We have now seen many perspectives on multiple platforms of Chris McCandless’ story.



We have now seen many perspectives on multiple platforms of Chris McCandless’ story. These perspectives beg the question: What is the real story? What do we need to know to understand? We have considered Chris’ needs and goals, as well as the way that he influenced and continues to influence those who hear (consider Ron Franz) or read his story (consider those who even today make pilgrimages to the bus). All the while we have been learning on our own and having to ask ourselves questions mostly in isolation. These options attempt to address the big picture.

I. Is life on the road suited for everyone?

A question implicit in this book is whether something is fundamentally wrong with human society, which McCandless says poisons him, or if there is simply a type of individual who desires the friendship of other humans but can’t abide in society.

McCandless gives advice consistent with that view to Ron Franz, an 81-year-old man. He writes in a letter,

Don’t settle down and sit in one place. Move around, be nomadic, make each day a new horizon. You are still going to live a long time, Ron, and it would be a shame if you did not take the opportunity to revolutionize your life and move into an entirely new realm of experience. (57)

Ron Franz actually follows the advice and moves out of his home. Is this good advice for everyone, or only for a certain kind of person? Do you think McCandless’ advice stems from a viewpoint shaped by age, personality, or privilege? What does McCandless experience on the road that justifies the risks and discomforts of this kind of life? Make a clear argument and justify your claim using rhetorical strategies, evidence from the book, and other supports.

II. Is isolation suited for everyone?

While McCandless chose isolation, you have been living a kind of imposed isolation yourself over the past year or more during the COVID-19 pandemic. Have you seen any truth in McCandless’ view of a “poisonous” society? What would Chris say about our reaction to COVID-19? Do your perspective on your situation and that of our society take into account age, personality, or privilege?

In responding to this, first, explain McCandless’ views on isolation using supporting evidence, and then explain yours in reference to your own experience and other primary source materials, which can include your own journals and experience, as well as news articles or interviews of family members.

III. What kind of person was Chris McCandless, and what was he trying to do?

Jon Krakauer writes,

McCandless didn’t conform particularly 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—although precisely what is hard to say. A pilgrim, perhaps. (8)

What was Chris McCandless seeking in the wilderness? Do you think he found it before he died? What do you admire about Chris and what do you question? Considering these questions and Krakauer’s statement, write an essay in which you define who Chris McCandless was and explain what he was trying to do. Support your conclusions with evidence from your notes and your reading of the text and the other materials we have seen (his journal entries, the film version of Krakauer’s book, the “Back to the Wild” photo essay, the “Return to the Wild” documentary…).

IV. How do perspective and ownership of a story affect its value and authenticity?

Many of the texts and supports we have seen in evaluating Chris’ story come from different places. We have heard from Krakauer, and through Krakauer, we have heard from many of the people Chris McCandless met. We have seen Penn’s interpretation of the Chris McCandless that Krakauer presents. We have seen the story Chris’ parents put forward in the photo journal and that of the family documentary and of Carine in her Ted Talk. What changes and what stays the same? What is most “authentic”?

You can compare this to any other “story”. Your own story as you finish high school, for example- what do people expect of you? What do they think? What is authentic? Or you could choose a story you have seen play out in the media, in politics, sports, or social interest. Refer to articles, supports, and concrete documents to make your case. Regardless of the “story”, you choose — whose story is it to tell?

Use reference materials to explore the question: how do we arrive at authenticity, and is it even possible?

V. Do-It-Yourself

Do you have a related topic you would like to write about?
Pitch it to me. I will probably say yes.

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We have now seen many perspectives on multiple platforms of Chris McCandless’ story.


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