Into the Wild | Study Guide

Jon Krakauer

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Into the Wild | Chapter 1 : The Alaska Interior | Summary



Jim Gallien, an electrician, was driving from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Anchorage when he spotted a hitchhiker. The hitchhiker, Chris McCandless, introduced himself as Alex but would not give his last name and misleadingly claimed he was from South Dakota. He explained he was headed for Denali National Park, where he planned to "live off the land," and insisted Gallien take his watch, comb, and money.

Gallien was concerned that McCandless was not prepared with the proper clothing, gear, and food to survive any length of time in the unforgiving Alaskan interior. Although he refused Gallien's offer to buy him the equipment he needed, McCandless did accept the man's lunch and an extra pair of rubber work boots Gallien offered him. As he stood at the edge of the Stampede Trail where he planned to begin his journey, he handed Gallien his camera and asked him to take his picture. Gallien considered alerting state troopers about "Alex" but assumed the young man would become hungry and "just walk out to the highway." As he said, "That's what any normal person would do."


Krakauer does not tell Chris McCandless's story chronologically. Instead, he begins the book on April 28, 1992, as McCandless hitchhiked to Alaska's Denali National Park, 119 days before his death in the bush. This introduction establishes a sense of foreboding. At no time during the three-hour drive did he show any fear or reticence regarding the journey he was about to undertake. In response to Gallien's concern about his lack of proper food or equipment, McCandless, young and full of self-determination, insisted he had full confidence in his ability to handle whatever might happen.

One of the dangers of insisting too forcefully on self-determination is that it produces overconfidence about one's self-reliance. McCandless firmly believed he could handle whatever happened to him in the wild. This hubris, or excessive pride, in McCandless is what many Alaskans found objectionable in Krakauer's portrayal of McCandless. Yet, Into the Wild is more than a simple warning against hubris. Krakauer acknowledges McCandless's overconfidence and perhaps arrogance, but he suggests there is more to the story.

The first chapter also touches on the idea of failed communication when McCandless told Gallien that he hadn't contacted his parents in two years. Gallien also plays a small part in developing this theme when he decides not to stop at the Alaskan state troopers' station to tell them about the unprepared young man about to "walk into the wild."

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