At the very beginning of Into the Wild, the reader learns that the book’s subject, Chris McCandless, is dead. After graduating from a private East Coast university, he donated his savings to charity and cut off all contact with his family. Two years later, he walked alone into the Alaska wild without the provi- sions most would find critical for surviving in such an unforgiving landscape. His emaciated body was found four months later. Shortly afterwards, Jon Krakauer wrote a story about McCandless for Outside magazine.
The story set off a firestorm, generating more mail than any other article in Outside’s history. Many readers admired McCandless’s courage and quest for simplicity; many others found his behavior selfish and rife with hubris. The question of why a young, privileged man, by all accounts charming, athletic, and intelligent, would embark on such an ordeal was not one easily left unanswered by readers, or by Krakauer. The author’s fascination with McCandless led to Into the Wild, Krakauer’s painstakingly researched account of what happened to McCandless and why he walked into the wild.
Through Krakauer’s retelling, McCandless’s story grows larger than an examination of why a specific individual makes unconventional choices. Krakauer also tackles themes such as Americans’ romanticizing of the wild, the role of risk in the life of youth, and the complex relationships between fathers and sons. Krakauer also contextualizes McCandless’s quest, exploring his devotion to aesthetes like Henry David Thoreau and Jack London, as well as considering how McCandless compares to—and more importantly—contrasts with adventurers and iconoclasts who came before him. If Krakauer doesn’t exactly universalize McCandless’s extreme lifestyle, he makes the motivations behind it sympathetic. A review in the New York Times attests that “by the end, Mr. Krakauer has taken the tale of a kook who went into the woods, and made of it a heart-rending drama of human yearning.”
Into the Wild was published in 1996 and became a national bestseller with millions of copies sold. A decade after its publication, Sean Penn directed a film version with a soundtrack by Eddie Vedder. Chris McCandless was also the subject of a 2007 documentary. The abandoned bus where he set up camp and ultimately died has become a pilgrimage destination. A notebook at the site is filled with comments from those who traverse the twenty-two miles between the bus and the nearest road to pay tribute, comments attesting to the impact of Chris’s life, though years have passed since his death. The story of Chris McCandless has reached mythical proportions.
Chris McCandless may have become a legend without Into the Wild, although it’s doubtful the story would have gone beyond that of an extreme adventure gone dark. As the most comprehensively researched and masterfully written piece about the young adventure seeker himself, Jon Krakauer’s book frames the debate about McCandless and will continue to engage readers in their attempts to understand his life, as well as his death.
By the end of the unit the student will be able to:
1. Explain why Chris McCandless chose to cut his ties with friends and family and to enter the wild.
2. Describe McCandless’s relationships with Wayne Westerberg, Jan Burres, and Ronald Franz.
3. Describe the role money and want played in McCandless’s life and adventures.
4. Compare and contrast Chris McCandless with the other risk-takers in the book, including Gene Rosellini, John Waterman, Carl McCunn, Everett Ruess, and Krakauer himself.
5. Identify the reasons Chris McCandless perished in the wild.
This eNotes lesson plan is designed so that it may be used in numerous ways to accommodate ESL students and to differentiate instruction in the classroom.
Student Chapter Guide
•The Chapter Guide is organized for a chapter-by-chapter study of the book. Chapter Guide pages may be assigned individually and completed at a student’s own pace.
• Chapter Guide pages may be used as pre-reading activities to preview for students the vocabulary words they will encounter in reading each chapter and to acquaint them generally with the chapter’s content.
• Before Chapter Guide pages are assigned, questions may be selected from them to use as short quizzes to assess reading comprehension.
• Chapter Guide vocabulary lists include words from the book that vary in difficulty.
1. The vocabulary lists for each chapter are sufficiently comprehensive so that shorter lists of vocabulary words can be constructed from them.
2. Working from the lesson plan’s chapter vocabulary lists, the teacher also may construct vocabulary studies for individual students, choosing specific words from each chapter that are most appropriate for them.
The discussion questions vary in degree of difficulty.
1. Some questions require higher levels of critical thinking; others engage students with less challenging inquiry.
2. Individual discussion questions may be assigned to students working in pairs or in small Chapter groups; their contributions may then be added to a whole-class discussion.
Test questions also vary in degree of difficulty.
1. Some multiple-choice questions address the factual content of the book; others require students to employ critical thinking skills, such as analyzing; comparing and contrasting; and drawing inferences.
2. The teacher may select specific multiple-choice questions and one or more essay questions to assess an individual student’s understanding of the book.
3. The essay portion of the test appears on a separate page so that it may be omitted altogether in testing.
Before students read through the book, point out to them the following themes, or universal ideas, that will be addressed:
- Fathers and sons
- Natural beauty
Talk with your students about how a motif is a recurring pattern or repeated action, element, or idea in a book. As they read, have them pay attention to the following motifs:
- The pseudonym “Alexander Supertramp”
- Physical pain or discomfort
- Connections with strangers
- Expressions of creativity
A symbol is a concrete object or place that has significance in a literary work because it communicates an idea. Have your students talk about how the author uses the following symbols and look for other symbols on their own as they read:
- Chris’s Datsun
- The moose
- A map
1. An epigraph is a quotation at the beginning of a book, chapter, or section of a book. How does Krakauer use epigraphs in Into the Wild? What do they reveal about Chris McCandless?
2. McCandless was ostensibly morally opposed to gift-giving, yet he gave his mother a gift for Mother’s Day. Why might he have done this?
3. An excerpt from the epigraph that begins Chapter Four reads: “To the desert go prophets and hermits; through the deserts go pilgrims and exiles.” Which was McCandless—prophet, hermit, pilgrim, or exile? Did he fit any of these categories?
4. McCandless was fiercely independent, yet he relied constantly on the kindness of strangers for food, shelter, and transportation. Was he a hypocrite? Why or why not?
5. It might be said that Into the Wild is as much about the people McCandless meets as it is about McCandless himself. Is that a fair interpretation? Why or why not?
6. McCandless highlighted the following text by Henry David Thoreau: “Though the result were [sic] bodily weakness, yet perhaps no one can say that the consequences were to be regretted, for these were a life in conformity to higher principles.” Would McCandless have felt his path was regrettable?
7. McCandless had a profound effect on Ronald Franz, who was deeply saddened when McCandless left and heartbroken when he learned he had died. Was McCandless’s treatment of Franz heartless? Why or why not?
8. McCandless graduated from college, yet didn’t seem to value education. He showed up punctually for work shifts and worked hard, yet eschewed the working culture. He used formal words like “shall” in his communications with others, yet did not often bathe. How can such contradictions in McCandless’s character and behavior be reconciled?
9. Could Walt and Billie have stopped their son from entering the wild? Could Carine have stopped him? If yes, how? If not, why not?
10. Describe three examples of McCandless’s creativity. Do you think this trait was linked to his decision to enter the wild?
11. One criticism of McCandless reads as follows: “McCandless’s contrived asceticism and a pseudo- literary stance compound rather than reduce the fault.” Is this a fair critique? Why or why not?
12. McCandless had a complicated relationship with his father. Discuss three twists and turns in their relationship.
13. Entertainment Weekly wrote, “It may be nonfiction, but Into the Wild is a mystery of the highest order.” How is it a mystery? What are the clues, and how does Krakauer follow them to reach a conclusion?
14. Krakauer writes that “it can be argued that youthful derring-do is in fact evolutionarily adaptive, a behavior encoded in our genes.” Do you agree or disagree? What role does risky behavior play in your life and in those of your peers?
15. Two cabins near the abandoned bus were vandalized the summer that McCandless lived in the wild. While the owners suspect McCandless was the vandal, Krakauer thinks it is unlikely. Discuss both possibilities. Which do you think is correct, and why?
bore: noun the interior diameter of a gun barrel
bush: wilderness, a large and sparsely settled area usually scrub-covered or forested
congenial: friendly, agreeable
Jack London: famous American author of Call of the Wild (a novel set in Alaska)
lower forty-eight: the continental states of the United States between Canada and Mexico
muskeg: wet spongy ground found in northern North America
sonorous: resonant, deep
unsullied: pure, untarnished
1. According to Jim Gallien, what attracts some people from the lower forty-eight to Alaska? What do they find instead?...
(The entire section is 307 words.)
amalgam: a combination, a mix of different elements
antimony: a silvery-white metal that breaks easily and that is used especially in alloys
contumacious: stubborn, rebellious
derelict: run-down, dilapidated
escarpments: long cliffs or steep slopes that separate two comparatively level or more gently sloping surfaces
flinty: unyielding, stony
incommunicable: beyond description, too awful/wonderful for words
incongruously: strangely, inharmoniously
infallibility: incapability of error
mirthless: without happiness or joy
ore: a naturally occurring mineral containing a valuable constituent (as metal) for which it is mined...
(The entire section is 468 words.)
adrift: aimless, wandering
altruistic: unselfish, showing selfless concern for the welfare of others
convivial: welcoming, hospitable, sociable
eddy: a current of water or air running contrary to the main current
hyperkinetic: fast-paced, energetic
itinerant: traveling, roaming
jetsam: the part of a ship, its equipment, or its cargo that is cast overboard to lighten the load in times of distress (used metaphorically in the text)
mawkish: having unpleasant taste; overly sentimental
mien: manner, appearance, behavior
onerous: burdensome, difficult
plebeian: a working-class man
stasis: a state of stability...
(The entire section is 554 words.)
anvil-headed: referring to a cloud shape that is normally associated with severe thunderstorms
austerity: severity, harshness
brackish: salty, briny
chollas: types of shrubs found chiefly in the southwestern United States and Mexico (similar to cactus plants)
convection: the transfer of heat by the mass movement of heated particles into an area of cooler fluid (as used with the word current)
credo: a philosophy, a belief
detrital: rock that has been broken down by erosion or weathering
egress: an escape, a way-out, an exit
emasculated: weakened, made powerless
Emersonian: referring to Ralph Waldo...
(The entire section is 613 words.)
adherent: a supporter, a believer, an enthusiast
bourgeois: showing concern for material interests
denuded: divested of covering, made bare
garrulous: talkative, chatty
ideologue: an impractical idealist
idiom: an expression, a phrase
lumpen: dispossessed and uprooted individuals cut off from their usual economic and social class
porous: full of holes, leaky
primordial: primeval, prehistoric
rheumy: watery, runny
survivalist: a person who advocates survival as a main life value
teeming: swarming, crowded...
(The entire section is 598 words.)
bulls: slang people acting in the stubborn, sometimes foolish, way of a bull
creosote: a desert shrub of the southwestern United States and Mexico with small yellow flowers
desiccated: dried-up, without water
filigree: a lacy pattern
harangues: long verbal attacks or scoldings
hegira: a journey undertaken to escape from a dangerous or undesirable situation
idiocy: senselessness, stupidity
phantasmal: fantastical in appearance
placid: calm, peaceful
salve: verb to soothe, to ease
(The entire section is 553 words.)
canted: angled, slanted
chaff: the seed coverings and other debris separated from the seed in threshing grain
congress (with nature): the act of coming together and meeting
conjecture: a speculation, a prediction
corollary: something that naturally follows, a natural result or consequence
grubstake: supplies or funds for launching an enterprise
innards: insides, entrails
milo: a small grain with compact bearded heads of large yellow or whitish seeds
snarly: cranky, irritable
surfeit: an excess, a surplus
titillated: excited, aroused (often in regard to something sexual)
(The entire section is 516 words.)
bight: a bend in a coast forming an open bay
contrived: artificial, false
epistle: a letter
eremitic: acting like a hermit or a recluse
hamlet: a village, a small town
opprobrium: something that brings disgrace
paucity: a scarcity, a lack
pseudoliterary: characterized by false pretentions of being bookish or well-read
recondite: obscure, little-known
seine: a type of net used on fishing boats that hangs vertically in the water
1. Why were many of the Alaskans who wrote letters about McCandless so critical of him? Why were they critical of...
(The entire section is 482 words.)
affectation: an artificial speech or mannerism used to gain admiration or support
atavistic: describing someone who regresses/returns to a past manner or way of life
beggars: verb exceeds
callow: naïve, immature
curragh(s): a type of Irish boat with a wooden frame covered with animal skins or canvas
defile: noun a narrow passage or gorge
esthete: a person who has or pretends to have sensitivity to the beautiful
Kayenta Anasazi: ancient Pueblo people who lived in the southwestern United States and surrounding areas
petroglyphs: carvings or inscriptions on rocks
potsherds: pottery fragments...
(The entire section is 389 words.)
bristle: to rise, to stand up
cryptic: mysterious, puzzling, not immediately clear
dispirited: disheartened, discouraged
gaunt: extremely thin, emaciated
1. Why did Jim Gallien think the hiker found dead might be Alex?
Jim Gallien realized the details about the missing hiker released in the newspaper matched the details he remembered about Alex, including the spot where the hiker’s body was found.
2. Why didn’t the Alaska State Troopers take Westerberg seriously when he first called?
They didn’t take him seriously because the news story had been published nationally,...
(The entire section is 281 words.)
arcane: mysterious, unfathomable
chastened: punished, caused to suffer
gregarious: outgoing, sociable
mercurial: characterized by rapid and unpredictable changeableness in mood
panache: flair, style
rancor: resentment, animosity
taciturn: reserved, quiet
vagaries: unpredictable actions
1. Krakauer writes of Walt McCandless, “Even from across the room it is apparent that some very high voltage is crackling through his wires.” What does he mean?
Walt McCandless was intense, so much so that his energy was palpable from a...
(The entire section is 525 words.)
anomalous: irregular, abnormal
censorious: disapproving, critical
choler: anger, ire
confrères: colleagues, comrades
dollop: an amount given, a spoonful
idiosyncratic: eccentric, peculiar to an individual
insurrectionists: people revolting against civil authority of established government
lenity: forgiveness, clemency, showing tolerance or indulgence
monomania: excessive concentration on a single object or idea
obliquely: indirectly, in a roundabout way
pellucid: reflecting light evenly from all surfaces
1. Why did Walt refrain from...
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apologia: a defense of one’s actions or opinions
delineating: describing, explaining
fatuous: idiotic, foolish
hollow: empty, having no feeling or emotion
1. Why did Carine wonder if things would have turned out differently if Chris had taken Buckley with him?
Though Chris had little regard for his own safety, he would not have endangered the family dog. Carine wondered if this concern would have kept Chris from taking the risks he did.
2. How were Carine and Chris similar? How were they different?
Carine looked like her brother, and like...
(The entire section is 193 words.)
carapace: a covering
comelier: more pleasing in appearance
desideratum: something desired as essential
dunning: persistent, unstopping
inveigled: enticed, wheedled
labyrinthine: resembling a labyrinth or maze
nordwand: German north face
penitente: Spanish a member of a religious society in Spanish-American communities of the south-western United States who practice self-whipping and other forms of torture as penitence
phantasmagoria: an exhibition of optical effects and illusions
purse seining: a type of fishing in which a large net is drawn around a school of...
(The entire section is 400 words.)
acrid: pungent, sharp, unpleasant
ambulate: to walk
ampoules: small vials used to hold fluid for injections
bergschrund: German a deep crevasse or series of crevasses frequently occurring near the head of a mountain glacier
spindrift: fine wind-borne snow
stratagems: ploys, tricks, contrived schemes
synapses: places in the body where a signal passes from one nerve cell to another
1. What happened to Krakauer’s tent, and why did it upset him?
He accidentally set a fire when he tossed a match into a bag of garbage, and the fire burned part of his tent. It upset...
(The entire section is 353 words.)
factitious: produced by humans rather than by natural forces
gauntlet: a punishment formerly used in the military in which somebody was forced to run between two lines of men who beat him as he passed
gloaming: twilight, dusk
laconic: using the minimum of words
sulfurous: containing sulfur (a nonmetallic element)
1. What did McCandless promise Stuckey he would do, and what wouldn’t he promise to do?
He promised Stuckey he would write to him, but McCandless would not agree to call his own parents.
2. Krakauer suggested that McCandless might have been planning to resume a more...
(The entire section is 296 words.)
analysand: a person who is undergoing pyschoanalysis
bobolink: an American migratory songbird
bumbler: someone who is generally clueless or ignorant
coppice: a thicket or grove of small trees
disquietude: anxiety, agitation
gristly: hard to chew, tough, leathery
hauteur: arrogance, haughtiness
hydrologists: people who study the circulation of water below and on the earth’s surface and in the atmosphere
métis: offspring of an American Indian and a person of European ancestry
miasma: a heavy vaporous emanation or atmosphere that smells unpleasant
modicum: a small amount
sobriquet: a nickname
(The entire section is 361 words.)
conflagration: a fire
conundrum: a puzzle, a mystery
fecund: fruitful in offspring or vegetation
munificence: generosity, benevolence
stymied: thwarted, blocked
1. To what did Krakauer initially attribute McCandless’s death?
Krakauer initially believed that McCandless had eaten toxic wild sweet pea.
2. Ultimately, what did Krakauer determine poisoned McCandless? Why does the new information matter to McCandless’s story?
Krakauer determined that McCandless ate moldy seeds, or wild potato seeds, that were contaminated with swainsonine. This information is...
(The entire section is 250 words.)
percussive: characterized by bursts of sound striking the ear
1. Compare Billie’s feelings of anticipation about the trip to the bus with Walt’s.
Billie had been looking forward to the trip and approached it feeling calm and centered. Walt felt edgy and uncertain about how he would feel when he saw the site.
2. What was Walt and Billie’s reaction to seeing the bus’s setting?
Both Walt and Billie remarked on its beauty and understood why it appealed to Chris.
3. Explain how seeing the site of their son’s death gave Walt and Billie...
(The entire section is 151 words.)
1. McCandless journeyed to all of the following spots EXCEPT:
A. Carthage, South Dakota
B. Detrital Wash
C. Bullhead City, Arizona
D. Modesto, California
E. The Stampede Trail
2. One of McCandless’s problems with his parents was that they
A. adopted another child when Chris was in college.
B. wouldn’t let his sister Carine come on his adventures.
C. spent money in a way Chris felt was extravagant.
D. didn’t come to his graduation.
E. never had enough money.
3. Why did McCandless...
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1. In his Author’s Note, Krakauer admits that he is not an impartial biographer and that McCandless’s story struck a personal note. He devotes two chapters to his own quest to summit the Devils Thumb when he was McCandless’s age, “in the hope that my experiences will throw some oblique light on the enigma of Chris McCandless.” Compare and contrast Krakauer and McCandless as young men, and explain how their quests were similar and different. How does Krakauer’s story shed light on Chris McCandless’s motives?
Upon reading Jon Krakauer’s account of his attempt to summit the Devils Thumb, it is clear why Chris McCandless’s story captured his attention. The two stories have clear similarities, and in...
(The entire section is 2090 words.)