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
Luck, Chance, and Circumstance Quotes in Into the Wild
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.
‘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.’
…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.