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.

On July 8, McCandless returns to his bus because of the river. He decides to wait for the river to go back down and returns to his previous routine of hunting and gathering. The animals he finds,though, are small and weak because of the weather and don’t offer much in the way of nutrition. He makes a revelation while reading Doctor Zhivago that he wants to re-enter society because he cannot be happy without sharing his happiness with others.

A couple of days later though, he reports that he is starving and can hardly move. He blames potato seeds, though some believe he confused a wild potato plant with a poisonous sweet pea. Krakauer reported originally in his magazine article that this was the likely cause of death, but later revised his statement in the book against such a conclusion. It had been months since McCandless started eating the wild potato plant and it was unlikely that he would make the mistake after so long. He had long been eating the rest of the potato plant and not gotten sick, so probably assumed the seeds were okay as there was no reference anywhere stating otherwise.

Krakauer tests the seeds at the University of Alaska and finds swainsonine alkaloid, a substance that stops the human body from turning food into usable energy. It causes starvation regardless of how much you eat. It’s possible to overcome the poison but because McCandless was already so low on necessary sugars and protein he could not flush it free and likely succumbed to the seed.

On August 5 McCandless had been in the wild for 100 days and even though he is excited he is also very weak and now unable to walk outside. Krakauer once again describes the nearby cabins and service stations that he could have found had he carried the right map with him. The cabins in question had actually been vandalized and when they found McCandless’s body the owners assumed it was him.

There is no evidence that he did any wrong-doing, Krakauer believes he did not, though there is no true way to know. Many have argued that he would have edited his journals to not include any negative aspects of his stay having previously noted he wanted to write a memoir.

In his final days, McCandless continues attempting to kill game but is unable to kill anything larger than a squirrel. Some Alaskans had wondered why he did not start a forest fire to attract attention but McCandless's position is seldom flown over and his philosophy would not have allowed it. Starvation takes its toll on his body and mind. On August 12 he writes the final words in his journal "Beautiful Blueberries". Between the 12th and 18th he writes his simple farewell on the back of a page torn from a book. He takes a photo of himself holding the note, emaciated but smiling. He is believed to have expired on August 18th, merely 19 days before six travelers would happen upon the bus and his body.

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