Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "Into the Wild Study Guide." Course Hero. 28 Nov. 2016. Web. 21 Jan. 2019. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2016, November 28). Into the Wild Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved January 21, 2019, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2016)



Course Hero. "Into the Wild Study Guide." November 28, 2016. Accessed January 21, 2019.


Course Hero, "Into the Wild Study Guide," November 28, 2016, accessed January 21, 2019,

Into the Wild | Themes


Adventure and Risk

Chris McCandless wanted to live life as an adventure, and with adventure comes risk. During his time on the road, he faced risks at every turn and often found them exhilarating, perhaps because they fit so well into his code of self-reliance. He was proud of going it alone, and McCandless did succeed in living life on his own terms to a surprisingly large extent for almost two years, living by his wits and crisscrossing the country with almost no money or possessions. He successfully spent weeks at a time alone in remote places, surviving on rice and whatever he could forage.

Hunger is one effect of living as a nomad on the road. Often as far from civilization as he could get, McCandless needed to remain aware of his food supply and how to extend it. When his body was discovered in Bus 142, he weighed just 67 pounds, and the coroner concluded he had starved to death.

Why did McCandless need to take such risks, and why did he choose to ignore dangers, even when others warned him about them? Krakauer, a mountain climbing enthusiast, is particularly interested in exploring the mentality of people like McCandless who deliberately seek high-risk, extreme adventures. Throughout Into the Wild, Krakauer examines the complex psychology behind risk taking, which may result from personality, culture, or peer pressure. There is also evidence that risk-taking behavior causes chemical changes to the brain.

When Jan Burres notes that he was "hungry, hungry, hungry," she refers to McCandless's literal hunger, but McCandless also experienced a metaphorical hunger, a yearning to live the adventurous life of a seeker in the wilderness in search of purity and authenticity. This hunger drove him to insist forcefully on self-reliance and solitude. He also hungered to define his own identity and escape his ties to his parents, whom he felt had betrayed him by covering up the family's dark past.


Self-determination is the freedom to define life on one's own terms. McCandless was bent on making his own choices. His core values included a distrust of authority, materialism, and social conformity. He preferred a life of self-reliance, freedom, and solitary wandering in the wild, far from social expectations. Family members described him as independent and stubborn even as a child. His desire for self-determination was exacerbated when he was a teenager. He chafed at what he perceived as his parents' desire to control him and was infuriated to discover his parents hid a crucial family secret from him. In addition, authors he read such as Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, and Jack London fed McCandless's hunger for an adventurous, autonomous, and authentic life off the beaten path.

While self-determination has benefits, including greater personal freedom, it also has potentially negative side effects, such as isolation, lack of communication, and overconfidence, any or all of which may have contributed to McCandless's early death. Whether McCandless's fierce insistence on self-determination and self-reliance was admirable, foolish, or something else entirely is one of the issues Into the Wild explores. Some admire McCandless for following his dreams; others see his actions as ignorant and willful, or as proof of his overconfidence. Many struggle to reach any satisfying conclusion about his mentality or motivations.


In Chapter 1 Chris McCandless was about to fulfill his dream of spending time alone in the Alaskan wild. Jim Gallien, who offered the hitchhiker a ride, noticed McCandless's lack of proper supplies. McCandless assured Gallien he could handle whatever came up. This turned out not to be the case, and McCandless died alone in the Alaskan wilderness, partially due to his overconfidence.

Gallien was not the only person who warned McCandless that he was not prepared to survive in the wild, and McCandless chose not to listen to any of them. McCandless was so bent on being independent he never seemed to learn that listening to, and possibly accepting, others' opinions could have helped him. Into the Wild explores the question of the psychology behind this overconfidence and the fallout it produced.


Although he was raised in an upper-middle class environment, Chris McCandless followed in the footsteps of Henry David Thoreau and Leo Tolstoy in advocating against materialism, the desire to acquire possessions. An obsession with possessions was objectionable to him for a number of reasons. McCandless was socially conscious, objecting to economic discrimination and poverty, both worsened by materialism. McCandless also sensed that behind material possessions lay an agenda to control him. He refused the offer of a car as a graduation present from his parents because he felt they were using it to manipulate him to do what they wanted. In addition, he desired to live, at least for a while, the life of a rootless drifter who could go anywhere at any time he chose. Possessions would have inhibited a life on the move for practical reasons and also would have been an unwelcome distraction from his focus on his path to greater enlightenment.

Family Communication

Communication was a chronic problem within the McCandless family. After he graduated from high school, Chris McCandless discovered from family friends that his parents had been hiding some startling facts about their family's history. Chris and his sister Carine had been born out of wedlock because his father had not yet divorced his first wife, Marcia. In fact, Walt McCandless had continued his relationship with Marcia for two years after Chris's birth, fathering another son with her during that time.

Chris felt betrayed by his parents, but he chose not to express his anger and disillusionment to them. Instead, he gradually withdrew from his parents. After he graduated from college, he made a permanent break, not even telling them he was leaving town. His decision to go on his two-year odyssey to Alaska by himself is closely tied to the breakdown of communication in his family.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about Into the Wild? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!