Into the Wild Characters
The main characters in Into the Wild are Chris McCandless, Walt McCandless, Ronald Franz, Bob and Jann Burres, and Wayne Westerburg.
- Chris McCandless is the subject of the biography. An evasive and enigmatic figure, McCandless forsook his privileged life and undertook a transcendentalism-inspired journey through the wilderness.
- Walt McCandless is Chris's father. Chris's discovery of Walt's second family spawned complex feelings and at least partially inspired Chris's journey.
- Ronald Franz is a kind, fatherly man that Chris meets during his travels.
- Bob and Jann Burres are a kind couple that Chris meets during his travels.
- Wayne Westerburg employs Chris at his grain factory.
Chris McCandless remains a somewhat ghostly presence even in this biography of his life. Although Krakauer uses frequent excerpts from Chris's personal journals, the reader always feels somewhat distanced, partly owing to his habit of writing about himself in the third person under an assumed name. Only Chris's final journal entries are written in the first person and signed with his real name, perhaps underscoring the shocking realization of first the possibility and then the certainty of his own imminent death. The tone of these final words is frightened at first, then rueful and courageous, and finally serene and reconciled. Other than these journal extracts, all of the information about McCandless is fragmentary and pieced together from the testimony of people who had met him on his journeys. Their accounts seem to paint him as an intensely bright and defiantly independent young man who clung to the stern and archaic ideals gleaned from his readings.
According to the reminiscences of his family and university friends, McCandless was a seemingly well-adjusted twenty-two-year-old at the time of his disappearance. He was athletic, bright, and a natural-born entrepreneur, excelling at so many things that he tended to be overconfident. A double major with above average grades, he led a life of comparable comfort and good fortune. He worked on the student newspaper at Emory University and, like many other people his age, thought about injustice in the world around him. He seemed to take life more seriously than many peers, however, refusing to join a fraternity and declaring that, according to his principles, he would no longer give or accept gifts. He appeared, on balance, to be an affable and intense friend according to all who met him, but there are puzzling glimpses of the unhappiness directed at his parents. While appearing to be content with his home life, McCandless revealed to a few trusted people a fierce disdain and bitterness toward his parents, whom he saw as unfairly tyrannical.
Krakauer is careful to avoid weighting Into the Wild with an excess of authorial judgment; although he concedes at the outset that his own feelings about McCandless will become obvious, he painstakingly tries not to impose his deeply-held convictions on his readers. A notable subtext in this biography is the way the young man's story and any number of other themes seem to inter-illuminate each other for the author. In the introduction to Into the Wild, Krakauer says "in trying to understand McCandless, I inevitably came to reflect on other, larger subjects as well: the grip Wilderness has on the American imagination, the allure high risk activities hold for young men of a certain mind, the complicated, highly charged bond that exists between fathers and sons."
A significant theme is the deep and secret alienation that McCandless felt toward his parents. He was intensely angry with them, although his complaints never seem to have been very clear. Bitterness and frustration often build walls between the competing natures of strong-willed sons and equally inflexible fathers, and Krakauer's portrait of the elder McCandless as a self-made man with a powerful personality makes this possibility a very reasonable one. However, a persevering positivism such as McCandless...
(The entire section is 994 words.)