Into the Wild: Chapter 12 Summary

Instructor: Lauren Boivin

Lauren has taught English at the university level and has a master's degree in literature.

This lesson provides an overview of Chapter 12 of Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild. Here, Krakauer pieces together some more information about Chris's state of mind. We finally begin to understand more about his rift with his dad.

A Fateful Summer

Not everyone has the easiest time getting along with their parents, and Chris McCandless was certainly an example.

In Chapter 12 of Into the Wild, Krakauer tells us that Chris graduated from high school in early June of 1986. At his graduation party, Chris very emotionally presented his dad with a birthday gift--a very expensive telescope. Chris's sister remembers that, as he presented the gift, Chris was fighting back tears as he explained that ''even though they'd had their differences over the years, he was grateful for all the things Dad had done for him.'' Sadly, all of this was called into question that summer as Chris took a journey to see old family friends in California.

In California that summer, Chris learned that his father's divorce from his first wife, Marcia, had not been typical. Chris's father, Walt, had for some time led a double life. Walt carried on a relationship with Marcia long after he had moved in with Billie, Chris's mom. In fact, two years after Chris was born, Walt had another son--but with Marcia.

Walt told lies and more lies to cover all this up, but eventually it came to light. ''All parties suffered terribly,'' Krakauer tells us. Walt eventually finalized his divorce with Marcia and he moved to the east coast with Billie and Chris. Gradually, Walt and Billie succeeded in moving on together, but they never told their kids about this. Chris was devastated when he found out.

Failure to Forgive

To discover someone you love has done something awful--and then lied about it--can be a major blow to one's foundation--especially when one is young. Chris later told Carine that these revelations made his ''entire childhood seem like a fiction.'' He didn't say any of this aloud to his parents, however. Instead, he kept it all inside and let it stew.

Even though Chris didn't voice his anger, it showed through. His mom noticed, ''he seemed mad at us more often, and .... he wouldn't tell us what was on his mind and spent more time by himself.'' The pain Chris was suffering, combined with typical teenage angst, likely contributed significantly to Chris's decision to leave his family.

Young Opinions

While Krakauer takes a sympathetic view of Chris throughout the book, in Chapter 12 he does help us remember ''how young McCandless was'' as this story played out. In Chris's unyielding resentment of his parents, we see a young and prideful view of a complex situation. We also see that in his response to their various concerns about him. Chris's mother tells Krakauer, ''Chris thought we were idiots for worrying about him.'' Indeed, in one of his letters to Carine, Chris says of his parents, ''what a bunch of imbeciles.'' In this, Chris was a pretty typical kid--don't we all think our parents are dumb until we're old enough to know better?

Krakauer also provides us with an overview of the articles Chris wrote for his university newspaper--the topics of which are wildly diverse, sometimes contradictory, and not exactly laden with wisdom. Krakauer also points out the disparity between Chris's disdain for wealth and his staunch support of the Republican party. This chapter serves to remind us that Chris McCandless was quite young still and often fell pray to the typical hubris of youth.


The impulsiveness of youth is probably at least partially the reason for Chris's fixation on Alaska, too. He went there for the first time in the summer of 1989--after originally planning to go to Guatemala. During this short visit, Krakauer writes, Chris became ''smitten by the vastness of the land, by the ghostly hue of the glaciers, by the pellucid subarctic sky.''

He fell in love with Alaska the way another college kid might fall in love with a summer girlfriend. The initial affair was brief enough to allow memory to be tainted by idealism. Krakauer tells us, ''There was never any question that he would return.''

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