Chris McCandless and David Thoreau’s Ideas

Subject: Philosophy
Pages: 5
Words: 1225
Reading time:
5 min
Study level: College


Chris McCandless does not pass as an ordinary person; no, he is a complicated person living a life defined by his principles; not by society. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer tackles McCandless’s life; starting with the discovery of McCandless’s dead body in a bus, Krakauer takes a journey back into McCandless’s life as a graduate through his disappearance to his survival and eventual death in the Alaskan forest. The book explores people who influenced McCandless like Jack London and Leo Tolstoy among others. Based on his journal entries and the books he read coupled with ideas he shared with others, it is evident that McCandless was greatly influenced by Thoreau’s writings viz. Civil Disobedience and Life without Principle.

McCandless Purpose in Life

As exposited in Into the Wild, McCandless went missing sometime in April 1992 probably due to the influence of Thoreau’s writings; for instance, in Civil Disobedience, Thoreau talks of government being at best when it rules not. Probably McCandless was displeased with the form of leadership in America at that time. Thoreau talks of the American government as one lacking, “the vitality and force of a single living man; for a single man can bend it to his will” (Thoreau 4).

The issues of bad governance and discrimination towards blacks stand out clearly in Thoreau’s arguments and this might have angered McCandless; something that made him feel like a prisoner to the government. In his Journal, McCandless says he, “basked in his newfound freedom” (Krakauer 19). However, why did he need freedom? This is because as previously mentioned; governance had never measured to Thoreau’s standards, an influential figure in McCandless’s life. McCandless, “shed unnecessary baggage” (Krakauer 20). The baggage of being governed by a government without the verve of one living man. Therefore, to show his displeasure, McCandless opted to live in solitude where he would not see the irregularities and injustices that stained governance because according to Thoreau, these are the only ways a person could rebel.

Thoreau insisted that citizens had the right to resist and rebel against the government and this must have gotten well into McCandless’s heart. Thoreau believed that the only tool that people would use to correct the government where necessary was conscience and rebellion. “All men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to refuse allegiance, to resist the government…” (Thoreau 10). McCandless understood this principle very well and decided not to be a part of a government that was violating human rights.

By paying taxes, he would support this governance, something contrary to his beliefs. Therefore, the only way he would ‘practically withdraw’ his support for the government was to live in a forest where he would, neither pay taxes nor see a violation of human rights. Krakauer notes that McCandless was, “stubborn and hot headed” (45). This stubbornness coupled with Thoreau’s philosophies gave McCandless the impetus to go on and live in the forest.

Moreover, by the time, McCandless entered university; he had developed “a sense of outrage over injustice in the world at large” (Krakauer 96). American governance was full of injustices that McCandless loathed. Therefore, his outrage led him to leave and live in the forest. He chose to live a solitary life that would prevent him from seeing human injustices. The only alternative that he had was to live in a forest with minimal human interactions.

As aforementioned, McCandless had idiosyncratic logics, and living in the forest was one of his personal decisions, which he did not expect everyone to agree with just as Thoreau believed. Thoreau posits, “The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at anytime what I think is right” (7). Moreover, McCandless opted to live in solitude at the heart of an Alaskan forest due to the influence of another Thoreau’s short story, Life without Principle.

As aforementioned, McCandless was a traveler; therefore, he chose to follow his dreams and pursue the things he treasured most viz. traveling and discovery. Krakauer insinuates that McCandless was probably a “pilgrim…he was not incompetent or an outcast” (76). Based on this argument, McCandless had all the reasons to leave the city and live in the forest. Thoreau in Life Without Principle says, “do not make religions and other such institutions the sort of intellectual comfort zone that prevents you from entertaining ideas that are not to be found there” (vii).

Consequently, McCandless could not allow societal institutions to bar him from ‘entertaining’ his ideas. In the forest, McCandless knew he would find this ‘entertainment’; therefore, “he donated the balance of his bank account (to charity), loaded up his car, and vanished from (his family’s) lives” (Krakauer 103). These idiosyncratic logics led McCandless into the forest; logics he got from Thoreau’s writings.

McCandless believed that “what is valuable about a thing is not the same as how much money it will fetch on the market” (Thoreau vii). McCandless’s most valuable thing was an adventure, a priceless thing in his life. This understanding justifies why he had the strength and guts to live in solitude. Finally, McCandless understood Thoreau’s last principle that “Don’t mistake the march of commerce for progress and civilization – especially when that commerce amounts to driving slaves to produce the articles of vice like alcohol and tobacco. There is no shortage of gold, of tobacco, of alcohol, but there is a short supply of high and earnest purpose'” (Thoreau viii).

Therefore, McCandless went into the forest to look for ‘purpose’. To him, the increase in commerce did not translate into progress in civilization, a direct influence from Thoreau. This resonates well with the first reason that he went to the forest as a sign of rebellion against governance. To him, money, gold, and all material things were insufficient to supply; however, purpose in life was outstandingly missing in humanity and he set out to fix this shortcoming. He was “heedless of personal safety” (Krakauer 45). He did not care much about his safety; thus, he would make it. Again, he was, “undeterred by physical discomfort” (Krakauer 46). Therefore, the fact that he would face discomforts would not deter his resolve. Consequently, into the forest, he went and lived a life of ‘purpose’ and solitude.


Chris McCandless was a peculiar person by all standards. He lived according to his principles regardless of whether they were popular amongst other people or not. Being an adherent of Thoreau, two reasons probably pushed McCandless into solitude forest life. Bad and poor governance has been around for quite some time now. Given the fact that Thoreau was against poor governance, and McCandless was his disciple, then it is logical to conclude that McCandless went into the forest in ‘silent resistance’ against bad governance. In the forest, he would not pay taxes; hence, not support poor governance in any way.

Secondly, McCandless went into the forest to pursue his dreams and entertain his life. As an adherent of Thoreau, he must have read Life without Principle and adopted its philosophies. This short story calls for people to get out of established institutions if they cannot find enjoyment in life. McCandless did exactly that; he moved to where he would entertain his life. McCandless’s purpose in life was to live according to his principles that called for following one’s heart and rebelling against poor governance.

Works Cited

Krakauer, Jon. “Into the Wild.” New York: Anchor, 1997.

Thoreau, Henry. “Life Without Principle.” Forgotten Books, 2008.

Thoreau, Henry. “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience.” New York; Filiquarian Publishing, 2007.