Into the Wild' Materialism Essay

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A tragic hero can be defined as a “great or virtuous character who is destined for downfall, suffering, or defeat” ( In Sean Penn’s film Into The Wild, the protagonist, Christopher McCandless ventures away from home in seek of freedom from the world which is surrounded by materials and wealth. Growing up in a household that idealized success in the form of education and income, Christopher inevitably leaves this behind to find true happiness. This call to adventure he receives brought him happiness in ways that he was not able to achieve through living a life of security but rather was obtained through the love of one’s self and God’s creation. Dan Bronzite’s twelve stages of The Hero’s Journey can be used to characterize the general events that a hero endures through their quest to achieve an ultimate goal. In support of Campbell’s claim on heroes, Christopher McCandless establishes the idea that “happiness must be shared” through his journey to freedom.

In beginning his hero journey, Christopher McCandless grew up in an upper-middle-class household and succumbed to the pressures placed upon him by his family. His parents, being swayed by the societal ideal that money is the answer to happiness allowed Christopher to register his discontentment with materialism. His realization of unhappiness becomes more apparent during the last few years of schooling he was forced to endure. In believing there is more to life than a nine-to-five job, he decides to venture off into the wild with only the resources needed to survive, he states, “the core of man’s spirit comes from new experiences”. With graduating college, Christopher’s drive for new beginnings fuels his call to adventure, as stated in Bronzite's article, in hopes of getting away from the toxic world he currently lives in. Carine McCandless, Christopher’s sister, understood his drive for freedom by stating, “he had spent four years fulfilling the absurd and tedious duty of graduating from college and now he was emancipated from the world of abstraction, false security, parents, and material excess”. Christopher’s discontentment sparks his will to leave everything behind and put himself in a position that he is uncomfortable with leading him to answers that could not have been obtained from his current life. Going back to the basics of man, his unhappiness urges him to live in the wild.

Christopher’s eagerness to accept the quest was also surrounded by a second thought. Bronzite describes this stage as the refusal of the call, stating how personal doubts and fear of change can affect the motivations of the hero. In Christopher’s case, his doubts are led by his sister, Carine McCandless. He is very close to Carine and is saddened by the thought of leaving her alone in the toxic environment he is trying to escape from. Christopher is confident in being able to let go of the material wealth and privileges obtained by his family, however, he is more in doubt about how his sister will be on her own. Although this issue had to be considered before taking the final step to leave, Bronzite’s “refusal of the call” stage doesn’t fit into Christopher’s hero journey perfectly. There were no major setbacks that brought him deep personal doubt which made him rethink of embarking on his quest. In an attempt to cross the threshold, Christopher decides to start his journey by “giving his entire life savings to charity” and by burning his last few dollars along with his ID and any form of identification linking him to his past. By doing so, he willingly commits and begins to let go of all temptations that may hold him back from initiating his quest. His motivation for change can be explained when he states, “So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind”. This statement references how society has driven him to disconnect from the world and seek happiness in ways that others are too scared to try and achieve.

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Although Christopher was adamant about venturing on his own, he prepared by meeting knowledgeable people along the way to aid him in his journey. During his travels, Christopher encounters some allies in South Dakota who are able to provide him with insight that prevailed useful on his trek into the wild. They taught him how to hunt and skin an animal in preparation for life in the Alaskan wilderness; he gained companionship in return which shaped him into the hero he soon becomes. Christopher finds himself the happiest when surrounded by like-minded individuals such as when he meets the hippies on the road. He preaches love and forgiveness greatly impacting the couple, mending their relationship. Christopher states, “When you forgive, you love. And when you love, God’s light shines upon you”. His insight into love and trust builds his character and ultimately allows the audience to connect with him on a deeper level. As well as allies, Christopher encounters some issues that interfere with his progress. At one point in his journey, he becomes reminded of all the things he despises which drove him to cross the threshold. Being surrounded by drugs, homelessness, and the negative temptations of society, Christopher leaves the city in a rush with, once again, the feeling of overwhelming discontentment such as he felt when first leaving his home. Not long after, in an attempt to hitch a ride on a cargo train, he gets bombarded by a police officer who violently attacks Christopher and threatens to end his life. This event opens his eyes to the dangers of his journey ultimately setting him back. However, Christopher used these situations as more means to push through and complete his goal of living in the Alaskan wilderness, away from the toxicity of society.

The last few stages in Bronzite’s article do not come into play for Christopher McCandless. Christopher’s downfall occurs due to a lack of preparation, resulting in him forging the wrong berries and flowers which renders them poisonous. This mistake leads to his inevitable demise, ending his journey before getting the chance to return home with his learned experiences. Although his life did not follow many of the stages that are usually presented in Bronzite’s analysis of a hero, Christopher does come to a final conclusion that he obtained through his journey. In the last moments of his life, he states, “Happiness is only real when shared.” This message renders deeply to him and can be seen throughout his friendly encounters along the way. On his quest, he meets a diverse set of human beings that motivated his drive for freedom, greatly impacting his view of the world. He learns that many things in life can bring temporary happiness, however, he was able to achieve true happiness when surrounded by people who shared similar aspirations. His goal was to obtain freedom and get away from his past environment that was fixated on success through wealth; he achieved this by taking the initiative to venture off on his own, learning a valuable lesson about happiness which he was able to share with the world through his writings. His writings and journal entries he made can be seen as a way in which he was able to get his discovery out to the world. Although he was not able to personally share his findings with his friends and family, he succeeded in finding inner peace within himself by taking a different route and resisting societal pressures.

Bronzite’s analysis of a hero fits Christopher McCandless’s journey to freedom, to a certain extent. Christopher’s role in his ordinary world is what leads him to engage in a call to adventure. His apparent unhappiness is fueled by his family’s fixation on materials and wealth, urging him to change his way of life. There is no major event that guides him into refusing his call for adventure, however, Christopher does have slight doubts about leaving his sister behind in the toxic environment that he is escaping from. There is also not one sole mentor who impacted his decision to cross the threshold, rather, his self-motivation and self-will brought him there. Although he reigned successfully in taking the initiative to embark on his journey, he did meet enemies and was forced to face several tests that affected his progress in reaching his quest to Alaska. Christopher’s journey ultimately ends in his death, leaving the last few stages of Bronzite’s hero’s journey unmet. However, Christopher was able to realize that “Happiness is only real when shared”. Although he did not meet all the stages that Bronzite states in his article, Christopher can still be seen as a tragic hero, undergoing many of the many events that shaped his character. Due to his lack of preparation he was destined for downfall, however still prevailed as a virtuous hero in the end.

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Into the Wild’ Materialism Essay. (2024, February 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 18, 2024, from
“Into the Wild’ Materialism Essay.” Edubirdie, 09 Feb. 2024,
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