Into the Wild

Suggested Essay Questions

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  1. 1

    Is it possible for a biography to be truly impartial? Is Into the Wild?

    Biography can never be truly impartial, as, even if the author could include every moment of the subject’s life, rather than choosing which are most important, his method of presentation and his diction, inherently affect how the reader will feel about the subject. There is still a scale of more or less impartial, however, and Into the Wild falls on the less-impartial side, as Krakauer himself admits. For example, because he sees a lot of similarities between Chris and himself, he makes certain assumptions about Chris’s motivations and desires that he might not otherwise make. Yet because Krakauer makes this explicit, and doesn’t try to fool the reader, the reader still has the freedom to make their own interpretation.

  2. 2

    Is McCandless truly compassionate, as he is often described?

    McCandless’s compassion is the most enigmatic part of his story. It is clearly central to his personality for his whole life—he spends weekend nights in high school bringing burgers to homeless people—and yet he shows almost no compassion in dealing with his parents once he is in college. He willingly and intentionally leaves them in a state of utter unhappiness while he travels, and his disregard for his own safety threatens and ultimately destroys their wellbeing. This does not mean that he is not truly compassionate, but this compassion does have bounds.

  3. 3

    In Krakauer’s depiction of McCandless, is he a flat or round character? Static or dynamic?

    In Krakauer’s depiction, McCandless is certainly a round character. Although he is largely presented as good, his flaws are illuminated, and even his best qualities sometimes fail him. Krakauer also makes him a dynamic character, although the basis for this is largely conjecture. Krakauer believes that McCandless changed during his Alaska trip, that he may have mellowed and become ready to rejoin society and maybe even his family, although all of this is based on a few small lines Chris wrote, and passages he underlined in his reading.

  4. 4

    Explain how McCandless’s quest for “ultimate freedom” is inherently selfish.

    McCandless’s quest for ultimate freedom is not rooted in selfishness; it, in fact, comes out of largely noble desires. It is still inherently selfish, however, because it means acting for the individual over society, which is designed to protect everybody. Ultimate freedom means being accountable to no one but oneself, and thus, even if McCandless usually intended to act for the greater good, he has only his own limited perspective on what will truly lead to the greater good.

  5. 5

    How does Krakauer’s authorial presence affect McCandless’s story?

    Krakauer’s own upbringing and experiences as a young man come up throughout Into the Wild. Because there are such strong similarities to McCandless, the biggest difference being that Krakauer survived his odysseys, and so can tell his tale, Krakauer uses his own past to provide insights into McCandless’s actions and motivations. This also probably leads Krakauer to present McCandless in the most forgiving light that he can.

  6. 6

    What does Into the Wild posit as the core of the problems between McCandless and his father?

    Both Chris and Walt McCandless are strong-willed and independent, and Chris’s resistance to all authority means that he resents the authority his father has over him, even as he tries to please him. Chris specifically detests arbitrary authority, and so once he has proof that his father isn’t perfect, he then considers Walt’s authority over him to be completely arbitrary, and he resists it absolutely. Because of Chris’s intensity and tendency towards extremes, this becomes much more than just a typical adolescent rebellion.

  7. 7

    What specific appeal does the wilderness have for all the adventure seekers described in Into the wild?

    The adventure seekers in Into the Wild all seem to be searching for a life with a kind of brute simplicity, which they believe they can find in the wilderness. High-risk living leaves little time for the complicated problems of modern society, and this seems to be much of the appeal for these men. They also seem to believe that there is some core of truth hidden beneath all the layers of modern life, and this can only be found in the wild. Finally, surviving the challenges posed by this way of life provide a feeling of deep accomplishment for these often ambitious or competitive men.

  8. 8

    How is McCandless’s difficulty forgiving a driving force in his journeys?

    McCandless, though largely driven by his principals and morals to live a rootless, anti-materialist existence, also seems at least partially driven forward by a desire to punish his parents. He resents their pressure for him to go to law school, their materialism, and what he sees as their attempts to control him, so he tells Carine that he is going to cut them out of his life completely because he cannot forgive them. In not contacting them at all while he is on the road, he turns his odyssey into a tool for punishment, at least on some level.

  9. 9

    How can McCandless’s Datsun symbolize his interpersonal relationships?

    McCandless is completely committed to his Datsun from the time he buys it until he graduates from college, when he is deeply offended by his parents’ offer to buy him a new car. He tells Carine that he would never trade in his Datsun, which he thinks is perfect. Once he has trouble with the car, though, he deserts it immediately and angrily. Chris loves the Datsun despite its surface flaws, just like he is able to love most of his friends regardless of their looks, money, or way of life, but when he perceives a deeper flaw, he is unforgiving, and cuts it out of his life completely, as he does with his parents.

  10. 10

    McCandless’s story, despite its tragic end, has inspired many copycats since the original publication in Into the Wild. Why might this be?

    Krakauer presents McCandless’s tale in a forgiving way, yet it is still a cautionary tale—although he believes Chris could have survived, and only died because of a small mistake, he shows just how devastating such behavior can be to McCandless, and to those who loved him. Yet McCandless’s passion for living by his principals, for simplicity and purity, is attractive and to Krakauer, admirable, and the book does show that it may indeed be the wilderness that is the best place to find this. Thus, those who feel unsatisfied by modern life and society may see McCandless’s flight from it as worthy of emulation.