Mehakpal Grewal Professor King Work, Leisure, & Play April 13, 2011 How Krakauer Balances his Bias? Jon Krakauer’s non-fiction novel Into the Wild explores the mystery surrounding Christopher McCandless and his life before he inevitably ran off into the heart of the Alaskan wilderness in an attempt to discover himself in some manner. In order to tell this story as accurately as possible, Krakauer uses a variety of techniques to give different perspectives to Chris’ life.
The most prominent decision Krakauer makes though is in regards to his decision to try include or exclude himself and his views from the text. When telling Chris’ story, Krakauer takes an almost fully unbiased approach, and yet when he does present his biased empathy towards McCandless, he has full knowledge, and makes the reader fully aware. So, whether the reader ends up feeling empathetic towards McCandless or finds him rather selfish in dependent on how much they connect with him through his story.
Because Krakaeur is able to portray McCandless’ life with such finesse and accuracy, including his faults, while incorporating his own personal observations and similar life experiences, he ultimately lets the reader make up their own mind in regards to how they should feel toward him. In order to truly understand Chris’ story to the smallest detail, Krakauer put a great amount of effort into retracing his past up until his death.
As he states, “I spent more than a year retracing the convoluted path that led to his death in the Alaska taiga, chasing down details of his peregrinations with an interest that bordered an obsession” (Author’s Note 2). Even before the start of the novel, Krakauer points out that he followed Chris’ life like an “obsession” and became very attached to his story. Krakauer recognizes that his obsession or “bias” to the Chris will reveal itself throughout the story but makes a key decision in letting the reader know that he doesn’t “claim to be an impartial biographer” but does try to “minimize his authorial presence” (AN 2).
Krakauer, like most authors, has some type of bias. In his case, it would be even worse because of how close he got to Chris’ life and his emotional connection to the story. Despite this, Krakauer has already made it clear that his bias is there and his “convictions will be apparent” in order to “leave it to the reader to form his or her own opinion of Chris McCandless” (AN 3). So, while he may show empathy toward Chris throughout the novel, he gives enough perspective on Chris’ life for the reader to make their own decision.
Throughout the novel, Krakauer manages to show us a character, Chris McCandless, who can be seen in a positive or negative light depending on how you connect to his story. Krakauer points out how McCandless “took life’s inequities to heart” (p. 113). He mentions how “Chris didn’t understand how people could possibly be allowed to go hungry, especially in this country” and on one occasion “Chris picked up a homeless man… brought him home… and set the guy up in the Airstream trailer his parents parked beside the garage” (p. 113).
It is apparent here that Krakauer is painting McCandless in a positive light and possibly showing his bias in mentioning such minor details of his life. He also alludes to how Chris spoke out against the racial oppression of apartheid in South Africa and how Chris “believed that wealth was shameful, corrupting and inherently evil” (p. 115). However, he claims his view on wealth is hypocritical or ironic because he mentions how Billie, Chris’ mom, claimed “Chris was a natural-born capitalist with an uncanny knack for making a buck.
Chris was always an entrepreneur” (p. 115). He describes in detail how he grew vegetables to sell door to door when he was eight and started a neighborhood copy business when was twelve. Here, Krakauer is showing Chris’ hypocritical nature that has stayed with him throughout the years. Krakauer continues to show McCandless in a more negative light throughout the book. During Chris’ senior year at Emory, he “seldom contacted his parents and this caused Walt and Billie [to] grow increasingly worried about their son’s emotional distance” (p. 124).
He furthers this by describing how Chris’ parents sent a letter saying” You have completely dropped away from all who love and care about you. Whatever it is—whoever you’re with—do you think this is right? ” (p. 124). According to Krakauer, Chris saw this “as meddling and referred to the letter as stupid when talked to Carine” (p. 124). At this point, Krakauer is clearly pointing out Chris’ flaws and how he seemingly didn’t enough about his family to bother contacting them for long periods of time. He builds upon this when mentioning how Chris went on trans-continental journeys through he Mojave Desert and various places multiple times without saying a word. He even goes as far as to describe how in July 1992, 2 years after Chris left Atlanta, his mother awoke one night with tears rolling down her cheeks screaming, “I don’t know how I’ll ever get over it. I wasn’t dreaming. I didn’t imagine it. I heard his voice! He was begging, ‘Mom! Help me! ’” (p. 126). Krakauer could have deliberately left out such disheartening details that portrayed Chris in a negative manner, as someone who would make his mother suffer in such a way, but he included them in order to give the reader as much perspective on Chris as possible.
In chapters eight and nine, Krakauer interrupts Chris’ story to tell a few strikingly similar stories of journeys into the wilderness. Through these chapters, he doesn’t characterize McCandless in a completely positive or negative light. While describing the story of Everett Ruess, who disappeared while in a remote area of Utah, he points out that Ruess, like Chris, “was a loner but he liked people too damn much to stay down there and live in secret the rest of his life. A lot of us are like that –I’m like that” (p. 96).
So while drawing parallels to Chris’ story and personality, he describes Chris as a loner but is quick to point out that many people including him are like that. While most of us would consider loners as outcasts from society and see them in a negative light, Krakauer’s personal comments leave us feeling some empathy toward him as an individual. Here, Krakauer shows a balance between his own feelings and looking at Chris through completely unbiased eyes. Through chapters fourteen and fifteen, Krakauer diverges from Chris’ story once again when makes a comparison of his own journey into the wilderness to that of Chris’.
One would expect a very evident bias in these chapters that would show Chris in an overwhelmingly positive light but that is not the case. Although, Krakauer creates a parallel between his journey through Devils Thumb and Chris’ journey into the Alaskan wilderness, he is simply trying to give a different perspective to McCandless’ story. He mentions this is his notes when he claims he does this” in the hope that my experiences will throw some oblique light on the enigma of Chris McCandless” (AN 2).
His point is made clear when he ends his personal account of his near death experience by proposing, “In my case—and I believe, in the case of Chris McCandless—that was very different thing from wanting to die”(p. 156). So while some may argue Krakauer may be showing some sympathy toward Chris, this is only because his story struck a “personal note” in him (AN 2). Regardless of this, Krakauer’s willingness to show Chris’ faults in a similar manner balance out Krakauer’s moments of including himself and his bias within the story.
So, whether you end up liking McCandless to some sort of “hero” or find him rather selfish and irritating depends on how much you end up connecting with his story. Regardless of how you feel in the end, it is difficult to deny validity and effort Krakauer puts into this novel. He takes a mostly unbiased approach when telling McCandless’ story and even when the bias slips by, he makes it fully known to the reader. Krakauer might have a personal bias toward Chris but in capturing his story, he was able to keep a balance between showing Chris in a positive or negative light.
Krakauer recognized “McCandless came into the country with insufficient provisions, that he tried to live entirely off the country…without bothering to master…crucial skills” but he like Roman, can’t help identifying with the guy” (p. 180, 181-82, 185). Despite “identifying” with Chris throughout the novel, Krakauer ultimately allows the reader to make their own decision in regards to Chris and the decisions he made leading up to his death. Works Cited Krakauer, Jon. Into the Wild. New York: Anchor, 1996. Print.
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