Into the Wild | Study Guide

Jon Krakauer

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Into the Wild | Chapter 3 : Carthage | Summary



The author lays the groundwork for two of Chris's relationships. The first is with his friend and boss, Wayne Westerberg, who remembers McCandless fondly when Krakauer interviews him. Chris met him in Montana, where Westerberg was managing a combine crew. After offering McCandless a ride, Westerberg bought him food and drink, let him sleep in his trailer during a heavy rainstorm, and then drove him to a highway so he could continue his journey. Westerberg owned two grain elevators in Carthage, South Dakota, and told McCandless he could come and work for him. A few weeks later, Chris dropped by to do so. Although he did not stay long, Chris's highly disciplined work ethic impressed Westerberg.

By the time he met Westerberg in September of 1990, Chris had not spoken to his parents since mid-May. Chris's father, Walt, was an aerospace engineer until he started a consulting business with his wife, Billie, in the 1970s when Chris and his sister, Carine, were still children. McCandless's parents offered to buy him a car after he graduated from college to reward his excellent grades. He complained to his sister that he loved his 1982 Datsun and that his parents were trying to control him with their gift. Worried because they hadn't heard from him, Walt and Billie traveled to Atlanta to see their son. They discovered that he had left town five weeks earlier.


Krakauer offers a glimpse into Chris McCandless's personality and motivations as a man who wants to reinvent himself, to be "master of his own destiny." Although McCandless was small in physical stature, he exhibited an oversized personality. He and Westerberg developed a brotherly bond to the extent that McCandless had all of his mail forwarded to Westerberg in Carthage, a town he adopted as his home. Westerberg notes McCandless's intelligence and his work ethic.

The Leo Tolstoy and Wallace Stegner passages at the beginning of the chapter give some possible insight into Alexander Supertramp, Chris's alter ego, although the motives behind his decisions still remain a mystery. Tolstoy and Stegner both describe a life that is dynamic and exhilirating instead of stagnant and predictable, providing a credible motive for McCandless's embrace of a nomadic life.

The chapter also reveals aspects of McCandless's family history, a history he concealed by using his alias instead of his real name. He introduced himself to Westerberg as "Alex McCandless," a combination of his invented name and his family name. His desire to reinvent himself came with emotional baggage.

His family background contrasts in some notable ways with McCandless's new life, suggesting that Chris may have been trying to establish a life that was radically different from his origins. Living hand-to-mouth on the road, for example, was a dramatic shift from growing up in an upper-class home focused on achievement. Even in college, Chris was already taking unconventional, dramatic steps based on his ideals that ran counter to some of his family's values. He refused membership in Phi Beta Kappa because he thought prizes didn't matter and gave away all his money to Oxfam, an organization that fights world hunger. He rejected his parents' gift of a new car in favor of his old Datsun.

By the time he left on his odyssey, McCandless's relationship with his parents was as distant as the one with Westerberg was friendly. When his parents visited him for his graduation from Emory University, they found him to be as reticent as ever. After Chris announced that he was, "going to disappear for a while," he smiled agreeably when Walt asked him to stop at home before he left, giving his parents the impression that he planned to do just that. The way he got rid of all his money and left home is manipulative, secretive and, once again, dramatic. Why McCandless acted this way remains an open question.

Chris's double standard regarding gifts offers a parallel between his withdrawn attitude toward his parents and his gregarious response to the people he meets on his journey. He warmly convinced Gallien to accept his watch, money, and comb, remarking that "none of that matter[ed]" to him anymore. Before he left Carthage, he gave Westerberg a beloved copy of War and Peace by one of his favorite writers, Leo Tolstoy. Yet he became angry with his parents for offering to buy him a new car and pay his law school tuition. This ire coincides with his feeling that they ignored his wishes. He sublimated his resentment and never explained to them why they infuriated him so much. Conversely, he eagerly talked to Westerberg and his work crew, regaling them with stories of his travels. He also chatted amiably with Gallien during their three-hour road trip.

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