Into the Wild | Study Guide

Jon Krakauer

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Into the Wild | Chapter 11 : Chesapeake Beach | Summary



Chapter 11 offers details about McCandless, his family, and the life they shared. Although Walt, Chris's father, was born into a poor Colorado family, his brilliance set him on the path to an affluent life. He earned an undergraduate degree from Colorado State University on an academic scholarship and then landed a job with Hughes Aircraft. He also received a master's degree in antenna theory from the University of Arizona. Walt and his wife, Marcia, moved to California, had five children, and then separated. He fell in love with Billie, a secretary at Hughes, who eventually became his second wife. Chris was born, followed by Carine. In 1974 the four of them moved to Annandale, Virginia. Walt worked for NASA for four years, and then he and Billie started a consulting company.

On the weekends and during vacations, the McCandless family traveled to beaches, mountain ranges, and the Great Lakes, among other locations. In Michigan they visited Billie's father, Loren Johnson, in Iron Mountain. A reclusive man, Johnson was happy in the woods where he could write poetry, tend animals, and mull over his dreams. Walt instilled a love of backpacking, hiking, and mountain climbing in his son, Chris. He and Billie took their children, along with Walt's kids from his first marriage, climbing in the Rocky Mountains. There, Chris first revealed his stubborn, fearless, and inquisitive nature. His sister, Carine, notes that he was headstrong and liked going off on his own from an early age.

McCandless, an exceptional student like his father, also shared Walt's love of music, learning the basics of various musical instruments. Chris also mirrored his parents' entrepreneurial spirit, selling vegetables to the neighbors. He later started his own business, Chris's Fast Copies, and then sold siding contracts for a remodeling company. After his junior year of high school, he used some of his earnings to buy his Datsun B210. Chris tried a number of sports but became passionate about cross-country running, eventually becoming captain of his school's cross-country team.

McCandless was capable of compassion for others, expressing concern for the homeless and the people eking out a living while living on the edge of society. He was also very protective of his sister. Socially he was well liked, but he turned away from people when he was upset or disappointed.


This chapter raises the question of how many of Chris McCandless's personality traits were ingrained from the start, as well as how his relationship with his father may have exacerbated his need to assert himself so strongly.

Chris was a mass of contradictions. He was gregarious and private—an adversary of his father's authoritarian grip on the family but dictatorial in his own high expectations of others. He was sensitive to his sister's needs yet cold and withdrawn in dealing with his parents. Chapter 11 shows that he had long been at a crossroads, and he was continually searching for a path that would offer him a reason for being. Others saw him as stubborn, fearless, and confident, but perhaps that was how he wanted to portray himself. In fact, he was searching, always searching for his true purpose. The chapter also suggest that Chris was stubborn and headstrong from early childhood. His sister recalls that "even when we were little ... he was very to himself," although not antisocial. On a camping trip in Colorado, when 12-year-old Chris insisted on climbing to the summit of Longs Peak, his father adamantly refused. He tells Krakauer that "Chris was fearless even when he was little ... We were always trying to pull him back from the edge." Given these early traits, was Chris's death in the wild inevitable?

Krakauer describes Walt as "project[ing] an air of authority" and "accustomed to calling the shots." As a father, Walt McCandless was a domineering but aloof man who did not allow disobedience. Interestingly, Krakauer's descriptions of Chris are quite similar. Both men needed to be in control but employed different methods, and both set high standards that they expected others to follow. Walt wanted his son to strive for conventional success as a lawyer. As the captain of his high school cross-country team, Chris led the runners on arduous runs following a path of his devising—not the school's. McCandless pushed his teammates to understand that running is a challenge and that only their best is good enough. Like his father, he demonstrated both a sense of his own independence, an overriding sense of authority, and an insistence on meeting high standards.

Chris preferred to deflect any conflict with silence and avoid confrontation, knowing that at some point, he would do what he wanted to anyway. Instead of accepting advice from his father on how to become a better athlete or musician, he quit or refused to improve, even if it placed him at a disadvantage. At home, he railed against the evils of capitalism, although he was a successful entrepreneur with his vegetables and copying business. After he told his parents that he would not go to college because "careers are a demeaning twentieth century invention," he attended Emory University, an academically challenging private college in Atlanta.

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