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Into the Wild | Chapter 7 : Carthage | Summary

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Summary

McCandless arrived at Westerberg's place in mid-March 1992 with firm plans to stay one month—enough time to earn the money he needed for his Alaskan adventure. As he had done during his past visit to Carthage, he chose to do tedious work that required little skill, "mucking out warehouses, exterminating vermin, painting, [and] scything weeds." McCandless met Gail Borah, Westerberg's girlfriend, as well as Westerberg's mother, Mary. Both were attracted to his willingness to talk about any subject. As Mary says, "He was hungry to learn about things." Everyone noticed that McCandless was quite educated, and they were surprised and thrilled by his piano-playing and singing talents.

With Gail, McCandless talked about his sister, Carine, the only immediate family member he felt close to. Westerberg comments that although Chris's passion for his Alaskan journey outstripped his interest in girls, the young man had mentioned his desire to settle down, raise a family, and write about his adventures. On April 27, 1992, two weeks after he left Carthage, McCandless sent Westerberg and Burres each a postcard from Fairbanks about "walking into the wild."

Analysis

McCandless was less guarded with Westerberg and the women, but he still didn't want to discuss his anger toward his parents. Westerberg respected his employee's privacy. After learning of the young man's death, though, he is upset at how the hiker turned his back on Walt and Billie ("Not speaking to your family for all that time, treating them like dirt!").

Carine offers a clearer perspective on her brother's estrangement from their parents by sharing segments of a letter he had written her before he left Atlanta. In it he rants that Walt's and Billie's behavior is "irrational, oppressive, disrespectful and insulting." Revealing a mean-spirited side, he said that he will pretend that he is going to follow their suggestions for his future but then, "divorce them as parents, and never speak to those idiots again as long as I live."

This utter coldness contrasted strongly against the warmth and congeniality he shared with Westerberg, Gail, Mary, Burres and her boyfriend Bob, and with Franz. It may explain the enigmatic smile he gave his parents at his college graduation dinner when Walt asked him to stop by their Annandale, Virginia, home to say goodbye before he left. He already knew that he was going to do no such thing and was going to cut all ties with his family. One factor behind McCandless's joyful embrace of the wild is the desire to define himself in contrast to his family in the strongest possible terms.

Three puzzling incidents show an emotional side of McCandless that he usually hid. When he hugged Borah before he left, he cried; he mentioned the possibility of the "adventure proving fatal" in his postcard to Westerberg, and he told Jan Burres and Bob that it "was great" to have known them, using the past tense was as if he believed he would never see them again. With all he had experienced and survived in his year-and-a-half on the road, the fear he revealed before his dream trip raises important questions. Did he know that he was unprepared, or did he just trust his friends enough to show the true emotions anyone would have before facing an unknown experience? Whatever the reason, McCandless's actions and words in these instances seemed out of character.

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