Into the Wild Themes

Instructor: Susan Nagelsen

Susan has directed the writing program in undergraduate colleges, taught in the writing and English departments, and criminal justice departments.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer is a story of man vs. nature, but that is just one of the themes in this book. This true tale also presents us with ideas pertaining to family, freedom and self-reinvention.

Chris McCandless: A Wanderer

In Jon Krakauer's true story of Chris McCandless's journey, Into the Wild, we soon realize that it is difficult to really know who the real Chris was. He was a mystery to those who knew and loved him, and maybe even to himself.

A compassionate and kind young man, he left home without letting his parents know where he was going. Hiding his car so they wouldn't know where he ended his journey, he traveled into the wilderness of Alaska, putting himself in grave danger, seemingly with no thought to those who loved him.

But what the reader and those who loved him do know is that Chris 'intended to invent an utterly new life for himself, one in which he would be free to wallow in unfiltered experience.'

Man vs. Nature

Chris McCandless was inspired by Jack London's tales of the Alaskan wilderness. These stories prompted him to get rid of his life savings, his car, and all of his worldly belongings and set out on an adventure across the country, ultimately towards the wilderness, where he could live in peace.

He believes, 'The core of man's spirit comes from new experiences.' He lives life by the principle, 'Don't settle down and sit in one place. Move around, be nomadic, make each day a new horizon.'

Chris faced each day of his two-year trek facing whatever nature had to offer him. In the end, nature won, but Chris spent those two years on his terms. When he walked into the wilderness of Alaska, he did so believing that he would somehow find what he was looking for, that he was ready to face the challenge. 'For most of the sixteen-week ordeal…McCandless more than held his own. Indeed, were it not for one or two seemingly insignificant blunders, he would have walked out of the woods…as anonymously as he had walked into them.'

Father-Son Relationship

McCandless was angry with his father. Chris carried a secret that no child should have to shoulder alone. He knew that his father and mother had lied to him for most of his life about the fact that when they met and he was born, his father was already married to another woman and had a son. Chris struggles every day with the deceit and the fact that his father is incapable of recognizing the pain he causes.

Carrie, Chris's sister, talks about the difficulty in the relationship between the father and son, and remarks that the only time there seemed to be calm was when they were camping. When they were out on the trail, everyone was more relaxed and comfortable.

His father, Walt, is clearly unable to process the actions and reactions of his son. Walt comments after his son's body has been found, 'How is it,' he wonders aloud as he gazes blankly across Chesapeake Bay, 'that a kid with so much compassion could cause his parents so much pain.'


As Chris sets out, walking away from society, he is seeking freedom from rules and people's authority over him. He believes it is time for him to live in a place where the only rules he need follow are those of nature.

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