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.

Krakauer describes again the final postcard that McCandless sent to Westerberg stating he believed he would die. Despite the wording though, he believes the death was an accident and begins comparing his own youthful indiscretions to those of McCandless, to show his insight into the matter. He describes his overbearing father and his obsession with climbing, desiring to reach new heights and prove to his father his own skills.

When he was twenty-three years old, Krakauer climbed the Devils Thumb alone, also planning a thirty mile ski to reach the mountain, all the while reading the works of Nietzsche, Kerouace and John Menlove Edwards. He is enthralled by the prospect of his climb, carrying around a picture of the mountain that scares and excites him at the same time.

He quits his carpentry job, clears out his things and sets out for Alaska within hours. He leaves everything behind and drives to Alaska before hitching a ride as a crew member on the Ocean Queen to reach Petersberg. He jumps ship in Petersberg and takes dinner and a spot to sleep as offered by a local woman named Kai Sandburn. He decides he rather enjoys human contact but continues on his journey, hitching across another stretch of ocean to the mountain’s base. He describes how he has brought a pair of poles to keep from falling through a crevasse and dying.

He describes the emotional highs and lows of being alone in the mountains and how they affected him as opposed to being with other people. In his descriptions, Krakauer reveals more of his closeness to McCandless through their situations. After three days, Krakauer reaches the Stikine Ice Cap, where he finds the powerfulness of nature downright frightening. While there, he falls through the ice bridges twice, his poles saving his life. He realizes how easily he could die and becomes ill. He makes camp where his food is to be dropped and is thankful for the man’s persistence in flying up the mountainside. The next day he continues his climb up the mountain.

The farther he climbs, the more confident he becomes and the more excited he becomes that he’s successfully cheated death and the more he enjoys the climb. Finally he realizes that his climb is not as safe as he had thought and so he returns to survey the mountain, finally deciding that he can not finish the climb and descending the mountain.

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