With a substantial shift in focus from fiction to non-fiction texts, engaging and true stories are highly sought after in the modern classroom. John Krakauer’s Into the Wild offers a unique and enigmatic view of Chris McCandless, the college graduate who discarded his life within society and eventually met his demise in the Alaskan wilderness. Using editorials expressing opposite views of McCandless, students can evaluate effective arguments and writing methods while also considering their own personal views regarding whether Chris McCandless should be celebrated or criticized.
Into the Wild is a sprawling text, jumping between Chris’s narrative and Krakauer’s personal experiences with erratic chronology and organization. If time permits, it’s beneficial for students to read the text in its entirety – it truly is a great read. If time is limited, excerpts from the novel will serve as a solid base to give the basics of McCandless’s journey. Keep in mind that the novel uses foul language at times, and heavily explores Chris’s death (it’s not for the faint of heart). In addition, clips from the film can be found on YouTube.
Before jumping into the articles, which express people’s opinions of McCandless, students can be encouraged to express their own personal opinions based on the evidence given. A debate or mock trial is an excellent way to create engagement.
About the Articles
The two selected articles provide opposing views of Chris McCandless. “Remembering Christopher McCandless 20 Years Later” by Pete Mason shows the more ‘poetic’ perspective of McCandless, denoting how he has inspired many to escape their comfort zones and truly experience life. On the other hand, “Chris McCandless from an Alaska Park Ranger’s Perspective ” by Peter Christian gives a more pragmatic view, outlining how McCandless was merely an underprepared dreamer who essentially committed suicide by not respecting and understanding his surroundings. Both articles use varying persuasive techniques that can be dissected.
Techniques to Examine
Bias: The possibility of bias (prejudice in favor of a certain side) in the articles should be discussed first and foremost. As an Alaska park ranger, Peter Christian's job is to discourage risky behavior in "the Last Frontier," causing a bias against Chris McCandless.
Appeal to Credibility: Although causing a bias, Christian's role as a park ranger also makes him a credible source of information regarding the Yukon. He has experienced the environment firsthand. Pete Mason, on the other hand, gives no indication that he has been to Alaska and seems to have little in common with McCandless himself.
Appeal to Emotion: One front on which Mason has an advantage is Appeal to Emotion, or the ability to create an emotional response in the audience. Lines such as "remembering his life and death evokes revered pause, for he inspired me to stop wasting life and get off my ass and live" cause reverence for McCandless by inspiring the audience.
How to Analyze the Articles
There are multiple ways to analyze these articles in a classroom setting. They can be examined collectively as a whole class, with individual examples of writing techniques pointed out as the pieces are read (for example, appeal to authority can be explained in Peter Christian’s article since the author is a credible source due to his profession). An interactive whiteboard can show the examples in the front of the room.
Alternatively, the class can be split in half, with each half receiving one of the articles. Individually, students can read the article and record/underline particularly persuasive sections. After working individually, students can collaborate with others who were assigned the same article, and share their findings. Finally, the groups can teach the rest of the class about their assigned article, and particular techniques can be highlighted.