Into the Wild
Jon Krakauer
Contributed by Sherie Debus
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Plot Summary
Summary

Into the Wild begins with the discovery of Christopher McCandless?s dead body by a group of Alaskan hunters who are on a yearly excursion trip to Alaska?s Denali National Park and Preserve. They radio for help and the dead body is removed with the help of FBI.

Krakauer visits McCandless's former employer, Wayne Westerberg, who knew him as 'Alex McCandless'. He provides an initial character sketch of the young man to Krakauer in a bar in Carthage, Wisconsin. Westerberg employed McCandless on and off on his grain elevator and remembers him as engaging, intelligent, and determined. Krakauer further tries to understand McCandless from the details of his middle-class Virginia upbringing and his dislike of materialism. These details take the narrator back to the first leg of McCandless?s journey to the west in his used yellow Datsun car. After graduating from college, McCandless drives to Lake Mead in Nevada, where a flashflood wets the engine of his car. He leaves it and other possessions behind. He spends next two months tramping and, on an impulse, buys a canoe and paddles down the Colorado River to Mexico for next five months. In the meantime, the McCandless family begins probing their son?s disappearance. After his canoeing expedition, McCandless stays and works in Bullhead City, Arizona. McCandless briefly works for an old man named Charlie before leaving for California where he meets Jan Buress and her old boyfriend. He spends some time enjoying in the social life of Buress?s drifters? camp but leaves hastily, planning a trip to Alaska.

Krakauer meets Ronald Franz who describes his father-son relationship with McCandless. The narrator uses Franz?s story to start a line of investigation into the harm McCandless?s risk-taking behavior caused others. Krakauer goes to Wayne Westerberg again and reconstructs McCandless?s last month in Carthage, South Dakota, by interacting with Westerberg?s girlfriend and his mother. He gets an insight into McCandless?s troubled relationship with his father and comes to know that in late April, 1992, McCandless sent his friends postcards revealing that he was leaving for the wild, perhaps never to return. Krakauer?s investigation then moves through his revelation that many readers of his original Outdoor Magazine article about McCandless perceived that McCandless was an incompetent, romantic fool. Krakauer, in response, embarks on telling the stories of three other twentieth century wilderness fanatics who disappeared or died in the wild. He studies each story minutely and comes to the conclusion that McCandless has the most in common with the young artist Everett Ruess.

Back in Alaska, state troopers attempt to identify the dead body in the bus. Electrician Jim Gallien reads about the corpse and contacts the police, setting ff a string of events that lead to the identification of McCandless's body. Krakauer next visits McCandless?s family, beginning with his father, Walt McCandless and mother Billie McCandless. Billie shows Krakauer photographs of Christopher?s childhood and Walt apprises him of the sorrow his son has caused to the family. Krakauer?s investigation picks up a new subject: McCandless?s frustration with his family. When McCandless graduated from high school, he went on a trip to California and found out that his father had been a bigamist. Krakauer gives a theory that McCandless?s anger at this long-kept family secret motivated him to leave his life behind. Krakauer dedicates two chapters to his own ascent of the glacier named Devils Thumb, paralleling the plot with McCandless?s journey. Krakauer attempts the glacier?s north face but fails. For the next three days he is trapped at his base camp. After setting his tent on fire accidentally, he makes a last ditch attempt from the southeast face and succeeds. Recalling this story allows Krakauer to rule out the possibility of McCandless suicide when he began his trip. Jon Krakauer?s narrative closes out with his own trip to Denali National Park near the abandoned bus where McCandless died. Krakauer, along with the three experienced Alaskans, crosses the same river whose flooding prevented McCandless from leaving the wild.

The four of them reach near the bus in the evening and examine it carefully. Everything seems to have been as McCandless left it. The party has dinner and reflects on the circumstances that could have led McCandless to head into the wild. In the epilogue, the author visits the bus again with McCandless' father Walt and mother Billie McCandless.

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