This story was published in the Anchorage Daily News recently and it was sent to me by Azzfan. The gist of the article is that the writer, Craig Medred, believes that Into The Wild, both the book and the movie, fail to tell Chris McCandless’ story because they ignore the fact that he may have been schizophrenic.
This is maybe an oversight on the part of author Jon Krakauer or it could have been undiagnosed, but the idea certainly raises some interesting questions.
Medred contends that we’ve been fed “a misrepresentation, a sham, a fraud” of a story that makes McCandless out to be a mythic figure who was setting out to find the “meaning of life.”
Someone who wanted to commune with nature, and lead a simpler existence, something we all yearn for at times. This endearing—some would say naive—a quality that makes the young man both appealing and confounding at the same time.
The writer of the article points out that McCandless took on a different persona in taking the name Alexander Supertramp and references notes that were left behind in McCandless’ journals as evidence that he had schizophrenia.
In his writings, Chris refers to himself in the third person regularly, sometimes writes vague, yet idealistic, references about his intentions, while at the same time waxing philosophically about getting lost in the wild.
Medred contends that McCandless wasn’t searching for anything in particular at all. Instead, He was running from something—perhaps his own inner demons.
From these observations, Medred concludes that McCandless had a mental illness that may have driven him into the wilderness.
Perhaps more controversially, the writer contends that Krakauer deliberately set out to create a folk hero, giving the subject of his book ethereal qualities that many people admire. The result is almost a cult-like following of McCandless that continues to exist even today.
When reading this, my first thought was that, of course, McCandless wasn’t necessarily searching for anything in particular. At least early on, he was running from something. He was running from his parents and the upbringing he had known.
He was running from the expectations they had been foisted upon him and the lifestyle he saw his family stuck in. He wanted no part of that way of life, and I thought that was adequately conveyed in both the book and the film.
As the story went on, though, I would say Chris did begin to search for things rather than just running away. He was searching for his own identity, away from his family and friends. He searched for some direction as to where he wanted to go with his life and what he wanted to do.
He was searching for simplicity and meaning. Things that many young men and women, graduating from college and beginning their adult life, can relate to.
Was McCandless schizophrenic as this author claims? That’s hard to say, and I’m hardly qualified to make that diagnosis. Clearly he did some strange things throughout his journey that not all of us can relate to.
That doesn’t make him mentally ill necessarily. There didn’t seem to be any indications that he had schizophrenia by other reports. Besides, wouldn’t it make for an even glossier story to have a “Crazy Man” wander off alone in the Alaskan wilderness?
And as to the idea that McCandless was altering his identity by going by the name of Alexander Supertramp, I say hogwash. Trail names are incredibly common, and some people adopt them as a badge of honor.
Anyone who has hiked for any distance on the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, or any number of other long hiking routes knows this. I always viewed Chris’s adopted moniker in that same fashion, never thinking much about it beyond that point.
From my perspective, we’re all just speculating at this point. Krakauer told a story when he wrote Into The Wild. Some people have chosen to make McCandless a mythic folk hero who is a curious side product of that story.
I personally don’t think that that was what Krakauer had in mind when he wrote his now-classic book. Of course, we all see what we want to see at times. To some, he might have been a folk hero. To others, he really was just plain crazy. It’s all a matter of perspective, and in the end, we all have to make up our own minds.
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