A Rhetorical Analysis Of Into The Wild
The story of Chris McCandless has captivated the American audience for years. Though it is unknown what exactly occurred during his trip to Alaska, there is much speculation. In the search for evidence to determine the events that occurred during his journey, Jon Krakauer developed a compelling theory in his book, “Into the Wild”. Through the use of investigative journalism, he was able to capture Chris’s character and motivation for venturing into the Alaskan bush. In order to convince the audience of his theory of what happened to McCandless, he utilizes a variety of rhetorical strategies and devices.
Krakauer appeals to the logos strategy by providing reasoning using the evidence he had acquired, from testimonies to documents. For example, he had brought up that the advanced books that Chris had read may have fueled his defiance to society; he had a passion for the works of Jack London, an author with anti-capitalist and pro-nature views that reflected Chris’s beliefs. Ironically, as Krakauer stated, “McCandless conveniently overlooked the fact that London himself had spent just a single winter in the North and had died by his own hand” (44). In addition to his interest in anti-societal views, his motivation to stray from humanity may have increased based on his own experience; an entry in his personal diary from his time in Mexico had described how he was able to live off of a “five-pound bag of rice and what marine life he could pull from the sea” (36) for more than a month. Jon Krakauer pointed out that since Chris overcame the harsh sea conditions, he might have thought that he could have fed off of the Alaskan land. However, McCandless’s plausible prediction turned out to be faulty as Mexico’s conditions were nothing like the frigid climate up North. Therefore, by using logic to draw conclusions, Krakauer was able to present enough evidence to prove why McCandless developed the motive of venturing into Alaska.
In addition to using logic, Krakauer appeals to the audience’s emotions to make them feel a connection with McCandless’s story. He mainly utilized sympathy to show how Chris’s death affected not only his family, but the people he met while on his journey. For instance, Ronald Franz, an elderly man who Chris had inspired to take a trip of his own, was deeply shaken at the news of his death; in response, he had turned into an alcoholic and “hoped it’d kill [him]” (60). The author also amplifies the audience’s sympathy by using the storytelling method; while sympathizing for a family’s loss is natural, Krakauer’s telling of the McCandless family’s backstory in Chapter Eleven gave them enough characterization to make the reader feel a heightened sense of attachment to them. Also, in order for the audience to believe Krakauer’s version of Chris’s story, they had to understand his character. People were skeptical of Krakauer’s theory, as observed when he had originally published his article regarding his account on what had happened; most readers had written off McCandless as an insane man and a bad person for abandoning his family. However, Chris redeems himself as capable of emotion when he felt grief for wasting moose meat; he had even called it “one of the greatest tragedies of [his] life” (167). By including this piece of information, Krakauer was able to provide depth into McCandless’s character to make him more “human”. Overall, Krakauer’s theory was more believable because he added the lens of pathos to let the reader connect with the characters.
Towards the end of the book, Jon Krakauer utilizes the appeal of ethos to establish his credibility by devoting a few chapters in explaining how he had once been in McCandless’s shoes before. Like Chris, he stated that his incentive was rooted in “a literary diet overly rich in the words of Nietzsche, Kerouac, and John Menlove Edward” (135). Also like Chris, Jon had formed personal connections with people he met along the way to the Devil’s Thumb, his ultimate destination. Both of them even shared the belief that they could live without the company of other humans. However, it is important to note that they weren’t completely the same—after meeting Kai Sandburn, Krakauer admitted that although he had “convinced [himself] for many months that [he] didn’t really mind the lack of intimacy in [his] life”, being accompanied by Kai left him “hollow and aching” (137). As for McCandless, on the contrary, one may not be so sure whether or not he craved the presence of human company that he lacked. By incorporating his own side of the story into his book, Krakauer uses the anecdotal method to draw parallels between his and Chris’s lives and make him appear credible to the audience. Thus, the reader is able to trust Krakauer’s theory of what had happened to Chris McCandless based on his own experiences.
As observed in “Into the Wild”, Jon Krakauer uses various rhetorical devices, especially logos, pathos, and ethos. Although many people believed that Chris McCandless was an insane individual, the author was able to support his evidence through logical reasoning, sympathy, and his own experiences. Through the utilization of these strategies, Krakauer drives a compelling case on what he thinks led to Chris’s demise. Despite the reader being the one to form their own opinion on who Chris McCandless was, Jon Krakauer provides an exceptional argument to influence their judgment.
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