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Nature Quest, or Spiritual Quest?

Deliberations on Chris McCandless

“And now after two rambling years comes the final and greatest adventure. The climactic battle to kill the false being within and victoriously conclude the spiritual revolution” (163).

The unconventional lifestyle Christopher McCandless led after his graduation at Emery leads one to believe that he had some very strong feelings towards society as a whole, and that he had been tormented by his idealistic views throughout college and the majority of his ‘escape’ from society. McCandless proved to be an extremely spiritual person, his views leading his recurrent voyages and eventually bringing him down the Stampede Trail of the Alaska Interior, into the wild where he would not be found until he had found God.

McCandless’ earliest known reference to spirituality dates back to his years in high school, where he became the captain of the cross-country squad. He liked to push himself and his teammates, one who claimed, “Chris would use the spiritual aspect to try to motivate us” (112). Likewise, Krakauer states “McCandless viewed running as an intensely spiritual exercise, verging on religion” (112). McCandless drew his teammates in, convincing them that there were all kinds of evil in the world and that doing well was a purely a mental struggle; if one could get past the ‘evil wall,’ he or she could run forever. This idea of incorporating spirituality into an activity can make it much more meaningful, and increase emotions and the drive to do it. Running itself can be considered a spiritual activity; competitive running requires absolute dedication in adherence to a set of standards. Running eventually becomes part of your lifestyle and beliefs. Chris not only believes in this, it is also his creed. He pushes his faith and principles on those around him, especially those he cares for deeply.

During McCandless’ voyage through the Western states, he comes across an older man named Ronald Franz. This man becomes extremely fond of McCandless, to the point where he asks if he can adopt him as a grandchild. Chris, of course, “dodged the question” (55) due to his fear of intimacy and becoming bound to society, but still remains dear to Franz, sending him a very insightful letter on his religious and personal aspirations. In this letter, McCandless makes reference to God three times, speaking of how beautiful the world is, and how to achieve joy: “God has placed it all around us” (57), Chris says, ‘it is in everything and anything we might experience.’ He views life as an adventure, this is unmistakable, but the way he approaches his adventure is with the underlay of spirituality. One must find and enjoy truth by disconnecting from everything he knows, and become part of what God has given us, not what we have created ourselves. Experiences are much meaningful when faced alone. One becomes more thoughtful and perceptive of what meanings these experiences have. In doing so, one becomes more connected with one’s own senses, spirituality, inner being, in the essence of God. In his letter, McCandless speaks condescendingly towards Ron Franz, telling him that his approach to life and living is incorrect, and advises him to “start seeing the great work that God has done here in the American West” (58). From the mixture of his feelings towards the young man, and his compelling words, Franz chooses to leave behind the ‘conventional style of living,’ sell his house, and move to the place where Chris had spent most of his time. Becoming such an influence on those around him, Chris left those dear to him with an image of himself as an ideal. His death brought the old man into a depressed state and led him to eventually drop his faith in God. “I renounced the Lord. I withdrew my church membership and became an atheist. I decided I couldn’t believe in a God who would let something that terrible happen to a boy like Alex” (60). Such an extreme reaction is a result of McCandless impacting Franz’s current belief of the word of God. He had rediscovered the meaning of religion as he knew it, and found it only through McCandless himself. Once the boy died, he saw no point in continuing.

The idea of chastity comes up, proving to be a prominent conviction in McCandless’ ideals. Speaking of high school, his mother states that she is unsure about any relations that he had with women, of whether he ever was intimate with them. “It seems that McCandless was drawn to women but remained largely or entirely celibate, as chaste as a monk… His yearning, in a sense, was too powerful to be quenched by human contact” (65,66). The first part is deduced by Billie, his mother, and the second by Krakauer. Celebacy is not only a common practice in many religions, but also a requirement for those in executive positions. One must devote his self fully to God, to the extent of not having sexual intercourse with others. There is no law refraining Chris from having sex, Chris found this resistance necessary for fulfillment.

When McCandless sets out for the Alaskan Frontier, the ultimate journey to find himself, he is more excited than he has ever been. As stated in the opening quote, he is setting out on a journey to ‘kill the false being within.’ The trek he sets off on is not only to forget whatever he may already believe, but also to find God, and eventually find himself. McCandless is an extremist, but a very poetic one. Monks are known to take vows of silence, not speaking for more than 3 years at a time. Krakauer does research on monks and reports it in the book: “Reading of these monks, one is moved by their courage, their reckless innocence, and the urgency of their desire. Reading of these monks, one can’t help thinking of Everett Ruess and Chris McCandless” (97). The vow of silence Chris takes is not the conventional one. He wants no sign of anything that would remind him of what he left behind. Stuckey, the last man to see him in person, tells Krakauer: “’Said he didn’t want to see a single person, no airplanes, no sign of civilization’” (159). Chris then sets out on his extreme vow of absence. Journal entries in his favorite books become the only written record of McCandless after he leaves Stuckey, and in them we find a list of days and what he has caught hunting that day. As the days progress he is unsatisfied with what nature has to offer, and writes about how he is having trouble finding food. One day, he kills a moose and is ecstatic about it. He takes a picture of himself in which he has an immense smile of accomplishment. Towards his last day, he writes a note on a piece of paper. He then holds it up in a photograph of himself. He looks as though he is on the verge of death, bones almost protruding from his skeletal legs, but he still has that smile of joy across his face. One can tell by looking at the photograph that he is truly happy, and he would not be if he had not found what he was looking for when he initially ventured into the Frontier. On the back of the note is written: “I HAVE HAD A HAPPY LIFE AND THANK THE LORD. GOODBYE AND MAY GOD BLESS ALL!” (199). Krakauer refers to the same picture, “He is smiling in his picture, and there is no mistaking the look in his eyes: Chris McCandless was at peace, serene as a monk gone to God” (199). He is then found by hunters several weeks after having died, in the back of the bus he called his refuge. Letters were sent to Krakauer criticizing McCandless’ acts in Alaska stating that his actions were: “idealistic, energetic… hardly unique… cliché” (71). Although the first two were indeed true, his endeavors were not hardly unique or cliché. He had a purpose, he found what he was looking for, and he gave his life willingly in the end. Even after his moment of weakness, trying to find a way back to society and food, he accepts his fate and dies smiling. McCandless’ abandonment of those fond of him make it difficult to appreciate his actions, but his motives are genuinely inspiring. He can now be an icon for the next Alex McCandless.

Bibliography

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

Literature


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