Quote 4

As a youth, I am told, I was willful, self-absorbed, intermittently reckless, moody. I disappointed my father in the usual ways. Like McCandless, figures of male authority aroused in me a confusing medley of corked fury and hunger to please. If something captured my undisciplined imagination, I pursued it with a zeal bordering on obsession, and from the age of seventeen until my late twenties that something was mountain climbing. (134)

In vivid, first-person language, Krakauer makes explicit a parallel between his own youthful anger and desire for acceptance and Christopher McCandless’s fate. The passage asserts a connection between Krakauer and McCandless upon which all of Into the Wild’s vivid description and psychological insight depends. In other words, the passage plays a key role in establishing the narrator’s authority, since the progression of his investigation revolves around his personal, necessarily subjective interpretation of material McCandless left behind. The adjectives Krakauer uses to describe his younger self (“willful,” “self-absorbed,” “intermittently reckless,” “moody”) and the powerful emotional metaphor of the “confusing medley of corked fury” strengthen his perceived expertise. Time and again, he picks out the same qualities in McCandless, whether he is analyzing the books, diaries and graffiti McCandless left behind or discussing conversations with his family and friends.

In its form, the passage mimics the increasing specificity with which Krakauer approaches his subject’s psychology throughout Into the Wild. The narrator’s obsession with mountain climbing is relayed in general, abstract terms until the very end of the passage, when it gains sudden concreteness. McCandless’s life progressed from a vague obsession with travel and with an ascetic lifestyle that disdained material goods, money, and social status. He then began pursuing this goal with precisely “a zeal bordering on obsession,” which then flowers into obsession and leads him toward his death only a few months after he believes that he has found the new life he seeks. Krakauer’s language is tellingly careful, however, and places the aspects of his character that are most like McCandless’s in the past tense. Krakauer’s own adolescent zeal only ever “borders on obsession.”

Because of the way Krakauer constructs this and other passages, the reader never question whether Krakauer’s ideas or interpretations are illogical or biased in favor of McCandless’s full-blown, obsessive pursuit of solitary life in the wilderness. The passage also contains a subtle acknowledgement that Krakauer’s own self-knowledge came only through other’s perspectives of others. In the quotation’s first sentence, he makes sure to use the phrase “I am told” as a means of shoring up his account and also staking a claim for his role in interpreting McCandless’s life, since we cannot know ourselves or tell our own stories with any accuracy, especially when we are young.