too selfishly. His family was not perfect, but they loved the young man. From my perspective, it is the proper basis for the development of strong relations. As a son, Christian did not make sufficient effort in order to move closer to his family. Therefore, his parents were not the only guilty in his death. The family should always be together despite any ambitions of individual members.


The life tragedy of Christopher McCandless was caused by his unwillingness to understand the parents and his excessive desire to assert him in life in a unique way. Chris’s family could be determined as dysfunctional one because children in it did not receive sufficient parental attention and were subjected to the moral pressure from their father. Nevertheless, the young man was reluctant to get closer to his parents. I believe that it was a fundamentally wrong standpoint because the relationship cannot be one-sided in a family. Additionally, Christopher did not fit into the framework of the traditional American society. He tried to use only the most necessary things, to eat simple food, and have the modest life conditions. I respect his position but believe that he could succeed in harmony with his parents. Chris appreciated the purity and naturalness; thus, he wanted to live a few months in Alaska. It was a deep philosophical and transcendence journey, but not just running away from the family. Therefore, parents may not be fully charged with his death. He was a proud and self-confident person, who challenged the nature of the lost.