Early Life and Background
Contemporary discussions do not commonly employ the name Christopher Johnson McCandless. McCandless experienced peak popularity in the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, fueled by heightened attention following his death in 1992. Over fifty years ago, the author was born into wealth on February 12, 1968. His parents were his mother, who had worked hard as a secretary at Hughes Aircraft, a prestigious American aircraft company, and his father, a renowned antenna specialist who had supported NASA’s efforts. Christopher McCandless was born and raised in a time when the dominant American culture glorified life as a journey devoted to pursuing higher education, achieving career success, and amassing fortune. The insights made by the Huffington Post resonate with this cultural attitude. In the United States, a materialistic attitude began to take shape in the 1970s and eventually peaked in the late 1980s and early 2000s. At this time, a large portion of the American public measured their level of happiness in terms of their financial success, the flashy cars they could afford, and the luxurious homes they could afford.
From the beginning of his time at college, inner tensions deeply troubled McCandless, primarily finding expression in his open contempt for the dominant materialistic culture. He held a deep conviction based on the idea that people have the capacity and intrinsic right to exist free from the restrictions of material possessions. According to McCandless’s theoretical framework, life transcended the mundane and isolated confines of a desk job solely dedicated to financial gain pursuit. According to McCandless, the essence of life remained untouched by the relentless pursuit of wealth, the acquisition of extravagant possessions, or the assumption of positions of authority. From his astute viewpoint, one should characterize life by cavernous endeavors rather than tying it to the conspicuous exhibition of wealth. He knew that there was a world much more important than worshiping things and that the true meaning of life lay in experiences that went beyond the boundaries of materialistic devotion.
Upon finishing his graduate studies, McCandless did something remarkable and unconventional—he donated most of his savings to a charitable organization. Although viewed as his first postgraduate endeavor, this philanthropic gesture aimed to challenge and disprove materialism. Through his implicit message, McCandless expressed a deep understanding that survival in the post-academic era was more important than financial gain. Regularly rejecting the typical path after completing a bachelor’s degree, McCandless chose an adventurous journey, immersing himself in the uncharted territories of the wilderness and relinquishing the luxury and comforts of traditional existence. His travels took him across several states in the United States and, by illegal means, into Mexico. In an intentional act of financial independence, McCandless began his journey by purposefully burning the money he had on hand.
It becomes clear that McCandless was a quintessential nonconformist of his time—a bold young man who fiercely defied the comforting complacencies of the status quo and the attraction of worldly possessions. He is unique not only because of his unwavering rejection of the current quo in society but also because of his many successes in both the academic and non-academic spheres. McCandless amply displayed his abilities within the academic sphere by earning two bachelor’s degrees in history and anthropology, culminating in the esteemed cum laude honor. This academic success is a testament to his extraordinary intelligence and unwavering dedication to the knowledge’s search. In addition, McCandless demonstrated his skill in extracurricular activities by taking on the role of president of the cross-country club during his time in college. His status as a top track athlete in school further demonstrated his athletic ability and established him as a powerful presence in the intellectual and physical spheres.
McCandless was adamantly against having a materialistic outlook, seeing it as a poison that breeds greed in others. According to his insightful perspective, materialism nurtures and satisfies human desires rather than serving as a constraint. McCandless contended that the inclination for material acquisition takes a pervasive constraint on human autonomy while fostering an incessant desire for possessions beyond what is essential. McCandless suggests that the principles of materialism exert a restrictive impact on individuals, compelling them to adhere to monotonous routines. The relentless pursuit of material possessions driven by materialistic urges propels individuals on an unending quest to accumulate wealth. As a result, people become enmeshed in lengthy and arduous work routines due to their unquenchable need for money achievement, which drives them to grab any job opportunity. Dedicating their entire lives to repeating monotonous tasks, individuals transform into automatons.
According to McCandless, materialism’s harmful effects go beyond personal gain and exacerbate social injustices, trapping weaker members of society in a condition of deprivation. McCandless strongly believed that accumulating wealth greedily while neglecting the pressing needs of the less fortunate, particularly hunger and suffering, was morally wrong. During his early years in high school, McCandless demonstrated a noteworthy commitment to bettering the situation of the oppressed. He spent many weekends traveling to the underprivileged neighborhoods around his home, having deep talks with people society had cast aside. McCandless’s compassion was evident in his frequent use of personal funds to purchase food for the homeless individuals encountered. His selflessness came to a moving head when he secretly gave a homeless individual a place to stay in his parents’ trailer, doing so without his family’s knowledge.
Adventure as a Counterbalance to Materialism
According to McCandless’ astute perspective, the transforming potential of adventure served as a counterbalance to the ubiquitous effect of materialism. McCandless saw traveling on an adventure as a purposeful and effective way to free himself from the bonds of material possessions. It was an intentional attempt to break free from connection to worldly possessions and, in the process, unravel the complex delusion created by materialism’s seduction. McCandless’s rejection of consumerism peaked during a deep and reflective two-year journey into the wilderness. At its foundation, this enormous voyage was a purposeful attempt to free himself from the limitations of materialistic paradigms and a genuinely spiritual and personal search. Through his personal experience, McCandless aimed to illustrate the innate resiliency of the human spirit and its ability to prosper without reliance on worldly possessions.
Fundamentally, materialism is a philosophical position that holds that everything in the universe is only real if it can be proven to exist materially or by empirical evidence. In a more narrow sense, materialism takes the form of a philosophy, according to which achieving material prosperity is the ultimate goal of life. Even if people don’t explicitly acknowledge themselves as materialistic, the persistent pursuit of financial gain over one’s lifetime is a noticeable sign of an intrinsic materialistic tendency. The realization that one can still be a materialistic person even if they don’t openly admit they are materialistic sheds further light on the nuances of materialism. It manifests itself when someone continuously focuses on the unrelenting acquisition of material goods, exposing an innate materialistic tendency. Despite professing opposing beliefs, the overt desire to amass more material possessions than necessary is a tangible manifestation of a bourgeois mindset.
In deliberate defiance of the prevailing materialistic trend of his time, McCandless intentionally diverged from the conventional path, sharply differing from his peers who pursued careers, jobs, and the accumulation of wealth post-graduation. Opting for an uncommon and intentionally simple lifestyle, McCandless deliberately chose to live a nomadic existence, showcasing a purposeful departure from the ordinary. McCandless’s choice to embrace a modest lifestyle, particularly one mirroring a nomadic existence in the wilderness, indicated a notable deviation from societal expectations and emphasized material wealth pursuit. He emphasized his steadfast dedication to exposing the apparent hollowness of materialism itself by purposefully rejecting materialistic accouterments. Summing up McCandless’s exceptional conviction, he unwaveringly believed that materialism was worthless, mere trash. He fervently worked to prove that human life could flourish despite succumbing to the allure of materialism.
- Eriksson, M. (2021). Resistance to Materialism in Into the Wild. English for Subject Teachers 61-90.
- Nelson, J. (2023). The Christopher McCandless mystique continues. Jim Nelson.
- Ornelas, K. (2022). Into the Wild: A Modern Wilderness Narrative. Colorado State University.