Into the Wild: Chapter 11 Summary

Instructor: Joelle Brummitt-Yale

Joelle has taught middle school Language Arts and college academic writing. She has a master's degree in education.

In this lesson, we explore Chapter 11 of ''Into the Wild'', focusing on insights into Chris McCandless's childhood and his family's history from the points of view of his father, step-mother, sister and high school friends.


To this point in Into the Wild, author Jon Krakauer has shared Chris McCandless's journey from relinquishing his savings to charity to traveling across the United States hitching rides and working odd jobs to fund his basic needs. McCandless eventually reaches Denali National Park in Alaska and walks into the wilderness to live in solitude for a few months. In the previous chapter, McCandless's body is finally identified after it was discovered in an abandoned van in the park.

Walt McCandless

In the first pages of Chapter 11, Krakauer introduces us to Chris McCandless's father, Walt. The author is visiting Walt and his second wife, Billie, at their home in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland. The interview takes place seven weeks after their son's body was discovered in Alaska.

We get to know Chris McCandless and his family through this interview and Krakauer's conversations with his high school friends. The McCandless family's story begins with Walt.

After working his way through college through odd jobs including gigs as a jazz pianist, Walt begins working for Hughes Aircraft. Upon completion of his master's degree in the obscure and focused field of antenna theory, his job expands to include work on the first space vehicle to make a 'soft landing on the moon.'

During this time, Walt and his first wife, Marcia, have five children. In 1965, Walt and Marcia's marriage falls apart and they divorce. Walt soon begins a relationship with one of his co-workers at Hughes, Billie Johnson, and she becomes pregnant with their first child, Chris.

After the birth of their second child, Carine, the McCandless family moves to Virginia, so Walt can begin working for NASA. A few years later, he leaves that position and he and Billie begin a consulting firm that eventually becomes successful and provides for the comfortable life Chris enjoyed.

Chris Through His Mother's Eyes

Billie describes Chris as an incredibly gifted but stubborn child. She tells a story of Chris trying to wriggle his way out of the gifted program he was place in in third grade because he was concerned he would have too much work to do. She also describes his entrepreneurial spirit, noting he created his first business at a young age selling vegetables he grew himself.

Chris Through His Sister's Eyes

Krakauer also presents Carine's take on who her brother was as a child. She describes Chris as a loner. She goes on to say he was not lonely; rather, he could spend long periods of time happily occupying himself without friends or toys. Carine also shares the close bond that she and Chris shared. He was protective of Carine. The two spent quite a bit of time together because their parents worked long hours as they built their consulting business.

Chris Through His Father's Eyes

The Chris that Walt describes is the one we have seen quite a bit during the book. Walt defines his son as 'fearless' and says Chris 'didn't think the odds applied to him.' Krakauer shares stories of outdoor adventures Walt and Chris went on, including a hiking trip where Walt had to convince Chris not to continue on an increasingly dangerous hike up Longs Peak in Colorado.

Walt adds that his son was incredibly naturally talented but he did not want to develop those talents beyond the basics. Chris would become frustrated when he maxed out his natural abilities and refused to work on skills that would take him to the next level.

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