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Course Hero. "Into the Wild Study Guide." November 28, 2016. Accessed December 13, 2018.


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Into the Wild | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


How did McCandless's actions before and during his odyssey prove his friend's comment that "he had trouble with the whole idea of parents" in Chapter 11 of Into the Wild?

On the night of his high school graduation, McCandless honored his father with a very emotional speech about how much he loved and respected him. Almost three months later, he returned from his transcontinental trip affronted by any parental advice and annoyed by their concern for him. During college, he was less overtly negative but became exceedingly remote. By late June 1992, he had completely turned his back on his family. On the road, when Jan Burres annoyed him with her concerns, which he saw as motherly nagging, and when Ron Franz tried to forge a grandfatherly relationship with him, McCandless walked away from them. He interpreted any questions from people about his past, present, and future actions as intrusions. This echoed his resistance to his father's attempt to help him improve his performance in sports. As Walt McCandless notes, "[Chris] resisted instruction of any kind ... [when] I suggested he work on the gaps in his game." This antiauthoritarian sentiment appeared to extend to Chris's refusal to write his Social Security number on a W-4 form, and to his lack of concern about trespassing or jumping freight trains. His response was very much that of an adolescent rebelling against overbearing parents.

How did McCandless's leadership of the cross-country track team in Chapter 11 of Into the Wild foreshadow "how [McCandless] lived his entire life"?

The way McCandless trained the cross-country team echoed the values he would adopt in his life on the road and in the wild. According to a teammate, "He viewed running as an intensely spiritual exercise, verging on religion" and asked the team to "imagine ourselves running against the forces of darkness." He challenged the team by sending them on workouts that went "through ... places we weren't supposed to be ..." in order to "push ourselves into unknown territory." This training regimen foreshadows the way McCandless challenged himself to live a simpler, more authentic life by traveling cross-country and venturing into the "unknown territory" of the Alaskan bush. For him, this physically demanding journey acted as a means to challenge himself to live more authentically and fight what he perceived as his own "forces of darkness," including conformity, dependence on others, and authority in all forms.

In Into the Wild why might the idea of self-determination have strongly appealed to Chris McCandless?

The idea of self-determination might have appealed to Chris McCandless for a variety of reasons. The ability to define life on his own terms may have attracted him because of his youth. McCandless was only in his early 20s when he chose to follow his dreams and take to the road. As a young man just starting to shape a life of his own, the idea that he could define his path based on a moral code of his choosing probably felt empowering. McCandless was also furious with his parents for withholding the truth from him about their family history. His anger was likely what caused him to sever all contact with them once he graduated from college. A strong sense of self-determination would have reinforced McCandless's sense of righteous indignation about what he perceived as his parents' betrayal. This, in turn, would have allowed him to defend making a clean break from his family in favor of living a more "honest" life that he could define and control.

How is Krakauer's comment in Chapter 15 of Into the Wild that his father's "struggle to mold me in his own image had been successful" an example of situational irony?

Krakauer strongly resisted his father's plan for him to become a doctor. In fact, he stubbornly headed in the opposite direction, taking less competitive, transitory jobs as a carpenter and fisherman, while spending any free time he had as a "climbing bum." Situational irony takes place when a gap occurs between one's expectations and reality. By rejecting his father's plan for his career, Krakauer assumed that he had formed his own identity on his own terms. The reality was that his hardheadedness had made him just as domineering and inflexible, in his own way, as his father had been. In addition, despite Krakauer's dogged attempts to avoid a typical path to success, his father "had managed to instill in me a great and burning ambition." Instead of climbing the ladder to success, Krakauer climbed mountains, "the same as medical school, only different."

In Chapter 18 of Into the Wild, why is Roman Dial's observation about McCandless's critics that "maybe McCandless reminds them a little too much of their former selves" important?

Many Alaskans criticized, and even ridiculed, McCandless as a foolish interloper who should have known better about surviving in the wilderness. Their reasons ranged from his lack of preparation to his hubris to his outright disrespect for the land. Dial argues that McCandless's detractors forgot that they were once young and foolish themselves. Dial is 32 when he tells Krakauer that when he first arrived in Alaska years earlier, he was "probably a lot like McCandless: just as green, just as eager." He says, "I hate to admit it, but not so many years ago" he could have been "in the same predicament" in the bush as McCandless. Dial's comment is important because it points to how McCandless's death triggers a defensive, and therefore subjective, response in his critics. It also points to how McCandless's youth may have played a role in his death because it inspired him to take certain kinds of risks as many young people do, albeit in a more extreme way. Finally, Dial's comment is empathetic in contrast to the opinions of McCandless's critics. He identifies with McCandless rather than rejecting his actions outright, creating a compassionate perspective on his fate.

In Chapters 12 and 15 of Into the Wild, what are the similarities and differences in Krakauer's and McCandless's reactions to their fathers?

Both men believed their fathers were domineering and wanted to control their futures by pushing their sons to enter careers in medicine or law. By the time they left college, Krakauer and McCandless had also both discovered "long-held family secrets" that severely compromised their view of their fathers. Although Krakauer does not share the specifics of what he discovered, he admits that he was "consumed ... by a blinding rage" and could not forgive his father for being "merely human." In fact, he could barely speak to him. McCandless was even more extreme in his response and cut all contact with his family. Strangely, both Krakauer and McCandless became enamored of adventuring in nature as children when their fathers introduced them to mountain climbing. Both sons later used this love of nature to rebel fiercely against their fathers. Krakauer devoted his life to mountain climbing rather than medicine. McCandless rejected law school in favor of living as a nomad in the wild. Both headed for Alaska. Krakauer, however, sees that his view of his father changed over time. Two decades after his son's near-fatal climb on Devil's Thumb, Krakauer's father became ill. Krakauer realized that he had been "selfish and unbending" and "had baffled and infuriated my father as much as he had baffled and infuriated me," when his father had wanted only for him to prosper. McCandless marched into the wilderness and died at the age of 24 before he could reconcile with his father, never getting the chance to see him in a different light.

How did his decision to live a life "shaped by circumstance" affect Chris McCandless in Chapter 4 of Into the Wild?

McCandless tried to live a life "shaped by circumstance," both to his benefit and detriment. For McCandless, to "shape" something "by circumstance" meant to go with the flow, reacting to events as they came. McCandless resisted being defined by other people or by society's expectations. Living a life "shaped by circumstance" was a way to embrace the freedom of living in the moment and embracing chance and spontaneity. This also offered a welcome challenge to his self-reliance that invigorated McCandless, who relished being a vagabond, able to exist outside the obligations or restrictions of conventional society. Of course, this strategy did not work as well on the Stampede Trail. McCandless's overconfidence and naïveté in response to equipment, supplies, and strategies for wilderness survival meant his life—and death—were "shaped by circumstance" in the worst way. The lack of a map resulted in his being unaware of options for leaving the wild that might have saved his life. Hunting and scavenging for plants are both activities "shaped by circumstance" in which McCandless had to rely on what he could kill or scrounge in order to feed himself. This circumstance led to the lack of safe or sufficient food that shaped McCandless's demise.

In Into the Wild why does Carine McCandless view her brother's risky odyssey as noble and principled rather than as egotistical and selfish?

Carine looked up to her older brother as a role model who was strong enough to live his dreams. To her, he not only talked the talk but also walked the walk. She admired him for his courage to survive his excursions through the most life-threatening experiences and uninhabitable lands because he was following his passion. When he didn't write, she "didn't really feel hurt" because she understood that "it was important for him to see how independent he could be." Also, her brother had always been her protector, advocate, and confident. When he was shutting out his parents, he would write his sister letters in which he vented his annoyance with them and his rage at their "meddling and idiocy." His odyssey was risky, but she believed his death was noble because he didn't forsake his principles, adhering instead to his hero Thoreau's teachings about living a "sincere and truthful" life.

What is Krakauer's purpose for detailing his experience on Devil's Thumb in Chapter 14 of Into the Wild ?

Krakauer's purpose is to show the similar reasoning between his desire to risk his life scaling the dangerous Devil's Thumb Mountain and McCandless's passion to survive in the wild. Krakauer sees his quest when he was 23 as a decision backed by youthful overconfidence, the hubris to try to face death yet live to tell about it, and a conflicted relationship with his father—the same issues that McCandless faced at age 24. Like McCandless's desire to visit the wild, Krakauer had hoped that climbing the mountain "would transform [his] life ... To a self-possessed young man inebriated with the unfolding drama of his own life, all of this held enormous appeal." Critics denounce McCandless's excursion as either a death wish or the act of a foolish individual because of his lack of preparation. Krakauer wants to prove that these interpretations of McCandless's death are inaccurate. "The fact that I survived," he claims, "... and McCandless did not was largely a matter of chance." He argues that although he had a tent, supplies, gear, and a map, and was therefore more prepared by far than McCandless, he almost died on the mountain anyway. By using himself as an example, Krakauer also hopes to prevent McCandless's death from being dismissed quite so easily.

How do the two quotations that open Chapter 12 of Into the Wild provide a commentary on McCandless's conflict with his parents?

Thoreau's quote begins, "Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth." Love, money, and fame are all things that McCandless rejected in favor of his search for truth. Thoreau uses the metaphor of a table laden with "rich food and wine in abundance" but lacking "sincerity and truth" to show his disgust with dishonesty. Thoreau's morality is absolute, and this is a meal he refuses: "I went away hungry from the inhospitable board." That McCandless wrote the word truth in large block letters above the quotation implies that he found the term meaningful to him. The second quotation, from G.K. Chesterton, offers a view of justice and mercy that is as flexible as Thoreau's view of truth is absolute. Like Thoreau's quotation it contrasts two ideas. The quote implies that because children are innocent, they have not yet done anything wrong. For this reason, they can afford to condemn the behavior of others and therefore prefer justice. Adults, who are old enough to have acted unwisely and immorally at some point, would prefer a more forgiving response to their behavior: "Mercy allows for human weakness." Chapter 12 deals with McCandless's angry response when he discovered his parents had withheld family secrets from him for years. As Krakauer notes, "Children can be harsh judges of their parents," whom they expect to be infallible. In retaliation for his parents' misdeed, McCandless slowly pulled away from them without explanation, and then cruelly left town without saying a word. His rejection of his parents resembled Thoreau's absolute adherence to the truth. The inclusion of the Chesterton quote, however, suggests that McCandless could have considered mercy and forgiveness as more humane options.

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