Attacking the Classics: Why Into The Wild was oblivious to the world around it

Into The Wild is a book by Jon Krakauer about the shortened life of Chris McCandless, a graduate of Emory University who didn’t like how society functioned and sought out his own path to “freedom” via dangerous adventure. He died from his adventure.

I can’t relate to this book at all, largely because it grossly neglects what’s happening in the United States during the timeframe in which McCandless formulates his belief system (for our argument, let’s say 1986-1992).

What was interesting about Into The Wild


Two main things emerge as noteworthy.

McCandless had a troubled relationship with his father, Walt. Jon Krakauer also has a somewhat contentious relationship with his father. It appears that what separates Krakauer and McCandless is the former’s ability to accept that his father had his flaws and was human despite his expectations of perfection; the latter could not forgive his father’s expectation of perfection when he didn’t practice said perfection.

These different outcomes deal with how one interacts with forgiveness. Accepting one’s humanity and imperfections can be tough, and not everyone is willing to work through such issues in order to forgive, learn and grow from them.

Another interesting topic is the method in which McCandless dies. The original theory of dying via the toxicity of seeds is shot down after the book comes out, as is another Krakauer theory of the Alkaloids component of the seeds being the culprit.

After a few more tries, the fifth estimate becomes the toxicity of the seeds caused paralysis, thus making it hard to hike, hunt or forage for food.

These two interesting tidbits are largely outnumbered by how oblivious Krakauer is to contemporary events unfolding close to McCandless’ journey.

la riots 2

What was blatantly ignored from the period between 1986 and 1992 by Krakauer

McCandless has some coincidental similarities when it comes to the timing of several events during this time period.

Iran-Contra was unraveling during the Reagan administration of the 80s. The Crack epidemic that led to the radicalized policing of Black and Latinx communities followed Iran-Contra, and its arguably most famous victim was Rodney King.

King and McCandless had some very coincidental dates line up with one another that Krakauer just flat out ignores.

rodney king

For starters, in February of 1991 (from page 37) McCandless is back in Los Angeles after spending some time around the Gulf of California and San Diego. He’s somewhere between Los Angeles and Las Vegas between February and May of 1991.

That makes it plausible that he was in or near Los Angeles when Rodney King was mercilessly beaten by five Los Angeles PD officers in March of 1991. The footage captured and released to news outlets led to local and national outrage for the clearly excessive force demonstrated.

Interestingly enough, when those same officers were acquitted for their involvement in April of 1992, McCandless was dropped off in Healy, Alaska to embark on his deadly journey at almost the exact same time.

One can only guess if McCandless ever followed/heard about King and the news reported prior to the Los Angeles riots—those riots began a day after McCandless embarked alone into the Alaskan frontier.

These two young men (McCandless being 24 years old, King being a month away from turning 27) perfectly juxtaposed experiences for Black and White people in America in the 1990s. 

It is baffling how McCandless, who as a student claimed interest in social inequalities, never journaled about the King case or the tensions boiling in Los Angeles during his time there. It’s also baffling how Krakauer failed to ever mention what happened outside of McCandless’ world.

That perspective might have added some thoughtful insight.

rk rip


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