Into the Wild
Jon Krakauer
Contributed by Sherie Debus
Chapters 10-11

Summary: Chapter 10

Jim Gallien, the Alaskan who gave Christopher McCandless his final ride to Alaska, sees a front-page news story about the boy’s death. This story is loosely based on another story that appeared in The New York Times earlier. Gallien thinks that he knows the identity of the body, so, he calls the Anchorage police. Although he struggles to differentiate himself from other tipsters and cranks, Gallien convinces the police that he met the dead hitchhiker on the Stampede Trail. He can only be so helpful, however. Gallien unknowingly repeats a lie McCandless told him that he belonged to South Dakota. Therefore, police erroneously starts searching for McCandless’s family in South Dakota. Coincidentally, a South Dakota friend of Wayne Westerberg hears a description of Chris McCandless on a radio show and informs Westerberg, who and then calls the Alaska State Troopers. At first, they don’t believe him and ask him to call back when he has concrete evidence. He finally gives them the social security number McCandless used while working at the grain elevator and as McCandless’s given name. Since the rest of the McCandless family has left Virginia, a homicide detective contacts Chris McCandless’s half-brother, Sam, who travels to Alaska and identifies a headshot of Christopher McCandless. Sam then heads back home and informs McCandless' parents that he is dead.

Summary: Chapter 11

The narrator visits Samuel Walt McCandless at his home in Maryland. Walt, a jet propulsion engineer and a sensor expert who oversaw a NASA satellite launch, describes his frustrations and affection for Christopher McCandless. He says his son caused them great agony despite his kindness. Krakauer then delves on Walt McCandless’s past. After college, Walt worked in jet propulsion as the launch of Sputnik pushed the United States to pursue space exploration. He married young and was financially well-off but his relationship with his first wife and family fell apart. Walt then met Billie McCandless, Christopher’s mother, who worked as a receptionist at the science park. Barely 22 years of age, Billie moved in with Walt McCandless, who already had three children of his first marriage.
Christopher spent his childhood in an atmosphere of thriftiness and struggle as his parents worked to build a satellite systems consulting company. Frequent fights between Billie and Walt McCandless led to closeness between McCandless and his sister, Carine. Camping trips often lightened the atmosphere and may have sparked Christopher’s love of the outdoors. Christopher’s paternal grandfather’s love of camping and climbing may also have fuelled his interest in outdoors. Carine and Christopher loved music and their family dog. Christopher was also food at running cross country races and showed great will to succeed in every task he undertook. His school friends used to tell of his dislike of his parents and a contradictory unwillingness to complain. Anecdotes from his parents recall Christopher’s intensity and strong-willed independence, including a run-in with a physics teacher who failed him for not wanting to follow arbitrary rules. Once, Christopher secretly gave shelter to a homeless man on the family’s property. The McCandless family started living comfortably after their business succeeded. Billie and Walt McCandless eventually bought a sailboat and took their children on a cruise.

The narrator describes Christopher’s successful stint as manager in a construction firm before college. Subsequently, Christopher buys a car he will later on drive to the American West. On his graduation, Christopher's parents offer to buy him a new car from the money remaining in his college fund, but he lectures them about the lure of materialism. Finally, he gives the entire money to the charity OXFAM without telling them.


Chapters 10 and 11 come back to the second chapter of the book due to the retelling of the process of identifying Christopher McCandless’s corpse. Krakauer had left McCandless behind as he walked into the wild. With his fresh visit to Jim Gallien, he starts to tell the story of the months and weeks just after McCandless' death. This move, rather than interrupting the narrative, ties the plot and themes. Jim Gallien’s character brings back the focus on the reader’s rich familiarity with the group of people in the American West who knew McCandless well.
As the process of identifying McCandless’s body proceeds, Krakauer subtly intimates the reader that his efforts to analyse McCandless’s mind are going to intensify. He is about to establish a link between McCandless’s life in the West and his past in the East. The phone call from an Alaskan homicide detective to McCandless’s half-brother Sam accomplishes this task.
These chapters represent Krakauer’s bid to fill in the psychological profile of McCandless from perspectives less romanticized and more complex than those of the people McCandless endeared on the road. After the smooth transition provided by a phone call from the police to McCandless’s half-brother at the end of Chapter 10, Krakauer enhances the characters and their tone to enlarge the emotional range of the book.
From the predominant tone of admiration for McCandless and his journeys, Krakauer moves on to a more sobering depiction of grief and family tragedy. The resultant effect is greatly amplified by the fact that it comes immediately after the news of McCandless’s death reaching his family. McCandless’s character thus becomes more intriguing, interesting for the reader to follow, despite the fact that the book’s adventure narrative has been set aside in favor of more domestic subjects. In Chapter 11, Krakauer blends the remarks and anecdotes made by Christopher McCandless and his friends to build a personality which is paradoxical in its extremes. Krakauer takes the reader deep into Christopher’s past by building a double portrait of Christopher’s parents, Walt and Billie McCandless. In describing Walt, Krakauer uses his characterization as a means of profiling his son, Christopher. The narrator sees Christopher as a mirror image o Walt who is authoritative and a strong, restless intellectual. Walt's carriage and his casual dressing sense are reminiscent of Christopher McCandless’s dislike for formality and authoritarianism. When Walt experiences the damage his son has done to the family, he also highlights a negative perspective on Christopher journey. Krakauer condemns Christopher McCandless, but at the same time, the reader also sees a gifted but isolated boy who took disappointment to his heart. Yet, he made the most of opportunities to entertain and celebrate with other people. Krakauer talks with McCandless’s parents and emphasizes with great force his sociability and sweet nature. Krakauer’s description of Billie McCandless and her father also explains their son’s love of the outdoors. As the story of Christopher McCandless’s grows out of childhood and into his adolescence, Krakauer's anecdotes about his character start to unfold naturally. His pursuit of running and music testifies to his determination and extraordinary focus, though he abandons both activities later on. There is a warm irony when mother Billy relates his success as an entrepreneur which otherwise would have been a hypocrisy in McCandless’s character. The class and lifestyle distinctions between McCandless’s family and other interlocutors are subtly emphasized through detail. Krakauer describes Billie and Walt’s purchase of a boat, and the reader gets an impression that this luxury was embarrassing rather than enjoyable for Christopher. All these distinctions build a peculiar contrast, both implicit and explicit, between the McCandless’s class background and son's later contempt for material possessions. His love for traveling is not shown as a means for relaxing but for confronting the unknown and conquering the self. The class difference is also visible in the clear contrast between the lives of McCandless family and Krakauer’s portraits of Christopher's friends from his journeys.

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