Into the Wild

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Isolation v. Intimacy 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.
Isolation v. Intimacy Theme Icon

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 initiated by his discovery of his father's philandering in years past that sets Chris on a journey towards self-isolation. Krakauer characterizes McCandless's constant traveling as his way of running away from human connections: "McCandless wasÉrelieved that he had again evaded the impending threat of human intimacy, of friendship, and all the messy emotional baggage that comes with it. He had fled the claustrophobic confines of his family. He'd successfully kept Jan Burres and Wayne Westerberg at arm's length, flitting out of their lives before anything was expected of him. And now he'd slipped painlessly out of Ron Franz's life as well."

Though McCandless spurned human contact by leading a solitary life on the road and in the Alaskan bush, Krakauer notes how the very people McCandless evaded actually became surrogates for the family he was fleeing. Jan Burres shows a motherly concern for McCandless's wellbeing, Ronald Franz asks McCandless if he can adopt him, and Krakauer describes Wayne Westerberg's grain elevator workers as McCandless's "surrogate family." Meanwhile, McCandless's deep respect for Wayne supplants McCandless's broken relationship with his father, Walt. That McCandless sends his last postcard to Wayne, instead of Walt, speaks to his continuing disdain for his biological father and admiration for Wayne.

Even though McCandless ultimately cuts off contact with all his friends and family when he enters the Alaskan wilderness, his late journal entries show a young man coming to terms with his relationships with others and ready to reenter society. A highlighted passage from McCandless's copy of "Family Happiness" by Tolstoy reads, "He was right to say the only certain happiness in life is to live with others." That McCandless discovers a need for human contact through his solitary sojourn shows his reconciliation between his tendency to self-isolate and his deep need to connect with others.

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Isolation v. Intimacy ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Into the Wild related to the theme of Isolation v. Intimacy.
Author’s Note Quotes

In trying to understand McCandless, I inevitably came to reflect on…the grip wilderness has on the American imagination, the allure high-risk activities hold for young men of a certain mind, [and] the complicated, highly charged bond that exists between fathers and sons.

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

As Krakauer introduces the subject of his book, he is straightforward with the reader about the major themes that will characterize his treatment of Chris McCandless. This passage also gives us an understanding of Krakauer's own interest in the story. Having been assigned to write about it for Outside magazine, he finds himself drawn to pursue the tale in greater detail, not only because of his interest in the protagonist, but also because of what Chris's story reveals about larger themes in American culture.

Krakauer will insist throughout the book that the story only makes sense within a larger trajectory of literary representations of wilderness. Chris McCandless is one of many young men in American history drawn to nature because of the excitement it can inspire, the enticement of both personal challenge and ideological "purity" involved in leaving civilization behind, and also because of the broader context and history of high-risk involvement in the wilderness. Finally, Krakauer suggests that Chris McCandless's relationship with his father – as well as with the various other male characters he develops relationships with along the way – are also indicative of a broader trend that can be instructive for learning something about American society in general.


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Chapter 3 Quotes

The trip was to be an odyssey in the fullest sense of the word, an epic journey that would change everything. [McCandless] had spent the previous four years, as he saw it, preparing to fulfill an absurd and onerous duty: to graduate from college. At long last he was unencumbered, emancipated from the stifling world of his parents and peers, a world of abstraction and security and material excess, a world in which he felt grievously cut off from the raw throb of existence.

Related Characters: Jon Krakauer (speaker), Chris McCandless, Walt McCandless, Billie McCandless
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

In describing Chris's decision to leave his family and expectations and begin his journey, Krakauer does his best to enter into his subject's consciousness, to "get into his head," in order to try to understand what Chris was thinking. In large part, we learn that Chris is running away from everything that he grew up with – security, comfort, material possessions – that is, everything that many people strive to achieve for much of their lives. For Chris, though, these things suggest not what life can offer but the opposite of life itself.

Chris doesn't think that he can simply choose to live less materialistically than his family, for instance. Instead, he considers it necessary to cut off all connections to his prior life and to entirely reinvent himself. This idealism, Krakauer suggests, is at the root of both his greatest experiences and of his ultimately fatal end.

Chapter 6 Quotes

McCandless…relieved that he had again evaded the impending threat of human intimacy, of friendship, and all the messy emotional baggage that comes with it. He had fled the claustrophobic confines of his family. He’d successfully kept Jan Burres and Wayne Westerberg at arm’s length, flitting out of their lives before anything was expected of him. And now he’d slipped painlessly out of Ron Franz’s life as well.

Related Characters: Jon Krakauer (speaker), Chris McCandless, Jan Burres and Bob, Ronald Franz, Walt McCandless, Billie McCandless
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

We have just learned that Ron Franz had developed such a fondness for Chris that he offered to adopt him. Instead, Chris not only refused such an offer, but also took it as a sign that he had grown too close to Ron, and needed to sever any bonds with him. Here, Krakauer uses this occurrence to make a broader point about Chris's aversion to any kind of intimacy. Such an unwillingness to develop deep, close bonds with others had become a pattern for Chris, from his relationship to his family as well as to those he met on the road.

The paradox, of course, is that the fact that these later relationships existed at all speaks to Chris's charm and ability to draw people to him – a closeness that he then would grow uncomfortable with and try to escape. In some ways, it seems like Chris considered human relationships like he did material possessions, as if he risked losing his connection to what was important, or his own sense of individual sense, if he spent too much time with other people.

Chapter 7 Quotes

Both father and son were stubborn and high-strung. Given Walt’s need to exert control and Chris’s extravagantly independent nature, polarization was inevitable. Chris submitted to Walt’s authority…but the boy raged inwardly all the while. He brooded at length over what he perceived to be his father’s moral shortcomings, the hypocrisy of his parents’ lifestyle, the tyranny of their conditional love. Eventually, Chris rebelled—and when he finally did, it was with characteristic immoderation.

Related Characters: Jon Krakauer (speaker), Chris McCandless, Walt McCandless
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Krakauer returns to Chris's past in order to explore his relationship with his father, a relationship which Krakauer believes helps to explain a number of Chris's later motivations and actions. Krakauer argues that similarities as much as differences caused discord between Walt and Chris, who yearned to break out not only of his father's control but also of his father's identity, which didn't allow him to develop his own.

Some of Chris's problems with his father, as characterized by Krakauer, are not all that different from the frustrations that many children develop regarding their parents. What distinguishes Chris, Krakauer suggests, is the intensity with which he reacts, and the stubbornness that ensures that he'll follow through in his radical rejection of his family. But even this "immoderation," Krakauer suggests, can be traced to Chris's father, who's more similar to Chris than he would like.

Chapter 13 Quotes

More even than most teens, he tended to see things in black and white. He measured himself and those around him by an impossibly rigorous moral code.

Related Characters: Jon Krakauer (speaker), Chris McCandless
Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:

As Krakauer spends time interviewing Chris's family, he continues to try to understand the dynamics based on both what the family members say and how Krakauer himself can fit their perspectives into a fuller picture. Here, Krakauer attempts to balance his sympathy towards Chris with a sympathy towards those that Chris judged, perhaps overly harshly.

Chris's idealism, in this framework, is something to be admired, but also as something that could make him morally righteous and make it difficult, or impossible, for others to live up to his expectations. Such unattainable expectations could only, Krakauer suggest, lead Chris to disappointment – helping to explain, perhaps, Chris's aversion to intimacy with others even once he left his family behind.

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 16 Quotes

Two years he walks the earth…an aesthetic voyager whose home is the road….After two rambling years comes the final and greatest adventures. The climactic battle to kill the false being within and victoriously conclude the spiritual revolution….Ten days bring…him to the great white north. No longer poisoned by civilization he flees, and walks alone upon the land to become lost in the wild.

Related Characters: Chris McCandless (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Bus
Page Number: 162
Explanation and Analysis:

As Chris settles into his new life in the wilderness, he scrawls graffiti in several places on the bus where he has made his home. The quote included here is described by Krakauer as the most eloquent, even if it is also among the most rambling and bombastic, example of that graffiti.

As he does elsewhere, here Chris speaks of himself in the third person, as if he is imagining the journey he has taken from a distanced perspective. His language and imagery are almost apocalyptic, a dramatic narrative of escape and salvation in a new, pure land, where Chris is finally free to reinvent himself. Civilization is portrayed as dangerous, even poisonous, as contrasted to the powerful and indeed spiritual healing to be found alone in nature.

Of course, with the benefit of hindsight this language also sounds ominous. While Chris most likely meant his "final" adventure to mean his last, most extreme experiment before finding a middle ground in or near society, this time in Alaska would indeed turn out to be Chris's final adventure. Nature indeed will turn out to be just as mighty and powerful as Chris suggests it to be here, but its power is uncaring, and will be unleashed against him rather than for his benefit.

Epilogue Quotes

Many people have told me that they admire Chris for what he was trying to do. If he’d lived, I would agree with them. But he didn’t, and there’s no way to bring him back. You can’t fix it. Most things you can fix, but not that. I don’t know that you ever get over this kind of loss. The fact that Chris is gone is a sharp hurt I feel every single day. It’s really hard. Some days are better than others, but it’s going to be hard every day for the rest of my life.

Related Characters: Walt McCandless (speaker), Chris McCandless
Page Number: 202
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Walt shares his thoughts with Krakauer, after the two of them, with Billie McCandless, traveled to the site of Chris's final adventure and death in Alaska. Walt is clearly struggling to come to terms with what Chris's death means, if anything. He is also evidently thinking of how many people have been affected by the story, which has reached a national audience.

Ultimately, Walt refuses to accept that Chris's story is positive and redemptive, even if some people found things to admire about his journey. What prevents Chris's odyssey of reinvention and isolation from ultimately being a powerful, inspiring tale, of course, is the fact that Chris did not live to learn from it himself. Walt's pain is a daily reminder of the lasting effects of Chris's risky decisions, not only for Chris himself, but for those close to him.