Into the Wild
Jon Krakauer
Contributed by Sherie Debus
Chapters 1-2
Summary

Summary: Chapter 1

Jim Gallien, an electrician, picks up a teenage hitchhiker, Alex, outside Fairbanks in Alaska. Alex discloses his plans to stay in Denali National Park for a couple of months but Gallien feels that the 24-year-old is underprepared for the several months’ stay. Gallien asks Alex about his hunting license as the young man is carrying a rifle, but Alex says he doesn’t care about the government’s rules. He insists that he’ll be fine out there in the forest. The narrator -- Jon Krakauer -- points out that this is typical of Alex. Gallien also notices that Alex’s gun isn’t powerful enough to kill big animals. In return for the ride, Alex gives Gallien his spare possessions, including less than a dollar in change and a plastic comb. Gallien insists that Alex take a pair of his work boots and some extra food for his lunch. Convinced that Alex will leave the park and come as soon as he faces real hardship, he drops Alex at the edge of the park near the Stampede Trail.

Summary: Chapter 2

The narrator describes the history of an abandoned school bus in a remote area of the Stampede Trail in Denali National Park. The bus was bought and converted as workers’ house in Fairbanks but after the construction project was abandoned due to lack of funds it was being used as shelter for hunters and campers. In September 1992, three moose hunters cross the Teklanika River in their trucks and encounter two other people who have already discovered the bus. They decided not to go inside it because a frighteningly bad smell is emanating from it. They also find an S.O.S. note tied to the bus’s antenna declaring that its occupant, Christopher J. McCandless, is sick and needs help. It also says that he has gone out for berries and will return soon. The hunters find a rifle, books, clothes, a backpack, and other food items in the bus. There is a dead body in the back that is incredibly shrunken, at first, the moose hunters have a trouble making out that it is of a human being. However, the reader knows the body is that of Christopher McCandless. The police have not yet identified it. The hunters arrange for the transportation of the body to Anchorage. The next morning, state troopers arrive in a helicopter. More searches in the bus throw up several rolls of film and McCandless’s diary, containing 113 entries written in a guide form to edible plants. At the Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory in Alaska, an autopsy is done but it fails to determine the exact reason why the deceased was no longer able to leave his bed in search of food. Ultimately, the cause of death is given as starvation. However, the identity of the body still remains unknown.

Analysis

Besides introducing the protagonist Christopher McCandless, the opening of Into the Wild establishes a number of narrative expectations. It discloses his aim of extending his stay in Denali National Park and also hints at the consequences of his unusual decision. The narrative starts through the perspective of a stranger who meets McCandless on the road, giving the reader a chance to ascertain McCandless’s entry into the wild without knowing anything about his fate. The reader is indirectly drawn to experience Jim Gallien’s concern for McCandless after giving the young hitchhiker a ride, which evokes sympathy for McCandless in the very beginning. Gallien does not dissuade McCandless from heading into the wild and hopes that the youngster will be fine. It strikes the first note of tragic irony that will continue to reverberate throughout the book. Gallien’s tries to give McCandless as much help as he can, suggesting the reader that McCandless will cause much heartache to those who knew him as the story of Into the Wild moves forward. The tragedy is confirmed in the second chapter only with the arrival of the hunters at the bus, who find McCandless’s body in the bus. The opening section also clarifies the book’s formal technique for the reader. Christopher McCandless’s geographical location in each chapter is given through maps, allowing the reader to track his movements and think through his journey. The narrator also inserts epigraphs from McCandless’s diary, his reading list and the books that Krakauer himself finds interesting at the beginning of each chapter. Krakauer builds a novel expectation with each epigraph that can be taken as a clue or a thematic hint for what is to follow. The use of maps and epigraphs make the book an interactive reading experience. It gives the reader different options and forms of documentation through which they can navigate Christopher McCandless’s story. The text is a sort of imitation of Krakauer’s journalistic work in assembling the story and suggests a metaphor for the progress of a traveler through an unknown territory. The evocative use of prose and the poetic use of media underlines that Into the Wild is a literary work rather than a work of strictly objective reportage. The book's opening pages have certain features that invoke the related genres of detective story and crime investigation. While the already reader knows the identity of the body, the conventions of detective fiction drive the narrative forward in the revelation of his identity. Since the narrator tells the reader that the police don’t have any leads, the readers are curious to know how they will identify McCandless. The readers also expect that this discovery will create a surprise element in the story and it will have further impact for the story. Additionally, the narrator stresses on another crucial mystery: What stopped McCandless from taking care of himself. Was he poisoned? By what? Why, exactly, did he starve instead of finding food for himself in the park? Finding a reasonable answer to this question may fuel Krakauer’s fascination with McCandless’s death.

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