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.
Luck, Chance, and Circumstance Theme Icon

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 instance, McCandless comes close to death four times before ever reaching Alaska. A flash flood in the Mojave Desert doesn't take his life, but causes his car to malfunction, signaling his close call with death. He nearly succumbs to heat stroke around Lake Mead but manages to flag down some passing boaters who drive him out. While lost in the canals of the Colorado River, "by fantastic chance" he comes across some duck hunting guides who also happen to speak English. They give him a ride and directions towards the sea, ending his meandering journey. Underscoring the life-saving rescue, McCandless dubs it a "miracle" in his journal. Lastly, while canoeing in the open ocean off the Mexican coast during a storm, he loses one of his oars, yet makes it to shore, using only one. McCandless describes it in his journal as a "very fateful day," yet his survival was due as much to dumb luck as his precarious predicament was due to his incautious ways.

While McCandless views these instances of survival as predestined or significant, Krakauer highlights the danger of these situations in order to emphasize the understanding that, had circumstances turned out differently, McCandless could have easily been injured, died, or stranded before he ever reached Alaska. Conversely, McCandless could have just as easily survived in Alaska had circumstances unfolded in an alternate manner. In this way, Krakauer suggests that McCandless's death is a confluence between chance and ignorance—a perfect storm of forces coming together to ill effect—rather than just a mystery to be solved. For Krakauer, death is not simply a logical conclusion at the end of a case, but also an almost inexplicable interaction between luck, chance, and circumstance.

Luck, Chance, and Circumstance ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Into the Wild related to the theme of Luck, Chance, and Circumstance.
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.


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Chapter 5 Quotes

‘I’d thought he’d be fine in the end…he was smart. He’d figured out how to paddle a canoe down to Mexico, how to hope freight trains, how to score a bed at inner-city missions. He figured all of that out on his own, and I felt sure he’d figure out Alaska, too.’

Related Characters: Jan Burres and Bob (speaker), Chris McCandless
Related Symbols: Alaska
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

When Krakauer interviews Jan Burres, she relates how she tried to give Chris some supplies for his time in Alaska, but he refused everything. Still, here she suggests that even though she was hurt by his refusal to accept help and by his pride in wanting to remain self-sufficient, she didn't think he'd really get into danger. Jan seems to have been impressed by all the wild and potentially dangerous situations into which Chris had wandered before, from Mexico to the American West. 

However, Jan implies that she believed it was Chris's own intelligence and planning that had allowed him to successfully navigate his way through such situations. What Krakauer attempts to show, instead, is how much of Chris's safety up until this point was due to mere luck and chance. Still, Jan's belief underlines just how much Chris succeeded in developing his independent persona, one in which he too came to believe.

Chapter 15 Quotes

…like McCandless, I was a raw youth who mistook passion for insight and acted according to an obscure, gap-ridden logic. I thought climbing the Devils Thumb would fix all that was wrong with my life. In the end, of course it changed almost nothing. But I came to appreciate that mountains make poor receptacles for dreams. And I lived to tell the tale.

Related Characters: Jon Krakauer (speaker), Chris McCandless
Related Symbols: Devil’s Thumb
Page Number: 154
Explanation and Analysis:

After relating the story of his near-death experience on the Devils Thumb, Krakauer draws further connections to the story of Chris McCandless. Once again, Krakauer acknowledges how his own mistakes and hubris prompted him to act the way he did. He suggests that certain young men in particular may be especially inclined to take risks and push themselves, even if all that they learn as a result is that there is not much to learn from such adventures.

However, in order to learn that lesson one must, of course, survive. And by putting his own experience in parallel with Chris's, Krakauer suggests that chance alone is what distinguishes their trajectories, rather than any advantage in intelligence or logic that he held over Chris. Krakauer doesn't excuse either his or Chris's mistakes, but he does attempt to give us a broader, more sympathetic viewpoint on how similar choices, combined with different circumstances, can lead to radically different consequences.

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.