Degrees of Wilderness; a Comparison of Edward Abbey and Chris McCandless’ Wilderness
With a wish to forsake industrial living Edward Abby of Desert Solitaire, and Chris McCandless of Into the Wild, immerse themselves in wilderness. While rejecting notions of industrial life, their defection is not absolute. Despite McCandless’ stated wish to live off the land (Krakauer163), he delights in finding an industrial bus in the Alaskan wilderness for his base camp (Krakauer163). Likewise Abbey, from his comfortable trailer in the Utah desert, states he is there to “confront…the bare bones of existence” (6). Utilization of industry in their escape from it seems like a contradiction at first glance, but this conflict indicates that they are not rejecting industry, only separating themselves by the degrees necessary to accommodate what they want to experience. Abbey’s Industrial dependency accommodates his need to have a philosophical dialogue with nature without separating himself from it, while McCandless’ primitive approach accommodates his need for self-reliance. This separation by degrees allows rejection and usage to co-exist within their individual paradigms. The removal of absolutes allows both men to explore outside of defined parameters. Subscribing to neither total rejection of a notion, nor adherence to rigidly defined ideas, both men can incorporate evolving discoveries relative to their need without contradiction.
Abbey and McCandless experience different degrees of separation from industrial living, but neither wholly rejects it. Abbey, a National Park Service employee in Utah, states “I am here not only to evade for a while the clamor and filth and confusion of the cultural apparatus but also to confront immediately and directly if it’s possible, the bare bones of existence” (6). While Abbey surrounds himself with desert, Abbey’s trailer, employment, and truck hardly reflect the “bare bones of existence” (Abbey 6). More reliant on nature for survival in the Alaskan wilderness, McCandless, despite his declaration that he would be “living off the land” (Krakauer 163), rejoices in discovering a bus for shelter as he chronicled the event: “Magic Bus Day” (Krakauer 163). Neither men are rejecting Industrial living; they have only limited it.
Through degrees of limitation they customize their wilderness experience to their personal explorations rather than a reactionary objection to industry. McCandless’ model of wilderness, though primitive, is not without controls. He carries with him a camera, books, water–purifying-tablets, bug repellent, sewing implements etc. Clearly his challenge of self-reliance has undefined limits as he is neither living completely off the land, nor embracing industrial life. Abbey acknowledges and embraces contradiction stating “I dream of a hard and brutal mysticism in which the naked self merges with a non human world and yet somehow survives, still intact, individual, separate. Paradox and bedrock” (6). Abbey’s...