Into the Wild

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Arrogance, Innocence, and Ignorance Theme Analysis

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.
Arrogance, Innocence, and Ignorance Theme Icon

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 life," but also an inquiry into McCandless's death, much like the investigations that drive mystery novels, or crime dramas. Like a sleuth, the book circles around the question of "how and why did Chris McCandless die?"

For Krakauer the answer lies within McCandless's character—his arrogance—as well as his lack of experience—his innocence and ignorance.  Though Krakauer concedes that McCandless did possess a certain degree of arrogance in venturing into the woods underprepared and ill-equipped, he characterizes this incautiousness as stemming from McCandless's overestimation of his ability to survive off the land alone, rather than a haughty disregard of nature's might and mercurial ways. Krakauer attributes McCandless's death to "one or two seemingly insignificant blunders"— his inability to circumvent a system of dangerous rapids on the Stampede Trail and mistakenly eating potato seeds laced with a poisonous mold. Both are honest mistakes made on sound judgment. McCandless would have risked life and limb if he tried to ford the river's powerful floodwaters on his own. McCandless also ate the potato seeds, based on the advice of an authoritative edible plant guide, which left out some little known, yet important information about swainosine that could have saved McCandless's life.

Instead of indicting McCandless of unforgivable hubris, Krakauer characterizes McCandless as the victim of his own ignorance and innocence, an inexperienced young man whose death resulted—in part—from his severe naivetŽ, rather than any sort of extreme arrogance. In doing so, Krakauer uncovers the tragedy of McCandless's death—in pursuing self-knowledge and experience, he fell victim to his lack of both. Krakauer thus reveals the paradox underlying all ventures of self-discovery—though motivated by a thirst for knowledge and experience such journeys are inevitably underwritten by a lack of both.

Arrogance, Innocence, and Ignorance ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Arrogance, Innocence, and Ignorance appears in each chapter of Into the Wild. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Arrogance, Innocence, and Ignorance Quotes in Into the Wild

Below you will find the important quotes in Into the Wild related to the theme of Arrogance, Innocence, and Ignorance.
Author’s Note Quotes

Some readers admired the boy [Chris] immensely for his courage and noble ideals; other fulminated that he was a reckless idiot, a wacko, a narcissist who perished out of arrogance and stupidity—and was undeserving of the considerable media attention he received.

Related Characters: Jon Krakauer (speaker), Chris McCandless
Page Number: xi
Explanation and Analysis:

Krakauer has already made clear that he has a personal investment in the story, and that although he is a journalist, he wants to stress that he will not be an impartial observer. Indeed, here he notes that the nature of Chris's tale prompts a host of various and even contradictory responses. This very diversity suggests that the story is deeply powerful to people in a number of ways – indeed, that it strikes at the heart of competing values that we hold. 

Despite all of Krakauer's research, he suggests that this book will not provide the definitive account on whose version of the story is correct. Even with all the facts at hand, he suggests, one can still interpret certain actions as arrogant or innocent, naive or willfully obtuse. It is not, Krakauer implies, that one of these narratives is more "correct" than the other. Rather, even while noting where he lies on the spectrum of opinions, he leaves it to the reader to draw his or her own conclusions – claiming all the while that these conclusions will depend on the reader's own deeply held beliefs about character and society.  


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Chapter 1 Quotes

This is the last you shall hear from me Wayne…If this adventure proves fatal and you don’t ever hear from me again I want you to know you’re a great man. I now walk into the wild.

Related Characters: Chris McCandless (speaker), Wayne Westerberg
Related Symbols: Postcards, Notes and Letters
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

Knowing from the start that Chris McCandless's journey will, in fact, "prove fatal," this postcard strikes an eerie, even prophetic note. We don't yet know who exactly Wayne is, or what his relationship to Chris was like, but the postcard does suggest a powerful bond, given that Chris's last communication with another human being was with Wayne Westerberg.

Chris's words suggest that he is giving himself up to his circumstances, putting his faith in the forces of nature outside his control. As Krakauer has intimated int the author's note, this move could be considered as either arrogant or appealingly innocent, depending on one's point of view. But in either case, Chris's decision to "walk into the wild" is indicative of his entire world view, put into his own simple words – perhaps the reason why Krakauer took the title for his book from this postcard.

Chapter 8 Quotes

Such willful ignorance [on the part of McCandless]…amounts to disrespect for the land, and paradoxically demonstrates the same sort of arrogance that resulted in the Exxon Valdez Spill—just another case of underprepared, over-confident men bumbling around out there and screwing up because they lacked requisite humility…McCandless’s contrived asceticism and a pseudoliterary stance compound rather than reduce the fault.

Related Characters: Nick Jans (speaker), Chris McCandless
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:

Nick Jans, the author of a long letter addressed to Krakauer after his reporting on Chris's death, expresses a deep-seated antagonism to Chris's self-avowed idealism and desire to live more purely and authentically. By comparing Chris's "arrogance" to that resulting in the Exxon Valdez Spill, Jans makes clear that to him there is nothing sweet or innocent about the young man's explorations. Instead, he argues that what some call "innocence" is in fact dangerous and harmful to precisely the pristine environments that Chris claimed to admire. 

Krakauer has made clear to his readers that he holds a more sympathetic viewpoint towards Chris's actions, choosing to regard his blunders as innocent and naive more than actively malicious. But by quoting at length from a letter such as Nick Jans's, he shows a willingness to admit the possibility of various interpretations of this story. Krakauer acknowledges that one could well consider Chris as arrogant, more interested in pursuing his own romantic view of the wild than in actually choosing practices that would be sustainable for the environment. But in addition, here as elsewhere, Krakauer leaves the ultimate choice up to the reader, in deciding how to interpret Chris's various choices and actions.

McCandless didn’t conform…well to the bush-casualty stereotype. Although he was rash, untutored in the ways of the backcountry, and incautious to the point of foolhardiness, he wasn’t incompetent—he wouldn’t have lasted 113 days if he were. And he wasn’t a nutcase, he wasn’t a sociopath, he wasn’t an outcast. McCandless was something else…. A pilgrim, perhaps.

Related Characters: Jon Krakauer (speaker), Chris McCandless
Page Number: 85
Explanation and Analysis:

In attempting to determine his own conclusions about Chris's character and responsibility, Krakauer takes a more nuanced approach than a critic like Nick Jans, for instance. To Krakauer, there are some parallels between Chris's saga and that of other "bush-casualty" tales, but also ways in which Chris's particularly stubbornness and independence make him break away from the norm. Krakauer dismisses various simple explanations for Chris's death – but he is unable to confidently replace such characterizations (that of a sociopath or an outcast, for instance) with another, instead adding a tentative "perhaps" to "pilgrim."

Krakauer prefers to situate Chris's experience at the confluence of various individual, social, and even national trends. Chris can be described as "rash," according to Krakauer, but he's also competent, and his desire to go out into the wilderness is bolstered by a long, rich tradition of similar activities in American history and literature. Only by delving into all these trends, according to Krakauer, can one hope to fully understand what happened to Chris, and what it means for some of the values that others like and unlike him continue to hold.

Chapter 14 Quotes

As a youth, I am told, I was willful, self-absorbed, intermittently reckless, moody. I disappointed my father in the usual ways. Like McCandless, figures of male authority aroused in me a confusing medley of corked fury and hunger to please. If something captured my undisciplined imagination, I pursued it with a zeal bordering on obsession, and from the age of seventeen until my late twenties that something was mountain climbing….Climbing mattered.

Related Characters: Jon Krakauer (speaker)
Page Number: 134
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Krakauer moves to a first-person account of his own experience with a risky adventure in the wilderness. Until now, he has only alluded to several points of comparison between Chris McCandless and himself. Now, he makes explicit connections between Chris's life and his own, particularly regarding both their complex, difficult relationships to their fathers. Stubbornness, too, is something that he and Chris also share, as evinced by Krakauer's relationship to mountain climbing.

By linking his own narrative to that of Chris, Krakauer suggests once again that there is something broader to be learned in Chris's story, something shared by many people as a result of both individual and social circumstances. Krakauer's choice also helps to humanize Chris's character even while acknowledging his weaknesses. By admitting that he too can be stubborn, impetuous, and overly inclined to take risks – even while also being capable of impressive research and narrative skill – Krakauer helps us see that Chris too is more than the arrogance of his choices. At the same time, Krakauer makes it clear also that he himself, in different circumstances, could well have been as unlucky as Chris. 

Chapter 18 Quotes


Related Characters: Chris McCandless (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Stampede Trail , Chris’s Journal , Potato Seeds
Page Number: 188
Explanation and Analysis:

Thanks to Chris's journal, Krakauer is able to piece together, little by little, what Chris's last weeks and days were like – and perhaps to find a key to what caused his death. Here, a passage in Chris's journal provides a clue, as the tone suddenly shifts to one of desperation. We see quite clearly here how one small choice, one minor circumstance, can turn out to be a wild risk when alone and far from civilization. By citing Chris's journal verbatim, Krakauer makes it evident to us just how easily one can slip from safety into danger – and just how easily an idealistic journey can be compromised by lack of knowledge or expertise.