Analysis of Rhetoric in "Into the Wild" by Jon Krakauer

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The author of any novel has a vital role in the portrayal of his subject to the audience. Author Jon Krakauer is no exception to this principle. In his 1996 novel Into the Wild, Krakauer masterfully manipulates the elements of rhetoric in order to convince his audience that his subject, the elusive Chris McCandless, was not merely a crazy, arrogant and ignorant kid and that McCandless’ quest for truth in the wild is the same quest that every man goes through. Krakauer writes under the assumption that the majority of his audience has a negative perception of McCandless, seeing him to be one of the “others,” a category of crazy adventures whose suicidal predispositions lead them to meet their fate in the wild.  Krakauer contradicts this through the use of different rhetorical appeals- to logos, pathos, and ethos. He uses emotions and logic in order to prove to the audience that no, Chris McCandless was not who the audience believed him to be and that there is much, much more to the story than a single gravestone in the Alaskan wilderness.

        The most obvious rhetorical appeal in this novel is Krakauer’s appeal to logos, which he establishes through the use of factual evidence. When describing McCandless’ family history and past achievements, Krakauer notes that “… Chris graduated from Emory University in Atlanta, where he’d been a columnist for, and editor of, the student newspaper, The Emory Wheel, and had distinguished himself as a history and anthropology major with a 3.72 grade-point-average” (20). Krakauer uses factual details from McCandless’s life in order to show the audience that McCandless was not, in fact, crazy. In this example, Krakauer is relaying McCandless’s high achievement throughout college- good grades in a well-established major, participation in extracurricular activities, and committing to graduating college. By stating credible facts, Krakauer creates an appeal to logos, otherwise known as an appeal to logical thinking. It cannot be denied that McCandless indeed had his act together throughout his life. Krakauer continues this appeal in the presentation of McCandless’ journal, relaying “Although the tone of the journal… often verges towards melodrama, the available evidence indicates that McCandless did not misinterpret the facts; telling the truth was a credo he took seriously” (29). Throughout the novel, Krakauer takes out excerpts from McCandless’s journal throughout his travels, allowing the audience a first-hand account of the ordeals that McCandless went through in his time in the wild. Krakauer states here that the journal was indeed reliable and can be used as sufficient evidence for his argument; McCandless may have been dramatic in his accounts, but he didn’t lie. This is an appeal to logos (as well as ethos) in that it provides logical facts to show that McCandless was not insane as the audience had believed; if he was indeed crazy, his journal accounts would have shown evidence of this wayward thinking, as in the case of the demented “countercultural idealist” from 1970 whose journal contained incoherent ramblings about “truth.”

        Krakauer continues his appeal to logos through his use of inductive reasoning, using examples from experience in order to draw conclusions about McCandless’ character and situation. Krakauer starts at the beginning of McCandless’ life, drawing from evidence found in McCandless’ early years, where the author states ““At the age of two, he got up in the middle of the night, found his way outside without waking his parents, and entered a house down the street to plunder a neighbor’s candy drawer” (106). Krakauer recounts how McCandless was known for over-the-top, risky behavior at a young age, escaping his house at two in order to travel in the dark to a neighbor’s house for candy. McCandless obviously had a desire to seek danger, even as a two-year-old, and an apparent disregard for his own safety as well as not having a grasp on the concept of his own mortality. He here reasons that McCandless always had these traits, they were innate and would be born and die along with him. McCandless could not help the fact that he was supremely overconfident; he was simply born that way. Evidence from McCandless’ disposition in his childhood years then can pertain to his disposition at the time of his Alaskan adventure, proving again Krakauer’s point that McCandless was not stupid, just simply over confident in his abilities. In order to further his claim about McCandless’ sanity and outlook going into Alaska underprepared, Krakaeur recalls when McCandless survived in Mexico with limited supplies, recounting “For that entire period he subsisted on nothing but five pounds of rice and what marine life he could pull from the sea, an experience that would later convince him he could survive on similarly meager rations in the Alaska bush” (36). In this particular example, Krakauer recounts how McCandless survived for his entire Mexican trip on nothing more than the minimum food supplies: rice, water, and hunted animals. Having survived on so little before fed McCandless’s hubris, his over confidence in his abilities despite the apparent faults that come with this Achilles’ heel of his. Krakauer points out to the audience that McCandless, while supremely over confident, had some experience in surviving in the wild on meager rations; he knew what he was dealing with and what it would take in order to obtain the needed food, although the Mexican desert cannot be compared directly to the harsh Alaskan tundra.  By using factually-based reasoning, Krakauer proves to his audience that there were many, logical reasons that explain why McCandless made the decisions that he did and that blatant stupidity and a death wish were not a part of these reasons.

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        While establishing an appeal to logos, Krakauer continues to inundate his work with more rhetorical appeals, including an appeal to pathos, or emotion. One specific strategy Krakauer uses to make this appeal is using excerpts from other literature at the beginning of each chapter. In introducing the third chapter, Krakauer uses an excerpt from Tolstoy’s “Family Happiness,” which goes as follows: “’I wanted movement and not a calm course of existence. I wanted excitement and danger and the chance to sacrifice myself for my love. I felt in myself a superabundance of energy which found no outlet in our quiet ...

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5 stars ***** This is a beautifully written, logically argued essay which focuses on the author's intentions and analyses the probable reaction of the reader. All statements/arguments are intelligent and insightful and are supported by appropriately selected quotations. This is an excellent essay - thoughtful and detailed which shows a real understanding of the subtleties of the author's craft.