McCandless's journey into the wilderness is ultimately one of self-discovery and reinvention. Through his travels he transforms from a willful recent graduate, eager to break away from his stifling family, into a practiced wanderer and amateur mountaineer. Underscoring his transformation is his transition from his given name, "Chris McCandless," to "Alex," or "Alexander McCandless" on the road, to finally "Alexander Supertramp," on the Stampede Trail. McCandless's name changes document his shift in character and speak to the creation of his new identity. In casting off his family name, McCandless derives his new name, "Supertramp," from his life on the road, creating an identity that evokes this itinerant and trying lifestyle.
Krakauer pairs McCandless's reinvention of himself with the risky behavior he exhibits throughout his travels. For instance, Krakauer surmises that McCandless abandons his beloved yellow Datsun in the desert, instead of seeking help from the authorities, so that his parents won't find out and end his cross-country road trip. While Krakauer suggests that McCandless's new identity stems from his flirtation with danger, he also aligns his own daring climb on Devil's Thumb with McCandless's venture into the Alaskan bush. The young Krakauer believes that scaling this treacherous mount will transform his life for the better, paralleling McCandless's belief that living off the land in Alaska will also change his life for good. In the end, however, Krakauer realizes that such a risky escapade did nothing to fundamentally change him. What Krakauer does recognize in himself is a deep urge to test his limits and live on the edge, a willfulness he suspects McCandless of possessing. By inserting his personal experience into his investigation of Chris McCandless's quest for a "raw, transcendent experience," Krakauer shows that the path towards self-discovery is fraught with unnecessary risks that are more often life-threatening than life altering. Even so, he recognizes that such risks for "young men of a certain mind"—stubborn, passionate, idealistic and proud—hold an incredibly compelling power, like the thrilling unknowns of death or sex.
In describing his state of mind on Devil's Thumb, Krakauer writes, "At that stage of my youth ÉI was stirred by the dark mystery of mortality, I couldn't resist stealing up to the edge of doom and peering over the brink. The hint of what was concealed in those shadows terrified me, but I caught sight of something in the glimpse, some forbidden elemental riddle that was no less compelling than the sweet hidden petals of a woman's sex." While Krakauer indicates that a "raw, transcendent experience" is an elusive, almost inaccessible state of being, he does acknowledge the appeal of discovering one's self along the edges of death and danger, thereby suggesting that risk is a temptation, rather than a necessary component, of reinventing one's self.
Risk and Self-Reinvention ThemeTracker
Risk and Self-Reinvention Quotes in Into the Wild
In trying to understand McCandless, I inevitably came to reflect on…the grip wilderness has on the American imagination, the allure high-risk activities hold for young men of a certain mind, [and] the complicated, highly charged bond that exists between fathers and sons.
The trip was to be an odyssey in the fullest sense of the word, an epic journey that would change everything. [McCandless] had spent the previous four years, as he saw it, preparing to fulfill an absurd and onerous duty: to graduate from college. At long last he was unencumbered, emancipated from the stifling world of his parents and peers, a world of abstraction and security and material excess, a world in which he felt grievously cut off from the raw throb of existence.
…[McCandless] intended to invent an utterly new life for himself, one in which he would be free to wallow in unfiltered experience. To symbolize the complete severance from his previous life, he even adopted a new name. No longer would he answer to Chris McCandless; he was now Alexander Supertramp, master of his own destiny.
Can this be the same Alex that set out in July 1990? Malnutrition and the road have taken their toll on his body. Over 25 pounds lost. But his spirit is soaring.
Both father and son were stubborn and high-strung. Given Walt’s need to exert control and Chris’s extravagantly independent nature, polarization was inevitable. Chris submitted to Walt’s authority…but the boy raged inwardly all the while. He brooded at length over what he perceived to be his father’s moral shortcomings, the hypocrisy of his parents’ lifestyle, the tyranny of their conditional love. Eventually, Chris rebelled—and when he finally did, it was with characteristic immoderation.
McCandless didn’t conform…well to the bush-casualty stereotype. Although he was rash, untutored in the ways of the backcountry, and incautious to the point of foolhardiness, he wasn’t incompetent—he wouldn’t have lasted 113 days if he were. And he wasn’t a nutcase, he wasn’t a sociopath, he wasn’t an outcast. McCandless was something else…. A pilgrim, perhaps.
As a youth, I am told, I was willful, self-absorbed, intermittently reckless, moody. I disappointed my father in the usual ways. Like McCandless, figures of male authority aroused in me a confusing medley of corked fury and hunger to please. If something captured my undisciplined imagination, I pursued it with a zeal bordering on obsession, and from the age of seventeen until my late twenties that something was mountain climbing….Climbing mattered.
…like McCandless, I was a raw youth who mistook passion for insight and acted according to an obscure, gap-ridden logic. I thought climbing the Devils Thumb would fix all that was wrong with my life. In the end, of course it changed almost nothing. But I came to appreciate that mountains make poor receptacles for dreams. And I lived to tell the tale.
Two years he walks the earth…an aesthetic voyager whose home is the road….After two rambling years comes the final and greatest adventures. The climactic battle to kill the false being within and victoriously conclude the spiritual revolution….Ten days bring…him to the great white north. No longer poisoned by civilization he flees, and walks alone upon the land to become lost in the wild.
Many people have told me that they admire Chris for what he was trying to do. If he’d lived, I would agree with them. But he didn’t, and there’s no way to bring him back. You can’t fix it. Most things you can fix, but not that. I don’t know that you ever get over this kind of loss. The fact that Chris is gone is a sharp hurt I feel every single day. It’s really hard. Some days are better than others, but it’s going to be hard every day for the rest of my life.