Chris views culture as completely materialistic. The biggest scene to exemplify this view is the celebration dinner after his college graduation. Chris sits with his sister, mother, and father in a somewhat classy restaurant. His mother brings up the fact that his car is old and must be replaced. She says that his father and she are going to purchase him a brand new one. He quickly rebuts saying that he is fine with the car he has. It is clear that his parents care a lot about their appearance, and how their children make them look by association. A fancy car would not only demonstrate Chris’s success and wealth, but that of his parents as well. Chris knows this, so he goes on a rant saying how all everyone wants is “things, things, things”. In other words, he disapproves of the material culture and the value put on it. Material culture is the physical and tangible possession component of life. For example, in today’s society cars, clothes, and money are symbols of wealth.
In addition, he has a negative view of customs such as marriage. This is most likely due to the fact that the marriage he viewed all of his life was a sham or as his sister put it, a lie. He does not know what a healthy relationship is because he has never seen one before. Not only was the marriage of his parents a lie, but his whole family was a lie. First, his mom was the mistress of his father, who was married when he was conceived. Second, his parents constantly fought but stayed together regardless. Therefore, the pain was prolonged. The film never said this outright, but perhaps the entirety of his college education was his father’s idea. It did not seem as though Chris was the academic type. Although he is intelligent, I do not think he would want to succumb to the educational institution.
We see him interact with primarily one culture: hippies. But as Jane describes, there are many kinds of hippies, like rubber tramps and leather tramps. They, along with the residents of Slab City, did not have the standard views of life. Rather than have a career in the regular modern world, they created their own world apart from the complications of daily life. What they were left with were the simple joys in music, nature, and family. The same was with the foreigner hippies Chris met in the canyon. They found happiness in each other and freedom from society. He also met Wayne, who taught him hard work and what it means to provide for oneself. Still, the prospects of that lifestyle may have been ruined by Wayne’s eventually criminal trouble. After Chris returns from Mexico, we get a glimpse of what would have been Chris if he had stayed with standard culture. It seems as though the thought of it made Chris sick. The last culture he meets is that of the solitary elderly (after meeting some naked hippies in the desert). It is with Ron that Chris experiences spirituality and almost gets a sense of what having a loving father feels like.
I would not consider him a part of counterculture only because he does not actively oppose the main culture. Although he lived all of his life in standard culture, he decides that it goes against what he believes in and moves away to create his own in Alaska, by himself. It seemed as though Chris was tempted to join some of the people he met. Still, he decides that what he needed was to be apart from culture altogether, which in itself is its own culture.
Although Chris’s upbringing seems to have been common, what happened inside the house was much different. He experienced judgment and viewed abuse at its worst. I think Chris would have a conflict perspective. He knew what it meant to be high class and later discovered what it meant to belong to no class at all. We discover through Corine that Chris took many courses related to inequality, like one on condition in Africa. Those classes may have seemed irrelevant to most, but maybe they had an impact on Chris. Surely, he knew that society was unequal. Perhaps that is why he gave his savings to charity. In other words, money wasn’t always allotted to those who deserved it. Also, he has a conflict perspective on school as an agent of socialization. Chris may have had a college education, but he didn’t use it at all. I imagine he viewed institutionalized education as a training center for corporate drones. Students are expected to learn their craft and take their place in society. Still, they do not develop a sense of self or socialize. Students are too focused on getting into college and then getting their degree, and then graduating. Throughout the process, they never socialize for their own well being.
Humans must do this through experience, which is definitely something that Chris had. Corine describes that Chris was always adventurous. He was once found in a house down the street in the middle of the night, standing on a chair, with his hand in the house owner’s candy drawer. This seems like a metaphor for Chris’s adventurous vigor. He must leave comfortable society (his house) to walk down the street (travel) and get on a chair (potentially dangerous situations) to find the candy in the candy drawer (to find the meaning of life). Perhaps this assumption is a stretch, but it is not too farfetched. We may never know what truly went on in the mind of Chris McCandless. We do know what his home life was like. Aside from home troubles, his life seemed perfect (in culture’s standards). He had money, an education, and supporters. Only one thing is certain: Chris was certainly unique.