After the close of the conversation between Westerberg and Krakauer, Krakauer leads the reader through several episodes in McCandless’s life that immediately preceded his departure for the wild. McCandless’s habits at school and his relationships with others testify to his austere intellectualism and his unpredictability. Especially telling details like his academic success but his continued discontent delineate his character as stubborn and unconventional despite his talent. Information about his class background and family life prime the reader for later interviews with them. In a general sense, the background information compiled in the second half of Chapter Three lends ironic depth to the impression of Christopher McCandless held out in the beginning of the chapter. His ability to pass himself off as a lean, hungry tramper with nothing but what he could carry is false. In fact, he could go home to his family whenever he wanted.
In fact, the book takes a noticeably dimmer view of McCandless in general. While Krakauer's whole "I'm just like McCandless myself" segment certainly implies a lot of sympathy for him, he doesn't hesitate to judge him, either, and he highlights points where McCandless was arrogant, insensitive, flippant, and dismissive–where he tells his sister Carine that their worried parents are "fucking nuts" and "a bunch of imbeciles," or responds to the question of whether he has a hunting license with "Hell, no. How I feed myself is none of the government's business. Fuck their stupid rules." Contrast this abrasiveness with the scene in the film where he faces off against a park ranger about the question of boating down the Colorado River, and is met with indifference, contempt, and senseless regulations that would put him on a four-year waiting list for the trip. Rather than ranting about fucking the government's stupid rules, McCandless seems to find the red tape hilarious, and of course he does what he wants anyway, and no harm comes from it. (There's no parallel to this scene in the book, nor to the follow-up where, while boating and dodging the authorities, he meets the free-spirited Europeans out on the riverbank.)
Anon—Sorry for the lateness of this response. You have some good points and I’ve put off writing back because I haven’t had adequate time to properly respond. I’ll address your points one-by-one.
1. “You say that by equipping himself as he did he knew exactly what he was doing. I would respond by saying he obviously didn't. I think he knew what he was trying to achieve, but unless he was truly suicidal, which I guess we both agree he wasn't, he failed.”
McCandless picked one of the most wild and dangerous places on earth—a place he knew would challenge him like nowhere else. I believe he knew he might not come back. That’s not to say he was suicidal. I mean to say that he wanted a life-or-death struggle. And while it’s obvious he wanted to make it out alive, he was willing to risk his life in hopes of having a truly transformative experience. Whether he had that experience or not would, for me, determine if he succeeded or “failed.” I don’t think his success or failure should be measured by whether he lived or died.
2. “Most people would disagree with you that winding ‘up dead and missing on that mountain, that was no one’s business but my own.’ If you, or I, or anyone, are seriously injured or killed in the boonies, it's going to cause a whole lot of expense, anxiety and trouble for other people.”
I suppose it’s true that other people and institutions would get involved. But shall I make my life decisions based on how I think government institutions will respond? I believe parks should be wild and free, devoid of roads and facilities. I believe we should be able to walk in freely—die in there freely if we so choose—and walk out without ever having to sign a form. This, obviously, is not how parks are today so my dying—as you pointed out—would cause more chaos than I would like.
3. “People aren't ridiculing the dream, they are criticizing the bad decisions McCandless made while pursuing his dream.”
You have a point here. Yet, I do think there are a lot of people who are offended with the dream in the first place, while others—as you point out—are primarily flustered with his bad decisions.
4. “perhaps you meant he wasn't stupid, but chose to be ignorant. Otherwise it would seem to be self-contradictory.”
Yes, you’re right. That would have been a better way to phrase it.
5. “Was McCandles even in a wilderness? Wilderness: "An unsettled, uncultivated region left in its natural condition." He was living in a bus, on a trail that was good enough for the bus to have driven in on.”
While there was a bus and a trail, there was also a raging river cutting him off from civilization. I don’t think we should be too picky with what’s wilderness and what’s not. Was he then in “civilization” because there was a bus and a trail? Of course not. Thus, there is a wilderness-civilization-continuum, and I think most people would position McCandless’s setting darn-near close to “wilderness.”