Into the Wild

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Hunger and Starvation Symbol Analysis

Hunger and Starvation Symbol Icon
Hunger and starvation are reoccurring symbols throughout Into the Wild. McCandless becomes a champion against widespread starvation by donating $24,000 to OXFAM, an organization dedicated to fighting hunger. Yet McCandless himself is often plagued by hunger. He wanders in the desert with little food or water, subsists on rice, and eats hungrily whenever he’s offered a free meal. Ironically, McCandless dies of starvation, as a result of his foraging for edible wild plants in the Alaskan bush. Yet McCandless does not just hunger for food, but craves, what Krakauer calls, a “raw, transcendent experience.” In this way, McCandless’s journey is driven by a deep yearning, or hunger to explore the world, nature, and himself.

Hunger and Starvation Quotes in Into the Wild

The Into the Wild quotes below all refer to the symbol of Hunger and Starvation. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The American Wilderness Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Anchor Books edition of Into the Wild published in 1997.
Chapter 4 Quotes

Can this be the same Alex that set out in July 1990? Malnutrition and the road have taken their toll on his body. Over 25 pounds lost. But his spirit is soaring.

Related Characters: Chris McCandless (speaker)
Related Symbols: Hunger and Starvation
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:

By this time, Chris has lost or abandoned almost all of his worldly possessions, and he is wandering from place to place even more than before. Here, he writes in the third person in his own journal, as if he is viewing his own path from a distanced perspective. Chris refers to himself as "Alex," the new identity that he has taken on – this new identity, along with the way Chris describes his feelings, suggests that he is delighted that he has, in fact, been able to start anew by running away from his life and from his past.

Another quite physical manifestation of Chris's new identity can be seen in the changes in his body. "Malnutrition and the road" are, specifically, the source of these changes. But instead of complaining about his physical weakness, Chris takes it as just another sign of how much he has succeeded in reinventing himself. The way he describes this process is idealistic in the philosophical, not just pedestrian, sense: he embraces "spirit" over matter, as if his physical losses have allowed him to reach what is true. Chris has left behind the comfort of his former life, and he finds the struggle that he now must face to be uplifting, an indication of his closer and more authentic interaction with the world.


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Hunger and Starvation Symbol Timeline in Into the Wild

The timeline below shows where the symbol Hunger and Starvation appears in Into the Wild. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1 - The Alaska Interior
Materialism and Idealism Theme Icon
...that “Alex” will be all right, figuring that he will turn back once he gets hungry. (full context)
Chapter 2 - The Stampede Trail
Risk and Self-Reinvention Theme Icon
Materialism and Idealism Theme Icon
...decomposed remains, it is difficult to determine the cause of death, but its thinness indicates starvation. (full context)
Chapter 3 – Carthage
Risk and Self-Reinvention Theme Icon
Materialism and Idealism Theme Icon Carthage, South Dakota. Krakauer imagines what Chris would have looked like to Wayne—vulnerable and “hungry.” Westerberg remembers that, at the time of their meeting, McCandless had not eaten for days... (full context)
Chapter 9 - Davis Gulch
The American Wilderness Theme Icon
Risk and Self-Reinvention Theme Icon
Isolation v. Intimacy Theme Icon
Ruess and McCandless’ lives, deaths and “hunger of the spirit,” remind Krakauer of the papar, ancient Irish monks who sailed to a... (full context)
Chapter 18 - The Stampede Trail
The American Wilderness Theme Icon
Luck, Chance, and Circumstance Theme Icon
...effect that stops the body from being able to absorb energy from food, leading to starvation. (full context)