Into the Wild: Chapter 3 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 3 of Jon Krakaur's 'Into the Wild.' In this chapter, we learn a bit more about Chris McCandless's family, his motivations, and the last few months before he wandered into the Alaskan wilderness.

Wayne Westerberg

Jon Krakaur's Into the Wild reads like a puzzle--one piece at a time, and not always in the right order. In the third chapter, we learn about Wayne Westerberg, who was another of the many people who gave protagonist Chris McCandless a ride during his hitchhiking odyssey. This particular ride was different, however, because it resulted in a friendship.

Westerberg picked Chris up in Montana on September 10, 1990. Chris planned to travel to Saco Hot Springs, but ended up staying with Westerberg for three days while he and a crew of workers harvested grain. A few weeks later, Chris traveled to Carthage, South Dakota to meet up with Westerberg. There, he began working for Westerberg at his grain elevator. Only a month later, however, Westerberg landed himself in prison for building 'black boxes' to allow people to watch cable TV for free. Chris resumed his nomadic lifestyle at that point.

Chris is in the center of the photo, with Wayne Westerburg on the left.
Chris and Wayne Westerberg

The Life He Left Behind

Chapter 3 also gives us some information about Chris's family. We learn that his dad, Walt, is an aerospace engineer. He worked for NASA and Hughes Aircraft before starting his own consulting business together with Chris's mother, Billie. Chris has one sister and six half brothers from his father's first marriage. He was very close to his sister, Carine. They lived in an upscale suburb of Washington DC.

Chris went to Emory University in Georgia. There, he got good grades and was the editor of the student newspaper. He graduated from college with much success, and his parents thought he was going to go to law school. Everything was not all sunshine and roses, however--Chris clearly had some animosity toward his parents as he wrote in a letter to his sister, ''I'm going to have to be real careful not to accept any gifts from them in the future because they will think they have bought my respect.''

Emory Univeristy

Philosophical Underpinnings

In Chris's college days, we can see some of the theoretical mindset that precipitated his wilderness excursion. His parents were well off. He did not lack for material goods. However, he found himself relating to Leo Tolstoy, who gave away all his wealth to live among the poor. Chris's parents offered to buy him a new car upon his graduation from Emory, and they offered to help him pay for law school, too. Chis was indignant. ''They think I'd actually let them pay for my law school,'' he wrote to his sister.

Chris adhered to his belief in simple living while at college--his apartment was sparsely furnished and he did not have a phone. When he was offered membership in Phi Beta Kappa, he declined, saying ''titles and honors are irrelevant.'' He had over $24,000 in a savings account when he finished college, and he gave it all away to charity. He even burned the remaining cash in his wallet. Perhaps he felt as Tolstoy did, ''I felt in myself a superabundance of energy which found no outlet in our quiet life.''

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