Into the Wild Themes
The three main themes in Into the Wild are the attraction of the wilderness, isolation and personal freedom, and idealism versus empathy.
- The attraction of the wilderness: Throughout the book, author Jon Krakauer shows how McCandless and other figures like him have been drawn to spend time alone in the American wilderness.
- Isolation and personal freedom: McCandless was striving to live a freer, more authentic life, and he believed that living alone in the Alaskan wilderness would allow him to achieve that dream.
- Idealism versus empathy: One could argue that McCandless is an admirable figure, as he ceaselessly and tirelessly pursued his own set of goals—yet in the process, he also pushed other people away.
Last Updated on October 3, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 417
The Attraction of the Wilderness
Throughout the book, author Jon Krakauer shows how McCandless and other figures like him have been drawn to spend time alone in the American wilderness. Krakauer makes numerous comparisons between McCandless and men like Henry David Thoreau and John Muir. Similar to those earlier Americans, McCandless actively pursued a state of isolation in the wild. It was in those spaces that McCandless, Thoreau, and Muir found a spiritual wholeness that life in the city, surrounded by people, couldn't provide. Krakauer further explores nature's power to attract the wandering soul by discussing his own experiences in the American wilderness, as well as the experiences of men like Everett Ruess, Gene Rosellini, John Waterman, and Carl McGunn.
Isolation and Personal Freedom
McCandless was striving to live a freer, more authentic life, and he believed that living alone in the Alaskan wilderness would allow him to achieve that dream; shortly before his death, he wrote that he had at last discovered the "ultimate freedom." For McCandless, ultimate freedom consisted of living for himself and nobody else, not beholden to anyone else's expectations, rules, or authority. He found such authority oppressive and fought it by refusing to obtain a hunting license or change his name on tax documents. Extreme isolationism was McCandless's ideal form of personal freedom because it allowed him to live for himself and himself only. While this some readers might find this idea alluring, it is also possible to view McCandless's deep desire for personal freedom as selfish: he lived to pursue what he believed to be his own best interest and no one else's.
Idealism versus Empathy
One could argue that McCandless is an admirable figure, as he ceaselessly and tirelessly pursued his own set of goals and was willing to give up money, safety, and comfort to live out his dream. His single-minded focus on that dream, however, led him to hurt friends and family members. As he worked his way closer to his achieving his goals, McCandless pushed his family away by refusing to communicate with them, leaving them to worry constantly about his well-being. McCandless also pushed away friends by adhering to his strict code of principles. For example, due to his distaste for materialism, he lived on very little and eventually gave away the remainder of his money, but he also refused to accept gifts from his friends. And when Franz attempted to become a father figure to McCandless, McCandless's response was to leave, regardless of the hurt he caused Franz.