Although precisely on target in his assessment of Chris McCandless being in touch with the bare-bones essence of nature, Gordon Young”s preceding description of Chris should be rephrased: A profoundly Un-American figure, uncompromising in his approach and thoroughly optimistic about the future. For Chris McCandless did not set out to show or prove his American character.
Neither does he approve or want to exemplify a true modern American character, because true American character does not seek solitude, preferring the saddle to the streetcar, or the star-sprinkled sky to a roof, or, especially, the obscure and difficult trail, leading into the unknown, to any paved highway and the deep place of the wild to the discontent bred by cities, as states Everett Ruess.
In fact, in today”s world of never-ending comforts and conveniences, nature and getting away means setting up a tent in the backyard, or driving our RV to a campground, plugging in the heat, the television, and the cell phone and drinking a beer. Yes, Chris McCandless exemplified what it is to be unconventional, untraditional, nature-loving. What”s more important, Chris showed us a particular degree of freedom, what true liberty is about–the freedom not only of the individual, but the freedom of something much higher than that–the freedom of the mind. Freedom from societal restraints of always having to be someone, playing some role.Order now
More than anyone, so far, Chris has shown me a true identity, for in a place where one is alone for miles around, a place where survival is an hourly task, where the only surroundings are the wild life, where one is surrounded by constant paradoxical issues beauty and danger, life of nature and death in nature, physical restraints such as hunger and complete freedom of the intellect and mind, a place where the only companions are Leo Tolstoy, Henry David Thoreau, and Jack London, themselves unimposed individuals with a capacity to love nature and a desire to be free–if in such a place a man cannot be simply a man, his own self–there will never be such a place and time of individuality. If one cannot find an identity–his true self– here, he will never find it. It is an interesting concept, nature and freedom. For nature allows us to escape from our time–our societal-imposed schedule, our time clock and switch to nature”s clock–an interesting concept, for, if anything, it restricts us in many different ways: sundown signifies sleep and cold, rain shows us unavoidable wetness and misery, and dawn is a time of awakening. Thus, in some ways, it is a restriction.
Spiritually, however, it is a freedom through connection with nature–going at nature”s pace, at a NATURAL pace, not at our own artificially-created, societal-imposed pace. Nature also signifies another sort of intellectual freedom: the freedom to be yourself, the freedom from having to play a role. And in this way, nature is an ultimate test: without the cell phones and guns, the air conditioning and gasoline-powered conveniences, the individually-wrapped Twinkie bars and packaged water, are we strong enough ourselves to survive within the nature without all these conveniences we”ve created for ourselves? It is a test of worthiness of our existence on this planet, worthiness of claiming ourselves as a part of nature.
Chris showed us, and the nature, that some of us are at least strong enough to attempt such an existence, to undergo such trial: he tried proving to the nature that we, as people, are worthy of such a claim. Chris, however, did not set out to prove anything to nature, or really, to anyone. Chris” journey was a spiritual one, and a selfish one so selfish, in fact, that he did not care about the effect of his actions on others, such as his family. Chris did not raise pledges and donate that to charity although he did give away his possessions and savings in an effort to rid himself of superficial baggage. Nor did he publicize what he had set out to do. Chris” journey was a personal crusade of a search for inner and outer solitude, of life off the land, of ridding self of that which hinders us from being ourselves.
His was a search of what life is about, and I greatly admire his personality, his intellect, and his strength in having done what he did. I admire his quest for knowledge, his seeking own identity, and what he might find as well as, to a certain degree his naivety and stupidity, although this is what killed him, yet both of these are what kept him on this quest. The saying God watches out for fools and drunks is true in Chris” case–God kept him safe for a long time so that Chris could discover what he discovered for himself. No, Chris certainly does not represent an American character in today”s society–he represents and can be associated with someone from the great tradition of American literature, from Huck Finn to Jack London and from Thoreau to Ernest Hemingway.