Into the Wild Study Guide

*Note: Throughout “Chris” and “Alex” will be used interchangeably to represent Chris McCandless, depending on which name he went by in each section*


This book follows the travels of Chris McCandless mostly in the western portion of the United States, as well as in Alaska, Mexico, and Virginia. The events in the book span various years but most important events take place in the 1980s and 1990s.

Major Characters

Alex Supertramp / Chris McCandless - Chris McCandless is the subject of this book. He grew up in the Washington D.C. metro area and attended Emory University. When he graduated college, he donated his money to charity and headed out West. Away from home Chris went by the alias “Alex” and adopted the moniker “Alexander Supertramp” while hiking. Chris died of starvation on a much anticipated stint in the Alaskan wilderness.

Wayne Westerberg - Wayne Westerberg employed McCandless in Carthage, South Dakota. McCandless became friends with Westerberg and enjoyed his time in South Dakota so much that he claimed South Dakota as his home thereafter. Westerberg was able to supply authorities with McCandless’s social security number when he was found dead, leading them to a positive identification.

Walt McCandless - Walt McCandless is Chris’s father. In later years, Chris became angry with Walt when he learned Walt had a child by his first wife after Chris had been born to Walt’s second wife.

Billie McCandless - Billie McCandless is Chris’s mother. She and Walt began a private consulting firm and became successful enough to give Chris and his sister privileged lives.

Carine McCandless - Carine is Chris’s younger sister, borne to Billie McCandless. Carine was very close to her brother and had a very tough time dealing with his death.

Jim Gallien - Jim Gallien delivers the hitchhiking McCandless to his final destination. Gallien tries to make McCandless change his mind about his plans. Gallien is certain that Alex, as McCandless calls himself, is not prepared for life in the Alaskan outdoors. Gallien even offers to buy him some decent gear, but Alex refuses. Gallien insists that Alex take his boots and his lunch for the day; Gallien gives Alex his phone number, telling him to call if he makes it out alive.

Jan Burres - McCandless meets Jan Burres and her boyfriend Bob, both transients, on the road. McCandless meets up with Jan and Bob a few times and keeps in touch with them periodically through post cards.

Ronald Frantz - Ronald Frantz gives “Alex” a ride to his camp at Oh-My-God Hotsprings. Frantz, who had lost his wife and only son some forty years earlier in a car accident, felt a connection with Alex. Frantz and Alex developed a relationship and spent a lot of time together. Frantz, who was a leatherworker, instructed Alex in the craft. Frantz also fed Alex. One day Alex announced that he was going to San Diego. Frantz was sad, but insisted on driving him. McCandless went on to Seattle, but returned soon to California. In California, McCandless met up with Frantz again. Alex wanted to go out to South Dakota, where Wayne Westerberg had a job waiting for him-- Frantz drove him part way there, video-taping their journey. Later, Alex wrote Frantz a letter from South Dakota, urging him to become more nomadic. Frantz took his advice, and occupied Alex’s old campsite

Gene Rosellini - Rosellini serves as a comparison to McCandless for Krakauer. Gene Rosellini was referred to by Alaska locals as the Mayor of Hippie Cove. Rosellini’s goal was 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.

John Waterman - 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 John 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 - Carl McCunn serves as Krakauer’s third comparison with McCandless. 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.

Everett Ruess - Krakauer also considers Everett Ruess--another young adventurer with similarities to McCandless. 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.

Gaylord Stuckey - Gaylord Stuckey meets McCandless along the Alaskan Highway, where he asks for a ride. Stuckey initially refused McCandless a ride because it was against his company’s policy. However, after talking for a while, Stuckey became convinced that McCandless was not a typical transient and drove him all the way to Fairbanks. Stuckey bought McCandless a bag of rice at the grocery store and then left him at the University of Alaska campus, where McCandless wanted to learn about berries.

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