Discuss the ways in which Jon Krakauer sets up an opposition
Write an essay in which you discuss the ways in which Jon Krakauer sets up an opposition between nature and civilisation in ‘Death of an Innocent’. Your answer should provide evidence from the text to substantiate your arguments.
“The strangely fascinating hero of Jon Krakauer’s strangely fascinating book Into the Wild is a young man who starved to death in the Alaskan wilderness in the summer of 1992. That is the starting point of a narrative that seeks to find out why we should care.
An electrician who had picked him up four miles out of Fairbanks pressed a pair of rubber boots and two sandwiches on the dangerously underequipped but charming hitchhiker, who would vouchsafe no name but Alex. His parents had named him Christopher McCandless, but in his travels he preferred the invented identity Alexander Supertramp. Alex shouldered his backpack—containing little more than books and rice—and his .22-caliber rifle and walked into the forest, to live off the land or die trying. It was April, still winter in Alaska.
Coming upon the impassable Toklat River, he gave up the idea of walking the 300 miles from Mount McKinley to the Bering Sea, Mr. Krakauer writes, and took up residence in a rusting Fairbanks city bus that had been fitted out as a crude shelter. He then entered on what he called, in a manifesto scrawled on a piece of plywood, ‘the climactic battle to kill the false being within.’
Somehow McCandless grubbed a living from the snows—gathering last year’s rose hips and wizened berries, shooting squirrels, ptarmigans, porcupines and finally, in June, with his puny little .22, a moose. He tried to smoke the meat, but his moose quickly spoiled.
By late summer, McCandless’s incompetence and overconfidence had caught up with him. The hunters who found his rotting corpse in September also found this note:
‘S O S. I need your help. I am injured, near death and too weak to hike out of here. I am all alone, this is no joke. In the name of God, please remain to save me. I am out collecting berries close by and shall return this evening. Thank you, Chris McCandless. August?’
Dying at the age of 24, he had resumed his real name.
“What was with this guy? Why should we care if he had no better sense than this? (The reactions of most Alaskans who read about his death ranged from annoyance to indignation.) And what ‘false being’? He kept journals, and in between silences would jabber out his ‘philosophy’ for hours, but the Supertramp’s ideas are never lucid enough to give us a clue.
And yet, as Mr. Krakauer picks through the adventures and sorrows of Chris McCandless’s brief life, the story becomes painfully moving. Mr. Krakauer’s elegantly constructed narrative takes us from the ghoulish moment of the hunters’ discovery back through McCandless’s childhood, the gregarious effusions and icy withdrawals that characterized his coming of age, and, in meticulous detail, the two years of restless roaming that led him to Alaska. The more we learn about him, the more mysterious McCandless becomes, and the more intriguing.
Wherever he went, McCandless sought out the detritus of the society of privilege whose child he was—the son of accomplished, prosperous parents (his father was an outstanding scientist with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration). McCandless detested the world of accomplishment and prosperity. When he graduated from Emory University (with a grade point average not far short of a perfect 4), he gave his inheritance of more than $24,000 to charity and, without a word to anyone, hit the road. What is fantasy in a Tom Waits song was McCandless’s notion of the good life.
If the world no longer offered the sort of wilderness that freely killed those who braved its dangers, then McCandless would create a wilderness within, discarding the rudimentary protections of modern life—matches, maps, even warm clothing. ‘In his own mind, if nowhere else, the terra would thereby remain incognita,’ Mr. Krakauer writes. Hardly eating, never letting his anguished family know where he was, nearly dying of thirst in the Mojave Desert, canoeing a storm-racked Gulf of California, setting fire to the last of his money, he vowed, as he wrote to an acquaintance, ‘to live this life for some time to come. The freedom and simple beauty of it is just too good to pass up.’