Into the Wild summary

Into the Wild Summary

Chris McCandless moves to Alaska in the hopes of living a simple life free from the constraints of capitalism. After graduating from college, he gives away his savings and hitchhikes to Alaska, where he struggles to survive without the proper tools or training.

  • The story begins when an electrician picks up a hitchhiker who plans on living in the remote wilderness for three months with minimal gear or preparation. Four months later, the hitchhiker’s decomposing body is discovered inside of a bus. He had starved to death.

  • The narrative tells the story of the young man who perished in the wild: Chris McCandless. As a boy, Chris was fearless and adventurous. While in college, he learned that his father was living a double life with his former wife. Following this revelation, Chris became increasingly distant from his family.

  • McCandless’s desire to seek out a transformative experience in the wild parallels author Jon Krakauer’s own solitary ascent up Devils Thumb. Krakauer takes McCandless’s parents to Alaska to show them the conditions their son lived in at the end of his life.

Chapter 1 Summary

Jim Gallien, a union electrician, picks up a hitchhiker about four miles out of Fairbanks on Tuesday, April 28, 1992. The hitchhiker introduces himself only as "Alex" and asks for a ride to the edge of Denali National Park, from which point he will walk "deep into the bush and live off the land for a few months." Alex, a congenial young man who looks to be only eighteen or nineteen, shows Gallien a map of the Stampede Trail, a seldom-traveled road which winds "for forty miles or so before petering out...(in a) trackless wilderness north of Mt. McKinley." This is where Alex intends to go.

Gallien is concerned because Alex seems woefully underprepared for such an undertaking. He carries only a small rifle and a backpack weighing just "twenty-five or thirty pounds," and admits that he is afraid of water and that the only food he has is a ten-pound bag of rice. Gallien tries to dissuade Alex from what appears to be a foolhardy endeavor, but says, "There was just no talking the guy out of it." He offers to drive Alex back to Anchorage to buy him "some decent gear," but the young man declines. Gallien finally convinces Alex to take "an old pair of rubber work boots" he has in the truck, and the lunch his wife had packed for him earlier in the day. Gallien drops Alex off at the trailhead and watches as the young man "disappear(s) down the snow-covered track."

Chapter 2 Summary

The Stampede Trail, the route taken by Chris McCandless, wanders through rolling bottomland on the northern margin of the Alaska Range. In 1930 the trail was blazed by a miner named Earl Pilgrim, and in 1961 a construction company was hired to upgrade the trail. The company hauled three "junked buses, outfitted...with bunks and a simple barrel stove" up into the wilderness to house its workers, and when the project was halted, one of the buses was left behind "to serve as a backcountry shelter for hunters and trappers." The rusted vehicle was located twenty-five miles west of Healy...just beyond the boundary of Denali National Park.

On September 6, 1992, three moose hunters managed to get across the flooded Teklanika River and arrived at the bus, where they found "a guy and a girl from Anchorage standing fifty feet away...looking kinda spooked." A "real bad smell" came from inside the bus, and a "disquieting" S.O.S. note was taped on the door. Upon investigation, the hunters discovered the body of Chris McCandless inside the bus, huddled in a sleeping bag. He had been dead "for two and a half weeks."

McCandless's remains, along with a camera, the note, and a diary, were removed from the bus by state troopers. At the time of autopsy, "McCandless's remains weighed sixty-seven pounds," and starvation was conjectured to be the probably cause of death.

Chapter 3 Summary

Chris McCandless often mentioned Carthage, South Dakota, as his home. He had become close to Wayne Westerberg, an elevator owner and jack-of-all-trades, who had picked him up as a hitchhiker there one day in the fall of 1990. McCandless, who told Westerberg that his name was Alex, worked for the older man awhile, and found a "surrogate family in Westerberg and his employees." When McCandless hit the road again, he kept in touch with Westerberg, "calling or writing Carthage every month or so."

In reality, McCandless was the son of Walt and Billie McCandless, and he was raised in a "comfortable upper-middle class" home in Ann andale, Virginia. He had eight siblings, and was close to his younger sister, Car ine. Chris attended Emory University in Atlanta and achieved good grades, but eschewed awards and honors and exhibited increasing hostility toward materialistic values through his college years. He had money left after college from a bequest left by a friend, and his parents thought he would go to law school, but Chris donated all the money to a charitable organization, and disappeared soon after graduation. McCandless loaded his possessions into his beloved old Datsun B210, and "headed west without an itinerary." To symbolize his "severance from his previous life," he adopted a new name, Alexander Supertramp, and set out with the intention of living as the "master of his own destiny."

Chapter 4 Summary

McCandless chronicled his meanderings after graduation in a journal snapshot album. He traveled first to Lake Mead, where he ignored warnings posted against off-road driving and camped on the dry riverbed. He "basked in his newfound freedom" until a flash flood struck; although he was able to salvage his tent and belongings, his car engine was soaked, and he could not get it started afterwards. He abandoned the car, and took advantage of the opportunity "to shed unnecessary baggage," leaving many of his possessions and burning all of his money. He then "tramped around the West" for the next two months, hitchhiking up the Pacific Coast to Seattle, heading east through Idaho and Montana, then south and west again to the Colorad o River. He worked occasionally and met some interesting people, including Wayne Westerberg in South Dakota, and Bob and Jan Burres in northern California. Chris's parents, terribly worried about their son, hired a private investigator to search for him, but the detective was never able to catch up to the boy. McCandless bought a small canoe and paddled down the Colorado River into Mexico, where he got lost in a labyrinth of canals for a time. Finally, he jetisoned the canoe, and in January, crossed back on foot into the United States. He spent the next six weeks traversing the Southwest and eventually ended up in Las Vegas, thin and lean, "his spirit...soaring."

Chapter 5 Summary

Chris enters Bullhead City, Colorado in early October of 1991. The town is described as a place that is full of tourist traps and strip malls. Although described as a place that one would not expect Chris to visit or stay for very long, he actually enjoyed his stay in this town—staying there for two consecutive months, even considering staying there for longer. During his stay Chris got a job working at a local McDonald's, giving his real name on the application, and even opened up an account at a local bank. Described by those he knew there as a hard working and dependable person, Chris had to be reminded and forced by his manager to wear socks to work on a daily basis. Also during this time period, he met a man named Charlie who instructed him to live in a trailer that he had not been using instead of living out of his backpack and on the streets. Upon leaving, he went to live in “The Slabs,” a hippie community where Jan and her boyfriend lived. There he lived with Jan and Bob in their trailer. All of the people that Chris came in contact with during this time, including a 17-year-old girl who had a crush on him, described him as enjoying himself and having a good time during his stay. Nevertheless, after a few weeks Chris decided to leave The Slabs as well and make his way closer to his Alaskan adventure.


Chapter 6 Summary

After leaving The Slabs, Chris made his way to Salton City, California, in January of 1992 where he met Ronald Franz, an older gentleman who had long since lost his wife and son, recovered from alcoholism, and became "a devout christian." Franz would question Chris many times about his lifestyle; as Franz recalls, Chris explained to him that he chooses to live his life this way and described his future Alaskan adventure. The two men create a father-son type of relationship and spend a great deal of time together over the next few months. In March, Chris decided it was again time to move on and go back to Carthage, South Dakota. Ronald, sad to see Chris go, offered to drive him to Grand Junction, Colorado, and asked Chris if he could adopt him as a grandson; Chris, however, declined the offer. About a month later, Ronald received a letter from Chris in which he urged Ron to live his life in a way that he never has before and go out and enjoy the nature around him. Ronald ended up taking Chris's advice and saw life through a new set of eyes. However, when Ronald found out about Chris's death he gave up his religion completely and began drinking again.

Chapter 7 Summary

Wayne Westerberg and various other people from Carthage, South Dakota, reminisce about Chris's final visit with them. Wayne recalls the four week stay as a time when Chris did odd jobs that no one else could handle while he prepared for his Alaskan adventure. He was described by Wayne as a hard-worker who did his job yet lacked common sense, a possible tragic flaw. Wayne's girlfriend and mother also commented on Chris saying that he was shy yet fascinating and spoke nothing of his family except mentioning his sister, Carine, a few times. Some background information is also revealed in this chapter. It is revealed that Chris shared many negative qualities with his father, Walt, which included his stubbornness and "hot-headedness." In addition, it is revealed that most thought of Chris as remaining celibate for his entire life, stating that there was never any evidence found that he had ever had sexual intercourse. He is compared in this chapter to Henry David Thoreau in that respect, and several book quotes which were found highlighted in Chris's collection are noted as examples of Chris's transcendental choices.

Chapter 8 Summary

Other men before Chris McCandless have journeyed alone to Alaska to test their mettle. One of the best known was Gene Rossellini, a "wayward genius...interested in knowing if it was possible to be independent of modern technology." After experimenting for "over a decade", he concluded that "it is not possible for human beings as we know them to live off the land," and although he did not seem devastated by his findings, he killed himself in 1991 by stabbing himself though the heart. A lesser-known wayfarer was John Mellon Waterman, who made several forays alone into the wild. A self-critical, compulsive character, Waterman was erratic and unstable, and when his "life's work," an "accumulation of notes, poetry, and personal journals" was destroyed in a fire, he despondently set out into the frozen mountains with minimal gear and was never seen again.

Comparisons have been drawn between Chris McCandless and these and other Alaskan adventurers, but differences between them appear to outweigh similarities. Although Chris was rash and incautious, he was not incompetent, nor was he an outcast. It is hard to pinpoint exactly what he was; the author suggests that he was, perhaps, "a pilgrim." In seeking to find a predecessor who might help bring an understanding to McCandless's personality, the author suggests looking at a young man who sojourned not in Alaska but in Utah, Everett Ruess.

Chapter 9 Summary

There are many parallels between Chris McCandless and another young adventurer who lived in the early 1900s, Everett Ruess. Ruess tramped the American Southwest and California, taking his first solo trip when he was only sixteen.  Driven by a "craving for connection with the natural world and...passion for the country through which he walked," Ruess, like McCandless, was "heedless of personal safety" and "undeterred by physical discomfort." Like McCandless, who developed an alterego, "Alexander Supertramp", Ruess took on a variety of aliases, which he felt compelled to scrawl at some of the remote sites where he made his temporary homes.

Ruess disappeared in 1935, in the Davis Gulch are a in Utah, and his remains were never found. It is "widely believed that (he) fell to his death while scrambling on one or another canyon wall," but theories abound that he was murdered or perhaps drowned.

The similarities between Ruess and McCandless are striking. Both were incurable romantics, who seemed to "like companionship...but (couldn't) stand to be around people for very long." Both felt driven throughout their short lives "to get (them)selves lost, come back for awhile, then get the hell out again." Ruess and McCandless were different, but they "tried to follow their dream(s)." Their characters are marked by "courage...reckless innocence, and...urgency of desire."

Chapter 10 Summary

The chapter begins with a New York Times article that gives minor details of Chris's body being found in the Alaskan Wilderness. When he was originally found, Chris's body could not be identified because he did not have identification of any kind. Once the Anchorage Daily News began to publish articles about the mystery, Jim Gallien (see Chapter 1) realized that this must have been the same man that he had dropped off at the edge of the Alaskan wild in the spring. As the search for Chris's identity continued, Alaskan State Troopers were led to South Dakota. When the news of Chris's death traveled there, Wayne Westerberg heard of it and called the Alaskan State Troopers to provide information including Chris's real name and social security number. Although Chris's family could not be immediately located, the authorities got a hold of his oldest step brother, Sam, who identified Chris's body and notified his parents.

Chapter 11 Summary

Chris McCandless was born to Walt McCandless, an intelligent, intense aerospace technician, and his second wife Billie, in 1968. As a child, he showed unusual independence from the time he was a toddler. In elementary school he was placed in an accelerated program for gifted students, but tried to reason with his teachers and administrators that he did not really belong there. His sister Carine remembers that though he was popular, "he was very to himself...he could be alone without being lonely." Chris got good grades in school with little effort, and although he was small, he was a great athlete. He "had little patience for learning the finer points" of organized sports, however; "nuance, strategy, and anything beyond the rudimentaries of technique were wasted on (him)."

Walt and Billie McCandless often took the family on camping and hiking trips; "there was always a little wanderlust in the family, and...Chris had inherited it." Walt remembers that "Chris was fearless even when he was little...he didn't think the odds applied to him."

In high school, Chris became passionately concerned with the plight of the downtrodden in his community and the world, and although he was a natural entrepreneur, he came to believe that wealth was corrupting and evil. He announced to his parents that he was not going to go to college, but complied with their wishes, going to Emory University and excelling academically.

Chapter 12 Summary

Chris graduated from high school in 1986. After giving his father the gift of a fine telescope and expressing his thankfulness for all he had done for him, he left on the first of a series of extended trips. With no definite itinerary, Chris journeyed to the Pacific Coast, making a startling discovery in California. While visiting family friends in the neighborhood where he had grown up, Chris learned that, long after falling in love with his mother Billie and fathering Chris, his father Walt McCandless had had a son with his first wife and had essentially led a double life. Although he never confronted his father, the discovery irrevocably soured the way he viewed Walt, and filled him with rage.

Chris returned, scruffy and lean, just in time to start his freshman year at Emory in Atlanta. He did well at the university, but grew increasingly eccentric and distant as the years went by. He was uncharacteristically courteous to his parents at first, but by the end of his sophomore year, their relationship, such as it was, deteriorated significantly, and, correspondingly, he developed "a sense of outrage over injustice in the world at large." At the end of his junior year, he made his first visit to Alaska, and after graduation in the spring of 1990, "he donated the balance of his bank account (to charity), loaded up his car, and vanished from (his family's) lives."

Chapter 13 Summary

Chris McCandless's younger sister Carine "looks enough like him that people frequently asked if they were twins." She is "energetic and self-assured," and, like Chris, "clashed fiercely" with her father and mother as an adolescent. Carine eventually made peace with her parents, however. And although she "shares Chris's outrage over racial injustice," she has no objection to the pursuit of wealth. Carine lives in a nice Virginia Beach home with her husband, Chris Fish, and Buckley, the Shetland sheepdog her brother so loved.

It was Chris Fish who told Carine that her brother had been found dead. When Chris McCandless's identity had been confirmed through dental records, Carine and Walt McCandless's oldest son, Sam, went down to Fairbanks to bring back their brother's remains. They were given Chris McCandless's ashes in a plastic box, with a label on which his name was spelled incorrectly.

Chris and Carine McCandless had been "uncommonly close." In a letter describing his conflicts with his parents, Chris once wrote to Carine that she was "the only one in the world who could possibly understand what (he was) saying." Her brother's death left a huge void in Carine's life, and, ten months later, she still "grieves deeply." Their mother, Billie, too, has been acutely affected by the loss of her son, and still cries frequently, saying, "I just don't understand it at all."

Chapter 14 Summary

After Chris McCandless's death, there was "considerable speculation that the boy had been bent on suicide from the beginning" of his risky undertaking, but the author, Jon Krakauer, disputes these theories. His own belief is that McCandless's death was "unplanned...a terrible accident," and he bases his conclusion on experiences of his own.

As a youth, Krakauer, like McCandless, was "willful, self-absorbed, intermittently reckless, moody." "Figures of male authority" aroused in him fierce and conflicting emotions, and "if something captured (his) undisciplined imagination," he pursued it with "a zeal bordering obsession." Krakauer's passion was mountain climbing, and, in 1977, he "got it into (his) head" to climb Alaska's dreaded "Devil's Thumb," alone. "Dimly aware that (he) might be getting in over his head," Krakauer precipitously quit his job and set out for the far north country.

To say that Krakauer's endeavor was harrowing would be an understatement.  His challenge forced him to struggle through a labyrinthine glacial ice fall in complete whiteout, and left him stranded for days at base camp with dwindling resources, waiting for an arranged airdrop of supplies delayed by inclement weather. Surviving that, he continued up the mountain, even though he knew he was "mentally unprepared to commence the actual climb." After a series of dangerous setbacks, he finally reached a point where he could find no passage over frosted slabs of rock. He was forced to concede that the climb was over; "the only place to go was down."

Chapter 15 Summary

After retreating back to base camp, Krakauer considered making another try up the mountain; although he really "didn't want to go up on the Thumb again at all...the thought of defeat wasn't very appealing." He remembered his father, with whom he had clashed continually during his youth. Jon Krakauer's father set impossibly high expectations for his children, and was volatile and unyielding, but Jon "felt oppressed by the old man's expectations" and refused to follow the path set for him. Later, he realized that, in growing up, he "had been selfish and unbending and a giant pain in the ass," but it was too late. He and his father were never really reconciled.

Jon's father had, if nothing else,...

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Chapter 16 Summary

In April of 1992, Chris McCandless hitchhiked from Carthage, South Dakota, to Fairbanks, Alaska, riding the last thousand miles with Gaylord Stuckey, a driver who was transporting a motor home to a Fairbanks RV dealer. Stuckey dropped Chris off at the University of Alaska, where the young man spent a few days researching edible plants before he began his hike west into the wild.

Chris McCandless entered the wilderness with only ten pounds of rice and a backpack half-filled with books. From his journal, it is known that he reached the Teklanika River on his second day out, and was able to ford the half-frozen water by wading across. The next day, he found the abandoned construction company bus and was "elated"...

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Chapter 17 Summary

If Chris McCandless had taken a detailed map with him into the wild, he would have known there was a way to ford the river he believed was impossible to cross, just twenty minutes from where he was stranded. His mistakes led many to view him as "arrogant" and "ridiculously ill prepared," a victim of his own stupidity. The author, Jon Krakauer, felt there was more to it than that, however, and went back to where Chris died a year later to try to gain a greater understanding of the man.

Krakauer believes McCandless went into the wild "to explore the inner country of his own soul," but found that the struggle for basic survival demanded he focus as much " inward." His journal does not address insights...

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Chapter 18 Summary

Chris McCandless resumed his solitary life at his camp after finding the Teklanika uncrossable. He caught enough game to subsist for a month, and apparently spent that time hunting, gathering, and reading. At the end of that time, he "made the mistake that pulled him down." On July 30, his journal entry indicates that he was "extremly weak" and in "great jeopardy." He faulted "pot.seed" for his predicament.

There have been many conjectures as to what exactly caused Chris's "precipitous decline." It is possible that he ingested potato seeds he had brought in with him, which become toxic after they have begun to sprout. More probably, he might have mistakenly eaten a toxic plant that closely resembles an edible...

(The entire section is 231 words.)