Into the Wild Study Guide

Into the Wild

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

Into the Wild is a non-fictional account of the wilderness survival and eventual death of Christopher McCandless, a teenager who left home to experience nature's grandeur. The survival of McCandless's journals and the accounts of those he met with on his travels paint a vivid picture of a determined young man wrestling with personal demons through travel. McCandless dies alone in the Alaskan wilderness at the conclusion of the novel.

The purpose of Jon Krakauer’s book is to address the matter of young Christopher McCandless and his odd seclusion from society and a lifestyle that was all most people could ask for. Coming from a well-to-do background in the Washington D.C. area, McCandless always had privileges that few can claim. McCandless was just entering society, having graduated from Emory University, with more than $25,000 in savings and a family that loved him. The question of why he would completely break contact with all that he knew, give away everything he owned, and disappear to the Alaskan wilderness as a homeless man for two years drives Krakauer’s work.

Throughout the many years he spends on the road, McCandless meets and affects many people, though never long enough have a lasting impact or be lured away from his wandering. Citing classic hermits and renouncers of society such as Henry David Thoreau and John Muir, McCandless decides to live in the wild, without the advents of human society. Living in a bus in the midst of the Alaskan wilderness with nothing more than some basic supplies, McCandless keeps a careful diary of his time, his thoughts, and his reasons for fleeing from society.

Eventually, he makes the decision to return to society, but is unfortunately forced to return to his bus by a swollen river. In his final days, McCandless is weakened by hunger and the cold. He spends a little more than 100 days in the wild, all the while being suspected of causing damage on local cabin owners’ land, and finding himself stuck in his situation. He writes often of his reasons, but eventually decides that nature is only a refuge for a short while, that true happiness can only be shared with others. In 1992, moose hunters in the Alaskan wild found McCandless’s body partially decomposed in his bus, the diaries and meager supplies still nearby. Initially, many thought he died from confusing potato seeds with a poison type of pea.

Alaskans derided the foolishness of his endeavor, thinking he could possibly survive in the harsh Alaskan wilderness with nothing but his wits. There were many who spoke out adamantly against anyone who was foolish enough to try and survive in such conditions without survival equipment. Alongside the heartbreak of his parents and the public disdain for his ignorance, many try to make an example of him in a negative way.

The author though believes he has lived a similar life and undergone similar instances as McCandless. With that belief, he offer his own personal story and attempts to parallel what has happened in his life with McCandless’s. In the process, he touches on many themes that cross everyone’s lives. There is the matter of the parent-child conundrum, and in it Krakauer manages to maneuver enough perspective into McCandless’s story to make it more about the general condition of youth than about McCandless’s individual situation and decisions.

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