Into the Wild
Jon Krakauer
Contributed by Sherie Debus
Chapters 14-15
Summary

Summary: Chapter 14

The narrator introduces a story from his own past to complicate the idea that McCandless had gone into the wild to commit an extended suicide. As a youngster living in Boulder, Colorado, where he worked as a carpenter, Krakauer decided to summit an extremely difficult peak called the Devils Thumb in the Alaska. He travels by car to Washington State, then heads north on a salmon boat, where he sees a caribou swimming in the Bay of Alaska from the shore. Krakauer disembarks in Petersberg, Alaska, where he sleeps on the floor of a woman's house whom he meets outside the local library. Krakauer takes the help of Strangers to reach the base of a glacier called the Stikine Ice Pack from where he begins his ascent. Three days later, he arrives at the edge of the Devils Thumb but a snowstorm rages and he nearly falls through a crevasse before making it to a glacial plateau. As he pitches his tent, he worries that supplies he has arranged to be dropped by plane may not arrive and he may starve to death. But in the morning a plane delivers his food and he begins his ascent again in perfect weather. He climbs nearly 700 feet on sheer vertical ice but fails to find any further footholds and must climb back down.

Summary: Chapter 15

Due to bad weather Krakauer is confined to his tent for next three days. After spending a long time inside the camp, three days, he gets so restless that he smokes his only marijuana-filled cigarette. It makes him hungry and he lights his stove to cook oatmeal but accidentally sets his tent on fire. In despair, he admits to the reader that he borrowed the tent from his father. He remembers his father’s tough personality and the fraught relationship they shared. Krakauer’s father was a strict disciplinarian and wanted his kids to excel. He hoped that one day they would attend Harvard Medical School. But the narrator rejected his father’s philosophy and became a climber and a carpenter. As Krakauer grew older, his relationship with father only worsened. Then his father suffered dementia and the return of polio symptoms from his youth. He became addicted to medications and would carry them all the time in a suitcase. After a suicide attempt during which Krakauer was also present, his father was admitted to a psychiatric hospital.

At the Stikine Ice Pack, Krakauer resolves that he will try to scale the Devils Thumb again. He tells the reader that it was his father’s insistence on achievement that left a lifelong mark on him. So, he attempts to summit again but a storm forces him to come down. Just when Krakauer is down with self-pity and fears for his life, the wind changes direction, allowing him to return to his base camp again. At the base camp, Krakauer devises a new plan. Leaving his mountaineering gear behind, he climbs up the northeast face of the Devils Thumb and finally reaches the summit. After taking some photographs, he starts his journey downhill. After taking a ride back to town, he visits a bar and drinks alone. Back in Boulder, he resumes his ordinary life. Looking back, Krakauer realises that it was only chance that he survived his trip to Alaska but Christopher McCandless was not that lucky. He notes that Christopher must not have had a death wish because to a young mind death is only an abstraction. On the contrary, young adventurers are attracted to the powerful mystery of danger and the unknown.

Analysis

Chapters 14 and 15 form the core of the narrator’s personal revelations and his thorough attempt to explain Christopher McCandless’s tribulations through his personal experiences. Not surprisingly, they are intensely crafted, suspenseful, in-scene adventure narrative rich with poeticism and irony. In terms of intensity of visual description, the story of his attempt at the Devils Thumb rivals any other chapter in the book. The story is interspersed with dangerous escapades on the face of the mountain, long spells of boredom at the base camp and hopelessly waiting for the delivery of supplies, imitating closely the lived experience of mountaineering.

The reader gets a perfect example of adventure writing for which Krakauer is best known, and these chapters are probably the most important and sustained appearance of that genre in the Into the Wild. Chapters 14 and 15 abound in parallels between Krakauer’s adventure and McCandless’s journeys. Chapter 14 contains many direct connections, including the expositional material in the opening. Among the indirect comparisons to be made include a number of telling blunders, for example, he exhausts his food supplies after the smoking a marijuana-filled cigarette. These anecdotes create amusement and sympathy for his character despite the self-imposed danger of his treacherous climb. Rather than engaging the reader in cinematic storytelling, Krakauer ridicules the lofty ambitions of his younger self while focusing on a careful explanation of his thought process. Since the reader’s judgment of Krakauer’s success in paralleling his life with McCandless determines the worth of the story, the stakes are really high in these passages of the narrative. Krakauer argues against the idea that McCandless was a nihilist and tries to preserve the significance of the latter’s death by connecting his willful, youthful recklessness with Christopher’s. In order to convince the reader of McCandless’s death as meaningful, Krakauer adds his own story of the climb up the Devils Thumb. He also delves into an examination of his relationship with his own father. Krakauer ignored parental expectation only to realise that he had in fact imbibed his father’s strict sense of discipline and achievement. There are passages in the chapter that illuminate Christopher McCandless’ psychology.

He, too, internalized his father’s perfectionism. Krakauer, unintentionally, underlines the relative mildness of the trauma that McCandless suffered at his father’s hands. Krakauer’s father's suicidal tendencies and his obsessive self-medication led to his confinement to a psychiatric hospital. In comparison to that, the trauma that Walt McCandless’s actions inflicted upon his son is relatively minor. In general, Krakauer shows the reader how fractured relationships, especially between father and son, can scar a person's life, acting as a continuous trauma and fueling a desire for solitude or recklessness. The section makes an assumption that acts of hubris or ignorance can be explained, if not entirely redeemed, by identifying their root causes. It is this assumption by Krakauer that lends a touch of biography and autobiography to Into the Wild. In this section the narrator intends to make Christopher McCandless' story as a relatable, humane story of a person seeking happiness, healing and meaning in life.

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