Soon to be a movie, Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer is the story of Chris McCandless’s adventure in the Alaskan wilderness. It includes several others of Chris’s adventures in order to show the reader that Chris was not an idealistic greenhorn when he walked into the Alaskan rough country. It is no mystery that Chris died—that is stated immediately. The circumstances that brought about his death make up the bulk of the book. The reader comes to understand how Chris ended up starving—what in his personality and background brought him to this pass. It’s a good adventure read, but COHS English teachers will probably accept it when they ask you to read a biography or memoir. It’s a connection to the American writer Thoreau. And once again, like Ordinary Wolves, it shows the reality of the harsh Alaskan wilderness. Fans of Jack London might enjoy Into the Wild as well.
After graduating from Emory College, Chris changes his name to Alexander Supertramp and goes out to live a Thoreauian self-reliant existence. Much of his journey is documented in a journal in the third person, and some of that journal is quoted in the book.
Once he’s graduated, Chris “disappears” and his family never hears from him again. (They hire a private investigator, but the PI is unsuccessful.) He ventures to Mexico, takes a canoe trip, loses 25 pounds; but through it all he is exhilarated by his adventures. Ridding himself of his worldly good, he works for a time in Las Vegas and then Bullhead City. He even convinces a religious man to give up his worldly possessions and find God on the road, through self-reliance. (This man is so taken by Alex—Chris—that when he hears of his death in Alaska, he loses his faith in God.) Finally, McCandless spends months in Carthage, South Dakota working as a mill hand for a man named Westerburg.
Krakauer details the mistakes that he believes killed Alex, including the possibility of eating the poisonous seeds of a wild potato plant. The saddest fact for the reader is that if Alex had only brought a topographical map, he would have known how close he was to a little basket of salvation—but for Alex, that would have been less than self-reliant.