Into the Wild | Study Guide

Jon Krakauer

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Into the Wild | Chapter 12 : Annandale | Summary



The chapter "Annandale" continues Krakauer's analysis of McCandless and his family. In the spring of 1986, McCandless gave his father a very expensive telescope for his birthday and honored him with a speech extolling the man's work ethic, responsibility to his family and career, and patience with Chris's oppositional behavior. He described how much he respected his father for starting from nothing and constantly challenging himself to strive for success. Later that summer, when Chris returned from a solo transcontinental trip, however, his attitude toward his father had changed. He reacted with annoyance to his father's pleas to be more careful, to be less fearless, and to contact his family more often. He refused to tell his parents what was bothering him.

In fact, he had discovered information about his family's past that shocked and angered him. On his trip he had talked with his parents' friends who still lived in their old neighborhood in El Segundo, California. He discovered that Walt and Billie moved in together and that Billie became pregnant with him and then Carine before Walt and his first wife, Marcia, were divorced. In addition, although Chris's parents were together as a couple, Walt had another son with Marcia. Their divorce was finalized after the family moved to Virginia, and Walt and Billie became legally married. This knowledge ignited McCandless's fury at his father's hypocrisy and moral deficiencies. In his mind, his parents' deceit invalidated their pleas to him to be cautious, and McCandless almost died from dehydration in the Mohave Desert a few weeks later.

Chris seemed to love Emory and even talked of attending Harvard Law School. McCandless created an excellent software program for his parents' company, but when his father asked him to explain it, he responded, "All you need to know is that it works." He began to withdraw from his parents that summer and wouldn't tell them why when they asked. The next year in school he ranted against wealthy Emory students and advocated against social injustice. He adhered to Thoreau's comment "that government is best which governs least."

Although he founded the campus College Republican Club, McCandless soundly criticized any politician or country that didn't reflect his ideological platform. The summer before his senior year, he took off on another cross-country trip, this one ending in Alaska where he fell in love with the austerity of the wilderness. During his last year in college, he moved to an apartment, lived frugally, and rarely contacted his family. The summer after graduation in 1990 he began the two-year odyssey that ended at Bus 142 on the Stampede Trail.


McCandless let his anger ferment for the next three years. His sister explains, "Chris is the sort of person who brooded about things. If something bothered him, he'd keep it to himself, harboring his resentment, letting the bad feelings build and build." A letter from his mother begging him to talk to them about what was wrong just irritated him more. He told Carine that their parents were "meddling," branded the letter as "stupid," and called his parents "a bunch of imbeciles."

McCandless highlighted Thoreau's observation that begins, "Rather than love, rather than money, than fame, give me truth" and wrote "truth" in "large block letters" next to it. For someone who sought the TRUTH, however, McCandless never considered that his silence, like his parents' muteness about their marriage, could also be interpreted as hypocritical. His inability to excuse others for not living up to his prescribed moral code is peculiar considering that he found the compassion to overlook any abuse to women, drunkenness, and infidelity in the friends he met on his travels or the authors he so admired. His attitude raises the question, "Why is it more difficult to forgive a family member for emotional wounds than a friend?" For McCandless the answer was rooted in his expectations for the truth from the parents he loved and trusted. When a confidence is broken, the road to forgiveness is a difficult one, but communication will heal these wounds. For someone who sought the TRUTH, as he wrote in capital letters in one of his books by Thoreau, McCandless never considered that his silence, like his parents' muteness about their marriage, may be equally problematic, especially when he used it to punish them by disappearing.

This chapter suggests that there was a relationship between Chris's stubborn independence, what he discovered about the dark side of his family history, and his decision to pursue a life on the road. McCandless clearly felt betrayed that they had not been forthcoming about the truth of the family's history. Failure to communicate the truth of their family's history combined with Chris's failure to communicate his anger created a definitive rift between members of the McCandless family. It is one of the contributing factors to Chris's decision to be a rootless wanderer without emotional ties.

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