Into the Wild | Study Guide

Jon Krakauer

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Into the Wild | Chapter 6 : Anza-Borrego | Summary



The author begins the chapter with a letter he received from Ron Franz regarding the article Krakauer wrote about McCandless for Outside magazine in 1993. In the rest of the chapter, the octogenarian relates his friendship from January to March 1992 with the wanderer he knew as Alex McCandless from West Virginia. The two met when McCandless was hitchhiking from a small country store outside Salton City. He was camping by the Salton Sea.

After Franz's wife and adult son were killed in a car accident in 1957, he became a father figure to many young people by unofficially adopting them. He and McCandless became good friends, sharing their life stories with each other. McCandless explained his plans for his "ultimate" Alaskan adventure and tried to convince Franz to give up his secure lifestyle and embrace a nomadic existence.

After Franz taught his protégé how to tool leather, McCandless created a belt illustrating all of his adventures since his 1990 trek began. He left for a while, traveling from San Diego up to Seattle and then back to Colton, California, where he was briefly jailed for hopping freight trains. While on the road, he made a point of calling Franz on Franz's birthday and sent postcards updating his situation to Jan Burres. Later, he contacted Franz to pick him up in California. Franz offered to drive him to Grand Junction, Colorado, and McCandless accepted. Franz gave him a machete and other equipment for the Alaskan trip. Unable to find a job in Colorado, Chris headed back to Carthage, South Dakota, to work for Westerberg and build his Alaskan nest egg.


McCandless's relationship with Franz mirrored those he developed with Burres and Westerberg. Although he enjoyed long conversations with him about anything to do with his past adventures as well as his future plans, McCandless became angered with the subjects of "his parents, politicians, or the endemic idiocy of mainstream American life." McCandless had rejected from Burres and Westerberg their offers of food or supplies, but he accepted a heavy parka and a machete as well as camping and fishing gear from Franz. He called Franz from the road to help him by driving him to Colorado. When the elderly man mentioned that he wanted to adopt him as his grandson, however, McCandless evaded the subject. Once again he chose to avoid forming any close emotional ties with another person in favor of being on his own.

In his letter to Franz from Carthage, McCandless sermonized about attaining joy in life. He expressed his fervent belief that life's pleasures come from nature and not from people. His words reflect those of the quotation from Thoreau that Krakauer included at the start of the chapter, words that McCandless himself had underlined in one of the books he read while in Bus 142: "All nature is your congratulation. The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning and evening." McCandless made an indelible impression on Franz emotionally and spiritually. Franz did what his friend suggested, attaching a camper on the back of his pickup, and creating a campsite on the spot where he first met the young man. When two hitchhikers told him that McCandless died in Alaska, Franz, a devout Christian, was devastated. Blaming God for allowing the person he loved like a grandson to die, Franz turned his back on his religion.

The quote from Thoreau also raises another important issue. Is McCandless's pursuit of higher principles defensible? "No man ever followed his genius till it misled him. Though the result were bodily weakness, yet perhaps no one can say that the consequences were to be regretted, for these were a life in conformity to higher principles."

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