Into the Wild Summary

Into the Wild is a biography by Jon Krakauer about the life and death of Chris McCandless, who moved to Alaska in the hopes of living a simple life. Chris ultimately died of starvation.

  • While in college, Chris McCandless learned that his father had a second, secret family. Following this revelation, Chris became increasingly distant from his friends and family, eventually embarking on an independent journey across the United States. His body was found two years later in the Alaskan wilderness.

  • Krakauer assembles McCandless's journals, interviews with McCandless's family and friends, and photographs to trace McCandless's journey up until his death.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Into the Wild tells the story of Chris McCandless, a young man who ventured into the wilderness in search of truth and understanding. The book begins with the story of Jim Gallien dropping McCandless off at the mouth of the Stampede Trail, where McCandless would spend the last few months of his life, and ends with reflections on McCandless’s final moments on earth. Between these, we follow many of the adventures that Chris experienced in his three-year trek. Jon Krakauer uses investigative journalism to collect interviews, journal entries, and pictures that weave together the story of McCandless’s journey from affluence to transcendental wilderness exploration.

The story of McCandless’s descent into the wilderness traces back to issues with his family. The summer before he left on his journey, he took a trip out to California. He met people from his past and learned that his father, Walt, had a second family that he had kept secret from McCandless and his siblings. This revelation created a change in McCandless, and after he graduated from Emory University in the spring of the next year, he donated his savings fund, canceled his lease agreement, and drove west.

McCandless would not have contact with his family for the next two years, and they would not know where he was until his body was discovered in Alaska. After leaving his family at his college graduation in Georgia, McCandless drove his car to Arizona. However, after McCandless camped for some time in a dry riverbed, his car was hit by a flash flood. It then refused to start because it was wet, and he abandoned it along with many of his possessions.

McCandless’s journey took him all over the American Southwest as he hitchhiked from place to place. We learn about his time spent at the Slabs in California and at a grain harvesting company in South Dakota; we follow his unfortunate trip down the Colorado River into Baja California. His journey through the wild and forgotten places of North America helped him process the hurt done by his father. Throughout the book, we learn about the people Chris met and how they viewed him. Some of the essential relationships he developed were with Wayne Westerberg, Ronald Franz, and Bob and Jan Burres.

The relationships that McCandless built along the way reflect his journey from pain and hurt to revelation and recovery. His path was ultimately one of healing, in which he experienced the joys of spending one's life in the company of others and realized that the solitary retreat he took was not the end goal. McCandless concluded, “HAPPINESS ONLY REAL WHEN SHARED” (chapter 18)—noting for himself a lesson he learned while reading Doctor Zhivago in the Alaskan wilderness. McCandless was able to have a transcendent moment at the end of the story, but it was the realization that life is better when shared that helped him to see the deeper meaning in his existence.

The real tragedy of the story is that McCandless never had the chance to share his happiness or life with the people who meant the most to him, and he wasn't able to forgive his father. The reader is left with the meaning McCandless found: that a life worth living is one spent in the company of the people we love.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Chapter Summaries