Friday, September 3, 2010

28. "Into the Wild" by Jon Krakauer

Krakauer, Jon. Into the Wild. New York: Villard, 1996. Print
207 pages
Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

Into the Wild is a nonfiction piece about Chris McCandless, a young, ambitious man with a rigid morality. After graduating from a prestigious university, Chris burns all of his identification cards, donates his money to Oxfam, and hits the road. Starting out in a car, he later abandons his vehicle to trek across the United States on foot.

Chris lived with a rigid sense of morality and truth. He was passionate about living an honest life, and knowing people beyond just a surface-level interaction. He met many people on his way. He worked for a while on a farm in South Dakota, and lived in the desert in Arizona with fellow wanderers.

His sense of adventure ends up leading him to Alaska where he dies of starvation. The book is written in such a way that this fact isn’t surprising or shocking to the reader. Krakauer states up front in the very first chapter that Chris was found dead in Alaska: “In April 1992, a young man from a well-to-do East Coast family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. Four months later his decomposed body was found by a party of moose hunters” (ix).

I use this book for my “College Research and Writing” course at the University of Northern Iowa. I always ask my students whether they think starting the narrative this way is a good editing choice and I get mixed answers. I, myself, thought it was interesting. One of the reasons I continued to read the book was a curiosity about how Chris died and why. Was it a suicide? The theme of suicide comes up repeatedly in this text. Readers must decide for themselves as there is no real substantial answer given. Krakauer leans towards the argument that Chris’s death was an accident, but really there is no way to prove this (either way).

This text is wonderful to use in my writing class because it provokes discussion about ethical research. Is Krakauer presenting his research of Chris accurately and objectively or is he manipulating it in some way? Chris’s family is still living, so what did Krakauer have to do to be sensitive and respectful to them? How does their presence affect the information that Krakauer chooses to disclose?

When I read this book for the first time, I read it cover to cover in a day. I loved it and was intrigued by the questions it provoked for me. In all, it is a good read!

Bookshelf Project Status: KEEP

3.5 darts out of 5

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