Into the Wild

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Themes and Colors
The American Wilderness Theme Icon
Risk and Self-Reinvention Theme Icon
Arrogance, Innocence, and Ignorance Theme Icon
Luck, Chance, and Circumstance Theme Icon
Materialism and Idealism Theme Icon
Isolation v. Intimacy Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Into the Wild, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

McCandless's journey is part of a long tradition of men seeking to find themselves in nature, including naturalists like John Muir and writers such as Henry David Thoreau. Krakauer points out that McCandless had a particular fascination with Thoreau's Walden, an extended personal essay in which Thoreau documents his experiences living in the woods of Concord, Massachusetts. Not only did McCandless carry a heavily annotated copy of the text with him throughout his travels…

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McCandless's journey into the wilderness is ultimately one of self-discovery and reinvention. Through his travels he transforms from a willful recent graduate, eager to break away from his stifling family, into a practiced wanderer and amateur mountaineer. Underscoring his transformation is his transition from his given name, "Chris McCandless," to "Alex," or "Alexander McCandless" on the road, to finally "Alexander Supertramp," on the Stampede Trail. McCandless's name changes document his shift in character and…

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When news of McCandless's death of apparent starvation breaks, native Alaskans ridicule him, assuming that Chris's lack of preparation for the frontier indicates the young man's incompetence, arrogance, stupidity, narcissism, and fundamental misunderstanding of the wild. Yet Krakauer questions whether McCandless's death is just another instance of a young man getting in over his head and suffering the consequences. In this way, Into the Wild is not just a biography of McCandless's "brief and confounding…

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While focused on the circumstances surrounding McCandless's death, Into the Wild is also concerned with the adventures leading up to it. Krakauer spends the majority of the book documenting Chris's movements across the United States, Mexico, and finally Alaska. Though McCandless discloses his intention to go to Alaska to the people he befriends throughout his journey, his itinerary is not shaped by design, but by chance meetings, happenstance occurrences, and instances of luck. For…

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Chris McCandless's reinvention into "Alexander Supertramp" is marked by his rejection of money and material objects, as well as his quest for a "raw, transcendent experience." McCandless donates the remainder of his college fund, $24,000, to OXFAM, thereby renouncing his affluent upbringing. He abandons his yellow Datsun in the Mojave Desert, forgoing the convenience of a car to travel on foot. During this time he also burns his leftover cash in a gesture…

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Throughout Into the Wild, Krakauer describes McCandless's journey as a struggle between isolating himself from society and forging intimate relationships with others. While gregarious with the strangers he meets on the road, McCandless breaks off all contact with his family. While carrying on genial correspondences with his newfound friends, McCandless writes about "[feeling] extremely uncomfortable with society" in his journal.

McCandless's complicated relationships with others stem from his estrangement from his family, a break…

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