Into the Wild Symbols

Instructor: Summer Stewart

Summer has taught creative writing and sciences at the college level. She holds an MFA in Creative writing and a B.A.S. in English and Nutrition

In ''Into the Wild'' by Jon Krakauer, symbolism provides insight into the book's main themes. Explore the meanings behind the most prominent symbols found in this real-life story of one man's trek into the Alaskan wilderness in this lesson.

Background Information

Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild follows the adventures of Chris McCandless, a young man fresh out of college who wants to go to the Alaskan wilderness. He tries to do so with little more than a backpack and an optimistic attitude. Chris McCandless is free spirited and seeks solitude in his efforts to discover who he is.

Unfortunately, Chris' lack of preparedness results in his death. Four months after he enters the Alaskan wilderness, moose hunters find his body inside an old bus. In his book, Krakauer uses symbols, such as written correspondence, a backpack, a used yellow Datsun and the Alaskan wilderness to represent larger abstract ideas such as materialism, idealism and the need for human interaction.

Into the Wild Bus Replica
Into the Wild Bus Replica

Main Symbols

Written Correspondence

Letters and postcards pop up in several chapters of Into the Wild. Chris McCandless writes letters to his sister, Carine, while sending postcards to acquaintances or friends he meets during his travels. Letters to Carine often reference Chris' unstable relationship with his parents: in one letter he tells her that, when the time was right, he was going to 'divorce' them.

Many of Chris' letters and postcards detail his life as he makes his way to Alaska, while others reach out for help as he struggles to survive. For example, Chris sends a postcard to his friend, Wayne Westerberg, saying: 'This is the last you shall hear from me Wayne...If this adventure proves fatal and you don't ever hear from me again I want you to know you're a great man. I now walk into the wild.' As the opening to Chapter One of Krakauer's book, the postcard alludes to Chris' search for solitude and foreshadows his later death.

During the last month of Chris' life, he leaves an SOS note on his bus before going out to forage for berries. The note states: 'I need your help. I am injured, near death, and too weak to hike out of here. I am all aloneā€¦'

Material Objects

Materialism is a major concept explored throughout McCandless' expedition. Chris' used yellow Datsun and backpack are symbols for his rejection of materialism and embrace of a minimalist lifestyle. For example, Chris buys the used car in high school after working for a summer, and when his father offers to buy him a brand new car, Chris rejects the offer outright. He prefers the used yellow Datsun, not only because he earned the money for it himself, but also because he has no desire to be materialistic in the same way that his father is.

Even though Chris loves the yellow Datsun, he abandons it under a tarp after he drains the battery trying to get the engine started after a flash flood in the Mojave Desert. Not only does Chris leave his car, but he also buries some possessions and burns the remainder of his money. According to Krakauer: Chris 'saw the flash flood as an opportunity to shed unnecessary baggage'; afterwards, Chris continues his cross-country trip as a hitchhiker. The abandonment of the car further represents his rejection of a materialistic existence.

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