English Class Puts “Into the Wild” on Trial

Story by Head of Academic Development Micah Gall

In August 1992, Christopher McCandless died in the Alaskan wilderness after embarking on a long journey across North America in an attempt to find a deeper meaning to life than what the society around him had to offer. The story of his life, journey, and death was made famous by John Krakauer’s Into the Wild, a book our Advanced Expository Writing students recently read, discussed, and analyzed.

As the culmination of the reading and discussion, students put McCandless “on trial” in an attempt to answer the following questions: Was McCandless a fool whose pride and ignorance led to his own demise? Or was he a hero who should be celebrated for rejecting the cultural idols of his (and our) day?

In each class, the trial lasted multiple days as students fulfilled the roles of the defense and the prosecution. Witnesses—in the form of other students who acted as McCandless’s friends and family—were called to testify, and a jury deliberated in order to reach a verdict.

This trial provides a concrete example of one of the ways in which we push students to wrestle with the ideas and beliefs they will encounter as they enter into and interact with the world around them. In this case, students were able to more fully consider the importance of finding meaning and fulfillment in the right places and also to more fully understand how one might biblically push back on the ideals of a consumerist society. Kudos to Mr. Burke, Mr. Lum, and Dr. Holley for providing our students with a memorable experience!

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