Into the Wild Synopsis

Borah confirms Jan Burres’s analysis of Alex’s personality: he often kept to himself but could be a lot of fun in a crowd. One night Borah convinced Alex to dance with her in a bar and they had a great time. Through discussions with Borah, Burres, and McCandless’s sister, Carine, Krakauer concludes that McCandless led a chaste life; he claims there is no evidence to suggest that McCandless had sexual relationships with either men or women.

Westerberg got the impression that Alaska would be McCandless’s last big adventure. McCandless planned to settle down and write a book about his journeys when he left Alaska. In April, Westerberg asked McCandless if he would stay in South Dakota for a few more weeks because he was shorthanded. McCandless would not even consider it; he was set on leaving. On April 27, 1992, McCandless sent postcards to his friends, showing he had arrived in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Next Krakauer compares McCandless with other explorers before him. Krakauer notes the lack of sympathy Alaskans felt for McCandless when they read the article Krakauer wrote about his death. Many felt that he was a foolish child, who arrogantly attempted to brave the Alaskan wilderness.

The first person Krakauer considers for comparison is Gene Rosellini, referred to by locals as the Mayor of Hippie Cove. Rosellini was a good student and athlete, but left his comfortable home in Seattle to see “if it was possible to be independent of modern technology.” Rosellini concluded that his attempt to live off the land was a failure after thirty years and then committed suicide.

Another adventurer Krakauer considers is John Mallon Waterman. Waterman was raised in the same Washington D.C. metro area as McCandless. As a child Waterman’s father took him climbing frequently. He was very talented and developed a reputation for his skill. Waterman was described by his contemporaries as a strange character. Although Waterman had significant success as a climber, he began to unravel mentally. After spending some time in a psychiatric facility, Waterman completed what literally turned out to be a suicide mission--climbing Mt. Denali with little gear.

Carl McCunn was an absent-minded man from Texas who moved to Fairbanks in the 1970s. McCunn had himself flown out to a lake near the Coleen River to take photographs but forgot to arrange to be picked up at the end of the summer. McCunn died in the wilderness.

Krakauer then turns his attention to Everett Ruess. Ruess was born in 1934 and shared McCandless’s restless spirit. Ruess adopted a pseudonym during his travels--Nemo, meaning “no one” in Latin and also the name of the main character in Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It was believed that Ruess fell to his death at Davis Gulch; however, Krakauer explores alternative theories of his death. Everett’s brother believes he was murdered; Everett’s biographer believes he drowned.

In the next section Krakauer visits with Chris’s family; he begins by discussion how Chris’s body was identified. Alaska State Troopers had a difficult time identifying Chris McCandless’s body. However, when the story ran in the paper, Jim Gallien was certain it was “Alex.” Gallien called police and described Alex; police finally believed Gallien when they saw his name in Chris’s journal. Soon after, Wayne Westerberg heard radio talk-show host Paul Harvey discussing a kid who starved to death in Alaska. Westerberg called Alaska State Troopers to tell them what he knew about Alex. However, police were having difficulty discerning who had actually known the dead hiker, since they received over 150 calls from people claiming to be a friend or family member. Yet Westerberg insisted he knew the hiker and could provide his Social Security number (from a W-4 form). With this information, police were able to contact Chris’s bother, Sam, in Virginia.

Next, the author visits with Chris’s parents, Walt and Billie. Walt and Billie have since moved to the Maryland shore. Walt has had a very successful career, working as a private consultant for organizations such as NASA. Krakauer recounts Walt’s life, including his first marriage to a woman named Marcia, with whom he had five children. He left his wife for his secretary, Billie. Billie and Walt moved to Virginia, where Walt worked for NASA. However, soon after, Walt quit and he and Billie began a private consulting firm. Chris had been fearless as a child and a high achiever. He was also a talented musician and athlete. As a high school student, Chris wandered around Washington D.C and talked with homeless people; he would buy them meals and try to help them improve their lives. Sometimes, Chris would bring homeless people to his parents’ house and hide them in the family’s Airstream trailer.

Chris did not want to go to college but his parents persuaded him. Chris was embarrassed by his parents’ money. Yet he was a complicated character--while Chris believed money was inherently evil, he was always an entrepreneur. As a child he sold vegetables throughout the neighborhood; at age twelve, he began a neighborhood copy business; in high school he worked as a salesman for a local building contractor.

Walt and Billie recall Chris’s high school graduation. They threw him a party and he gave a moving speech. The next day, he set off to travel. He returned home two days before he was due at Emory University, scruffy and thirty pounds lighter. His family was alarmed to learn that during his travels, he had gotten lost in the Mojave Desert and almost died from dehydration.

Chris did very well during his first year of college and even considered law school. However, things seemed to change the summer between sophomore and junior years. Friends described him as distant and cold. Chris was angry with his parents because of a secret he had learned from family in California--when Walt left Marcia for Billie, their romance did not end. In fact, Walt even had another child with Marcia after Chris was born.

Chris began to ridicule the rich kids at Emory. Although Chris despised conspicuous consumption, he was not politically liberal. At Emory, he even co-founded a College Republicans Club. During his final year at Emory, Chris rarely contacted his parents. After graduation, Chris donated all of his savings and headed west. Two years later, he was found dead in Alaska.

Krakauer also visits Chris’s sister, Carine, in Virginia Beach. Carine has an “extremely good” relationship with her parents, is married to a man named Chris Fish, and owns an auto-repair business. This visit takes place ten months after Chris’s death; Carine is still grieving deeply. Carine remembers the night she learned her bother was dead: Carine’s husband came home early from work and said they needed to talk; Sam had called him at work and given him the news. They drove four hours north to her parents’ house. The next day, Carine and Sam flew to Alaska to collect Chris’s remains.

Cite this page:

Staff, "TheBestNotes on Into the Wild". . 09 May 2017