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.
After his body’s discovery in the Alaskan wilderness, Jon Krakauer wrote a short article for Outsider magazine about Chris McCandless and how he ended up in Alaska. The story remained with him though and he eventually revisited the story, eager to defend Chris from those that sought to speak negatively of him.A great deal of people have spoken out angrily against Chris and his foolish youth who threw away his advantages in life and died in the wild. Krakauer tries to draw out the similarities between the brash youth of most people and McCandless’s odd decisions. McCandless himself is a young and successful college graduate with a good job and money in the bank who one day decides to up and disappear in response to his father’s indiscretions, giving away his money and becoming homeless. With a father who constantly pushed him to perfection and a paradigm shift that saw Chris completely disillusioned by his father’s hubris in expecting such perfection, Chris could no longer deal with life and spitefully left everything he knew. He eventually ends up in the wilds of Alaska, living in a bus, only to pass away before he has a chance to return to civilization.
After Chris runs from his father and severs ties with his family, he runs across Wayne who becomes a close friend and a father figure. Because he does not judge Chris, Wayne acts an inspiration to Chris. He represents the middle class and the opposite of everything that his father represents, seeking material wealth at every step. Chris revels in their deep friendship but never stays long enough in Carthage to get to really know him, instead wandering off again whenever he gets the chance. As he discovered his father to be an imperfect human being, Chris might have discovered the same thing with Wayne had he stayed with him for too long.
As Chris’s father, Walt (as his friends call him) becomes the root of Krakauer’s theories on why Chris ran off as he did. Walt himself is a rich man, self-made through hard work and education, landing himself a job with NASA and Hughes aircraft. First married to Marcia, Walt fathered five children. He later fathered Chris and Carine with Billie, their mother. For much of his life, Walt holds his son to very high expectations, which Chris attempts to live up to. Eventually, Chris discovers that his father was still married to Marcia for seven years while with Billie, attempting to maintain a home with both women. The two women discover what he’s done when Chris is only 2 years old, forcing Walt and Billie to move. It takes four more years before Walt divorces Marcia and marries Billie, and during their relationship frequent fights can be remembered by their children. In high school, many years later, Chris learns of what his father did and grows angry at the hypocrisy of his father’s expectations. After five years of dwelling on his anger, Chris decides that he cannot stand human hypocrisy and disappears, attempting to teach his family a lesson as well.
As Chris’s mother, Billie is only briefly touched upon in the book by Krakauer, speaking on her relationship with Walt as a catalyst for Chris’s eventual rebellion. Chris includes her in his angry rejection of society, holding her responsible with his father for his father’s deeds. Though she isn’toften shown or mentioned, her grief is a display of what Chris’s actions have done.
As Chris’s sister, Carine is very close to him and he is able to share his feelings with her, the only member of his family he feels comfortable doing so with. Chris writes letters to Carine throughout the five years after he learns of his father’s indiscretions. The two share angry words about their parents though Carine tells the author that she has a much better relationship with her parents now, having forgiven them. Carine is smart like her brother and very opinionated. She has grown to be very much like her parents in adulthood, married and running her own business, but still remembers her brother and his actions always.
As a drifter herself, Jan meets Chris as he arrives tired and hungry by the side of the road. Along with her boyfriend, she takes care of Chris, attempting to nurture his desire to live free of society, but also to warn him of the dangers in his actions. She tries to convince him of the errors of his ways and send him back to his mother as she is estranged from her own son, though she fails. She likes him though and though frustrated, is intrigued by him and decides that he will eventually grow out of his youthful woes. As a motherly figure in his life, Burres is a key individual in his journey.
Ronald is an eighty year old widower, whose son and wife passed away forty years earlier while away in Japan for the military, leaving him an empty man. Because of his grief, Franz becomes a kind soul trying to find meaning in life, adopting Okinawan orphans and sending two of them to medical school. When he meets Chris, he immediately feels the desire to offer his advice. In the end, Franz becomes a foil for Chris which shows him that if he does not change his ways he will grow old and lonely. McCandless convinces Franz that he is lonely himself and has him sell all of his worldly possessions and join him on the road. Franz agrees, hoping to keep McCandless as his friend and not be lonely again. When he finds out that McCandless dies, he starts to drink and renounces any belief in God that he had at the time. In the end, Franz is alone, on the road and hoping for death.
As a case study, Ruess’s story is used to compare to McCandless’s. His story however is considered more understandable by the author, even though he also renounced his life and exited the world. He is bored by civilization though like McCandless and wants to pit himself against nature. As a youth, his life was filledwith traumatic instances, constantly moving, never feeling like he had a place in society. He continues to reject a place in society as an adult and becomes an outdoorsman and lover of nature. He similarly dislikes his parents and is close to his sibling and ultimately dies in the wild at age 21.
Waterman is yet another case study, though he was mentally ill rather than disillusioned like McCandless. He considers Waterman’s actions as crazy, while McCandless’s are just poorly informed. The question of mental-illness is never quite answered though as Krakauer’s own knowledge on the subject is not sufficient to make a final judgment. He does however list a variety of reasons for considered Waterman insane. He includes the wearing of a cape on campus, a self check-in to a mental facility his run for the presidency on an outrageous platform. However, his actions are still debatably sane, possibly only eccentric, and possibly more informed than McCandless’s.
As the author of Into the Wild, Krakauer makes himself a character by comparing his own youth to that of McCandless. He compares his father and his own high expectations for Krakauer with McCandless and his father. Always set up for failure in his father’s eyes, Krakauer feels the pressure to succeed and the desire to rebel. He eventually makes the choice to become a carpenter and climber, rather than attend college, to spite his father. He eventually attempts to climb a mountain that is beyond his ability so as to show his father he can do it, revealing in the book his thought processes during the climb. He eventually comes to the conclusion that his method of thinking could have killed him, something that ultimately happened to Christopher McCandless.