Truth in Nonfiction discussion

Into the Wild

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message 1: by John (new)

John F. (Johnferg) | 24 comments I have never read any of this book until yesterday, yet have heard much about it. "I have minimize my authorial presence. But let the read be warned: I interrupt McCandless's story with fragments of a narrative drawn from my own youth" (Author's Note.) After reading the first couple of chapters, I realized how much I took a liking to Chris's character, but I felt that there was a void in the connection between the reader and the protagonist, a grey area in which Krakauer could quietly insert his own experiences. Instead of conjuring an opinion based on others peoples interactions and experiences with Chris, I would have preferred to go more depth into the freedom and independent seeking individual that Chris is.

I wonder what everyone thinks about this style of writing, which is in my opinion keeping the protagonist just distant enough from the reader where the author can insert his own youth experiences without the reader knowing.

One of my favorite sections of the book is Chris's letter to Ron Franz. Chris tries to urge Ron towards a nomadic lifestyle, saying that "once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty" (pg. 57.) I thoroughly enjoyed this part because I felt it to be one of the few times in the book where Chris's personality shines through the brightest. I hope there is more "unburying" of his character as the book continues forward.

message 2: by Skdank09 (new)

Skdank09 | 23 comments Having already read this book and seen the movie, I am a little ahead of where I should be in my knowledge. John, I would agree with you in the fact that, from my new perspective in my second reading of the book I can see that, McCandless's character is actually quite seperated from the reader. We get a picture of his overall ideals and his effort to implement those ideals into his life, but we also see the different opinions of those he met along his odyssey. So far Krakauer has not inserted his experiences into the book to the extent he will in later chapters but he is also not absent. He discusses his correspondence with Franz, as well as, many others such as McCandless's sister, Carine. Unlike the stories we have read so far, Krakauer is not trying to be invisible. I think this style of writing adds a sense of truth and honesty to the work because Krakauer comes right out and says how he knows what he knows and where his knowledge is limited. On page 29 he says, "we know all of this because McCandless documented the burning of his money and most of the events that followed in a journal-snapshot album..." And later on page 38 he states that "not a great deal is known, therefore, about where he traveled after departing Las Vegas in May 1991" in reference to his lack of photographs and journaling. I think that this kind of writing creates a certain amount of authenticity, however, it certainly makes McCandless's character more of a mystery. I wonder how much (if any) of himself Krakauer projected onto McCandless even with all the research he did and everything he knew.

message 3: by Lauren (new)

Lauren Williams | 17 comments I believe there will be more to uncover about Chris's character because Krakauer writes, "my convictions should be apparent soon enough, but I will leave it to the reader to form his or her own opinion of Chris McCandless" (Author's Note). Reading the stories from Chris's journal and the stories shared by all those that had interactions and personal contact and relationships with Chris will help to create a wide spectrum of characteristics, about Chris, for the reader to interpret for him or herself. These contrasting views about Chris's character, including reflections that make him out to be so smart and intriguing, Krakauer writes, "Franz grew increasingly fond of McCandless. 'God, he was a smart kid'" (52). And then there are people who saw him in a very different light. The people from McDonald's questioned his way of life, Krakauer writes, "it was like he was off in his own universe" (40). I feel there is a condescending tone from the lady at McDonald's in the way Krakauer writes about her. This is conflicting with the air of high regard that is typically placed around Chris's character.
I haven't felt there to be much fluff or fiction in this story so far, it might be because it seems as though Krakauer has really done his research and met with all these people (who have real stories to share) which allows him to form a realistic and true portrayal of Chris's adventures and life.

message 4: by Kelsey (last edited Feb 20, 2012 04:46PM) (new)

Kelsey Hatch | 23 comments The first ten or so pages of the book sounded a lot like a newspaper article, which did not surprise me, as Krakauer said in the author's note, "...I wrote a nine-thousand-word article, which ran in the January 1993 issue of the magazine, but my fascination with McCandless remained long after that issue of Outside..." I like that Krakauer prefaced that he originally wrote the book as an article, because you can certainly sense where he stopped writing an article and began writing a book. It was interesting how Krakauer incorporated quotes from Gallien into passages about Chris and Gallien's brief time together. Krakauer writes, "...Gallien recalls" (4) which suggests Krakauer collected the information, that Gallien recalled, in an interview for his article. His writing then moves away from what might be found in an article, and into a descriptive narrative. He describes the Kantishna plain beautifully, "...sprawl[ing] across the flats like a rumpled blanket on an unmade bed" (9) and vividly introduces settings like an author would at the beginning of a book, "Cathage, South Dakota, population 274, is a sleepy little cluster of clapboard houses, tidy yards, and weathered brick storefronts rising humbly from the immensity of the northern plains, set adrift in time" (15). Overall, I find Krakauer's writing extremely honest and chilling--he does a great job of communicating the unpredictable wilderness and the impulsivity of man.

message 5: by Tina (new)

Tina Sport | 21 comments I agree that Krakauer does keep the reader at a fair distance from Chris McCandless, but I don't think that it distorts the connection that we can make with Chris. Krakauer doesn't seem to be writing this book as if we are traveling with Chris, more like putting us in the shoes of the countless people that he encountered in his travels, which I think is a more effective way of presenting this story. Take for example, Ron Franz. So far, he probably has the strongest connection with Chris and was hit pretty hard when he found out about his death. So hard in fact that he lost his religion and drink away his pain. Krakauer's notion to keep the readers at a distance forces them to learn about these people who have all been affected by Chris's presence, some more than others, and we see how much of an influence this man was. In a way, he gave them a voice because if Chris didn't die, Krakauer probably wouldn't have written about him and wouldn't have interviewed these people. Now that this novel is out, these small town citizens have their own stories to tell.

On the subject of Krakauer plugging his own experiences in the novel, I think he did that not as a self indulgent move, but as a dramatization technique. First off, Krakauer probably had to improvise some of Chris's adventures being that he was dead. But he writes these improvisations very subtly to the point where the reader can believe that Chris was the one who had these experiences, not Krakauer. Next, he could've used his own wilderness stories to strengthen verisimilitude and add details. I don't think that having Krakauer do this is necessarily a bad thing to do because the reader doesn't see Krakauer living out this adventure, they see Chris. It isn't obvious that the author is using some of his personal material to tell a story because he is able to wrap it around the protagonist so well. And I don't think that does any harm to the story, if anything it helps it out greatly.

message 6: by Dr. Talbot (new)

Dr. Talbot | 21 comments Mod
Just a note here, guys. Form, in good literature, matches content, so it would make sense at this point that the reader is "searching" for Chris. We are, as Krakauer is doing at this point, putting clues together, following a trail, so to speak. Krakauer's allusion to the interjection is in the form of a later chapter in which he devotes attention to his own youth and how it connects with Chris's proclivities (sometimes I try not to let on what's coming, but in this case, it seems necessary). When we get there, we will talk about that interjection. Carry on--

message 7: by Alix (new)

Alix Gresov | 22 comments Although Krakauer states that he will let the reader form his or her own opinion of Chris, I think he has put his own opinion into his writing as well, encouraging the reader to look at Chris with the same admiring view that Krakauer himself has. From the way that he describes Chris it is pretty clear that Krakauer, like most of the people that Chris met, deeply respects Chris for his lifestyle choices and holds him in high regard. However, despite the bias that Krakauer seems to have, he still does let the reader form his own opinion. Krakauer presents the facts in a logical chronological progression, describing in as much detail as possible what Chris did in the two-year span between his graduation from Emory and his departure for Alaska, but presents the facts in a way that lets the reader decide whether or not to praise or vilify Chris. As an adventurer and outdoorsman himself, Krakauer obviously finds Chris interesting, so much so that he wrote both an article and a book outlining Chris’s adventures, but never in the text (so far) does he actually give his concrete opinion of Chris, and this is what lets the reader really make his own decision. A lot of people have contempt for Chris, and criticize his actions and the way that he died and I think that they are able to do so because of the writing style that Krakauer employs for his novel, removing the reader from Chris enough so that the reader can form an opinion without Krakauer’s or anyone else’s input pushing him too heavily towards one side.

message 8: by Brianne (new)

Brianne Lambert | 22 comments John I can see what you mean so far about Krakauer inserting his experiences quietly, but at the same time I have to disagree because of what we have read so far. When I think of an author inserting his own experiences quietly I think of Capote, whose presence may have gone undetected if the reader didn’t pay close enough attention. Capote wanted to be completely separate from the novel even though he found parallels between himself and Perry, but it was extremely difficult for Capote to remain separate and most would agree he was unsuccessful. I really like this different approach to the writing because Krakauer isn’t trying to pretend like he hasn’t made a distinct connection with the protagonist and that this connection won’t affect his writing. He openly uses the word “I”, which is so different from Capote’s approach, and I appreciate that he offers a disclaimer in the author’s note warning us of the parallels he discovered between himself and Chris. Like most others have said, it offers a new element of honesty to the writing that makes us trust Krakauer to a certain extent. I especially liked the quote from Charlie when he describes Chris “…like a kid who was looking for something, looking for something, just didn’t know what it was” (42) because I feel this might be where Krakauer connects with Chris the most.
I agree that Chris’s highlighted excerpts from books and his letters to different people he met along his journey are the best representations we have of him. Like Tina said, Chris was dead so Krakauer had to improvise with his own experiences, but these letters are the closest we will ever get to being able to communicate with Chris. Krakauer provides the reader with a wealth of information in the letters and journal entries, as well as the interviews. I feel like with the resources Krakauer had, we get to know Chris as well as we can without reading a fictionalized version of his story. There is still so much about Chris and Krakauer we can learn, and a lot more to come with each new person that we meet.

message 9: by Amy (new)

Amy Yao | 21 comments John, I completely agree with you when you describe the "void" between the reader and McCandless. I read excerpts from the book and watched the film adaptation in high school, so (like Sally) I'm a little farther ahead, but I found myself yearning to know more about Chris in chapters 1-6, and was almost impatiently reading through the parts describing other people's accounts of him. I wanted to know his thoughts, his precise actions, what he ate for breakfast the morning he left home, everything. I guess, reflecting on it now, that what I really want is to know Chris like Capote helped me know Dick and Perry.

At this point in the book, I find myself at a loss as to whether or not I like Chris as a person. One part of me appreciates his drive to really experience life for all it has to offer, and I completely sympathize with him in his letter to Franz, when he writes, "You are wrong if you think Joy emanates only or principally from human relationships. God has placed it all around is simply waiting out there for you to grasp it" (57). When I read that, I felt that Chris was one of those rare people who readily understood what the poem Invictus taught me, that "I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul."

However, I can't help but feel like there are gaping holes in Chris' thoughts and story thus far. Maybe I was spoiled from Capote's detailed insight into the inner workings of Dick and Perry, but I am so annoyed by Krakauer's constant presence in the book. I want to know Chris, and his fragments of journal excerpts at the beginning of a few chapters are like little jewels.

message 10: by [deleted user] (new)

I think the distance we feel with McCandless is a good representation of the distance others felt with him. McCandless lost touch with his family and his “itchy feet” prohibited him from getting to know people too well. When McCandless left Franz he “was thrilled to be on his way North, and he was relieved as well – relieved that he had again evaded the impending threat of human intimacy, of friendship, and all the messy emotional baggage that comes with it” (Krakauer 55). Thus, McCandless separates himself from Franz before the two create a dependent relationship, one where he would be Franz’s grandson. According to Charlie, McCandless “didn’t like to be around too many people… wouldn’t like to get bothered. Seemed like a kid who was looking for something, looking for something, just didn’t know what it was” (42). Evidently, he didn’t want people to help him find what he was looking for; he’d rather do it alone. Krakauer is smart in the way that he unravels the story of McCandless because although I get more and more information with each page that I read, I still feel a sense of opaqueness which is what other people felt.

I also think it’s very interesting how McCandless kept a journal in the third person, as if distancing himself from his experiences; it’s as if he is writing a story for someone to find one day. Perhaps McCandless does not have an image of self and this can even be backed up by the fact that he changed his name. It reminds me of Erikson’s psychosocial stages, specifically stages 5 and 6. In stage 5, “identify versus confusion,” Erikson believed that adolescents explore their independence and sense of selves. Those who are unsuccessful in their exploration enter confusion. In Stage 6 , “intimacy versus isolation,” people develop close relationships and become secure. “Remember that each step builds on skills learned in previous steps. Erikson believed that a strong sense of personal identity was important to developing intimate relationships. Studies have demonstrated that those with a poor sense of self tend to have less committed relationships and are more likely to suffer emotional isolation, loneliness, and depression” (

message 11: by Caroline (new)

Caroline | 24 comments I agree that there is a void, but looking back on what Dr. Talbot said, I think it works with the story, atleast where we are in the story now. I took the void as a way to not only let Krakauker into the story, but myself as well. "I have minimize my authorial presence. But let the read be warned: I interrupt McCandless's story with fragments of a narrative drawn from my own youth." (Authors Note) Because Krakauker let's himself into the book, I let myself into the book. The void is a way for me to dream I am Chris, that I am on the journey with him. Yes, I feel as though I am searching for him, but I also feel like at times the book makes me wish I could go and search myself, search for some unseen answers to life's questions. " He was now Alexander Supertramp; master of his own identity." (23) This qoute from the reading, struck me. I wanted to be Alexander Supertramp, I wanted to feel like him. I believe that the void that Krakauer allows in the story between Chris and the reader, is so that we as the readers can enter the story, feel what Chris felt. Be free.

message 12: by Mallory (new)

Mallory Garretson | 21 comments I must say that I actually like the style that Krakauer chose to write Into The Wild in. Although some may feel that the reader (we) are at a distant from McCandless, which we are, I also feel rather close. From just reading only 60 pages into the novel I feel as if I could make a great description of who McCandless is. The letters/postcards he sent to Franz and Jan, the interviews and comments from the different people who knew him, and little interjections; such as the beginning of every chapter with a quote from a book that McCandless admired, are all decent peices of evidence that add up to make a strong description of who McCandless is (at least to me). I can easily say that Krakauer makes me understand the character of McCandless very well. The letter he sends to Franz, at the closing of chapter 6, strongly expresses who McCandless is and what he believes; "The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure" (57). This quote, along with many others found in his letter, I think sums up what McCandless stands for, what he is trying to achieve. As complicated and vague as McCandless might be, perhaps we are trying to hard to try to uncover him. Why not just see him for as he was, are we thinking too much about something that we may never really know? Like Westerberg states, "I think maybe part of what got him into trouble was that he did too much thinking" (18). So maybe we just need to wait and watch more of McCandless unfold; even so we may not establish a complete and true identity for him, but how could we. We were not him.
I am really really enjoying this book...and I kind of just want to get up and walk somewhere, or hop a train, or hitchhike home. Does anyone else feel an urge of movement? (I think actually Dr.Talbot, you mentioned that we might feel this way- I totally know now what you mean).

message 13: by Cassia (last edited Feb 20, 2012 06:31PM) (new)

Cassia (Cassia11) | 23 comments Mallory, I'm ready to hop on that train with you right now. But for now, I'll just talk about how the book starts by characterizing Chris in a way that distances him from the reader. This though, is how he felt when starting his wonderful journey; did he not rid himself of his past identity to create a new one? Thus it only makes sense that the book would start by being distant from the protagonist, as that is how Chris felt about his own self: distant, dissatisfied, and divided. "Instead of feeling distraught, moreover, [we should feel]...exhilarated" by Krakauer's literary approach (29). Do not feel frustrated, as this separation from truth and identification is exactly what Chris was feeling before his travels. We continue to question his motives, and strive for answers, but if only we could think more like Chris, to not want to know everything, to "not want to know what day it is or where [we are]. None of that matters," we might be more open to this unique literary style (7). Krakauer wants us to feel dissociated from the protagonist, as this is what we are searching for both in the book and in ourselves: happiness, discovery, meaning.

message 14: by Maggie (new)

Maggie | 22 comments Wow, I find Courtney's post very intriguing. While reading this section of "Into the Wild," I found myself questioning the psychological state of McCandless many times. How can someone be so comfortable with ditching (almost) all parts of their life and essentially running away anytime someone gets too close? How can they be so okay with the extreme isolation?

It reminds me of what Bob Cowser once said about Henry David Thoreau, something along the lines of: "Yeah, Walden was a great experience, but we all know that Thoreau eventually came back." What I'm getting at is that, so far, I don't feel like McCandless has any intention of ever coming back to the real world after his big trek through Alaska (and obviously he never does, because he dies). There seems to be something a little bit off about McCandless, like what Courtney mentioned about the third-person journal entries and the desire to do everything alone. I don’t think that this is normal, even for Thoreauvians who want to experience this type of spiritual journey.

Thinking more about McCandless’s psychological state makes me think back to Perry from “In Cold Blood.” I feel like McCandless’s ability to cut people off so instantly and shamelessly (mainly his parents) might be able to parallel with Perry’s ability to kill people so instantly and shamelessly. Both instances cause a lot of questions and pain to arise that I feel like a “sane” person would try to avoid (keep in mind that I’m not trying to argue that abandoning your family is worse than murdering an innocent family of four).

I think that, had McCandless survived, he would be a very interesting case in a psychological study. I'm curious to know more about his childhood, mainly in those stages that Courtney mentioned about developing identity. It would be so interesting to see if there was anything in his upbringing that led to this desire to become isolated, or if it is more of a natural instinct that McCandless was almost born into.

message 15: by Meghan (new)

Meghan | 23 comments I will start with saying that as a result of seeing the movie Into the Wild many times, the character presented in that piece versus the one in the novel, is certainly skewing my opinion towards the novel negatively. So far, I am not impressed by Krakauer’s work. My greatest disappointment is the form in which Chris is portrayed. He is supposed to be free, happy, and excited by the life he has chosen; he is free of everything and everyone that has ever caused him dismay and irritation. He was, as others described him, “off in his own universe.” (40) However, in the first sixty pages, there were countless accounts of Chris’ anger and inhibition. “His jubilance, however, was short-lived” (34) “Completely demoralized and frustrated, he lays in his canoe at day’s end and weeps” (35) “A very fateful day. In great frustration…”(36) “Temperamental…had a lot of complexes.” (42) “He’d just roll his eyes at me, get peeved, tell me to quit trying to mother him.” (45) He wants to leave everything behind, be unaware of the date, time, and all events that existed outside of his own little world because none of that meant anything to him anymore. His jubilance and enthusiasm in his new life should be jumping out of the pages, yet his character perplexes me. I suppose that is due to the fact, as many others have concluded, that we are left disconnected from Chris himself, making it nearly impossible to know his true thoughts and emotions. I wish that the entire book was a direct account of his journal with much less of the interjection that Krakauer admitted he was going to include from his own experiences…this is supposed to be Chirs McCandless’ story, not Jon Krakauer’s, yet I feel as though I am getting a mixed version of the two which has created a protagonist that is impossible to understand. As Maggie just wrote, his psychological state is questionable, on the brink of being beyond our comprehension as normal people living in the regular world that Chris has chosen to evacuate.

message 16: by Ali (new)

Ali Hiple | 23 comments I really like that Courtney and Maggie dug into the psychology of McCandless. It wasn't something that even crossed my mind initially while reading, but now that they bring it up it makes a very interesting point. Not just anyone would up and abandon such a seemingly comfortable and successful life, as McCandless did. It certainly may point to a certain psychological quirk. However, when writing to Westerberg about the town of Bullhead, he says "I might finally settle down and abandon my tramping life, for good" (39). This, coupled with the handful of times that he introduces himself with his real name, or the time when he gives his real address, indicates that as radical as his adventure may be, perhaps it truly was just a phase for him. In my mind this uncertainty makes him all the more intriguing to investigate as a character.
Almost everyone in the discussion has mentioned a strong desire to know more about McCandless as a person, and I think this is interesting given the obviously strong influence his character had on those he encountered. So strong, for example, that he is able to influence an eighty-one year old man to abandon a secure life for one on the road (58). He had a powerful effect on just about everyone he met, and now on us as readers. This power that McCandles had over those he met in real life is present even when we are simply reading about him in a book. I believe this may be due to admirable talent on Krakauer's part, and I applaud him for that.

message 17: by James (last edited Feb 27, 2012 11:08AM) (new)

James Augustine | 19 comments Chris McCandless shows courage an independance in an admiral way by leaving his home town and heading north. In my mind, Christopher is a intelligent young man with two motifs to take this adventure, "into the wild." One, is that his parents relationship has proven to have signifciant residual affects on Chris and depsite whether or not he is aware of this it is abundantly clear that his parents have created this image of "society" that haunts Chris. Chris has this goal to battle and kill the false being within himself. It is his obsession with individuality, nature, reading, and mostly the fear of finding himself living in the confined world that so many of us do, just as his parents did, that terrifies him to the point of self-ostrasization. It is a great book and one that has merit in the fact that many of us live in unhappy circumstances and never change based on the fact that we are simply afraid of the unknown, as it can be scary, but it can also prove to be exhilarating in ways one can not imagine.

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