Quote 5

One of his last acts was to take a picture of himself, standing near the bus under the high Alaska sky, one hand holding his final note toward the camera lens, the other raised in a brave, beatific farewell. His face is horribly emaciated, almost skeletal. But if he pitied himself in those last difficult hours—because he was so young, because he was alone, because his body had betrayed him and his will let him down—it’s not apparent from the photograph. He is smiling in the picture, and there is no mistaking the look in his eyes: Chris McCandless was at peace, serene as a monk gone to God. (199)

The final passage of Into the Wild brings together all the book’s themes and questions into a single, compact description of a found object that could be taken as a metaphor for both Christopher McCandless’s destiny and for Jon Krakauer’s careful collation of the evidence of his life. In other words, it provides a final justification for reading Into the Wild. In order to close out and unify the book’s two plots, the passage revisits the reasons a reader might find McCandless’s story dramatic: his youth, his terrible death, and his struggle against the wilderness outside him and the anger within him. Many of these ideas are recapitulated in Krakauer’s description of the photograph itself, particularly his physical suffering: “his face is horribly emaciated, skeletal.” At the same time, Krakauer speculates as to McCandless’s internal struggle in an abbreviation of all the character investigation he has performed in the book’s preceding pages.

Of high significance is that Krakauer emphasizes one of the book’s central themes, that of almost Christlike peace and happiness, of a monkish dedication to a single vision of a better life. In its ironic but intense cheerfulness, the photograph shows McCandless both at his most pathetic and his most heroic. Indeed it encapsulates Krakauer’s stated ambition in writing Into the Wild. It, like the book, depicts Christopher McCandless’s bravery and celebrates his otherworldliness, rather than condemning him for his selfishness or his recklessness. Krakauer’s simple, emphatic language finally refuses any argument that McCandless should be condemned for his attempt at living in the wild. If there is no mistaking the look in Christopher McCandless’s eyes, the passage implicitly insists, than the reader should remember him as happy. Into the Wild thus exists to commemorate the unusual happiness McCandless achieved. Krakauer establishes a final spiritual parallel established between “the wild” and God, rendering McCandless’s quest for a life in touch with nature as a mysterious abstraction, a beautiful idea as much or more than it was a need to rediscover a concrete reality outside society or civilization.