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Into the Wild Vocabulary

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 Krackaurer is the story of Christopher Johnson McCandless and his wanderings across America after his graduation from Emory University in 1990. As we look at the vocabulary, it sheds light on the meaning.

A Little Background

In Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer we meet Christopher Johnson McCandless. Chris graduated from Emory University in 1990, packed his yellow Datsun, and went off to travel for the summer. His parents never see him again. He makes his way across the country, down into Mexico, and finally to Alaska, where, in 1992, he is found dead from apparent starvation. If we take the time to look at the vocabulary, it will help us determine whether he lost his life accidentally or if it was deliberate.

Replica of the bus used in the movie version.
Replica of Bus

We Get Pulled Into the Story

He had spent the previous four years, as he saw it, preparing to fulfill an absurd and onerous duty: to graduate from college.

If something is onerous, it is strenuous, difficult, hard.

The trip was to be an odyssey in the fullest sense of the word, an epic journey that would change everything.

An odyssey is a long journey full of adventures.

Five weeks earlier he'd loaded all his belongings into his little car and headed west without an itinerary.

An itinerary is a list of the places you will go on your journey.

Although the tone of the journal--written in the third person in a stilted, self-consciousness voice--often veers toward melodrama, the available evidence indicates that McCandless did not misrepresent the facts; telling the truth was a credo he took seriously.

A credo is a set of ideas that guides a person.

To avoid being robbed by the unsavory characters who rule the streets and freeway overpasses where he slept, he learned to bury what money he had before entering a city, then recover it on the way out of town.

Something that is unsavory is unpleasant.

Mesmerized by London's turgid portrayal of life in Alaska and the Yukon, McCandless read and reread 'The Call of the Wild', 'White Fang', 'To Build a Fire', 'An Odyssey of the North', 'The Wit of Porportuk.

In this case he is talking about Jack London, a writer, who spent his time writing about Alaska. Turgid refers to something that is complicated or difficult to understand.

He was so enthralled by these tales, however, that he seemed to forget they were works of fiction, constructions of the imagination that had more to do with London's romantic sensibilities than with the actualities of life in the subarctic wilderness.

When someone is enthralled they are held spellbound by what they are seeing or hearing.

Not infrequently during their visits, Franz recalls, McCandless's face would darken with anger and he'd fulminate about his parents or politicians or the endemic idiocy of mainstream American life.

When you fulminate, you complain using a loud angry voice.

The Adventure Takes a Turn

McCandless's postcards, notes, and journals ... read like the work of an above average, somewhat histrionic high school kid.

McCandless was seen as histrionic, or too emotional and dramatic.

As if climbing the peak alone in winter weren't challenging enough, this time he decided to up the ante even further by beginning his ascent at sea level, which entailed walking 160 hard, circuitous miles from the shore of Cook Inlet just to reach the foot of the mountain.

When one travels in a circuitous manner they are not traveling in a straight line or taking the shortest route.

He could be extremely responsible, but he had a tendency to wing it sometimes, to act impulsively, to get by on bravado and style.

Bravado is behavior that is intended to impress people.

Twice I was nearly gored to death by a wild bull. But always, so far, I've escaped unscathed and gone forth to other adventures.

When you come away unscathed you have walked away with no damage.

According to members of the extended family, his moods can be dark and mercurial, although they say his famous temper has lost much of its volatility in recent years.

If you are mercurial, your moods change often and quickly.

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