Into The Wild Study Guide

Into The Wild By John Krakauer

This true story is about the adventures of Christopher McCandless. It begins with his dead body and his journal being discovered in an abandoned bus in Alaska, and then moves backward two years to the beginning of his two-year journey.

Krakauer compares McCandless' ascetic nature as being similar to Jack London, Thoreau, and even Tolstoy. He explores the overlap between his own life and McCandless', recounting in detail his own attempt to climb Devil's Thumb in Alaska. He also tells the tales of a few other young men who disappeared into the wilderness, such as Everett Ruess, who wandered into the Utah desert at age 20. Finally, he describes at length the bafflement and sadness of McCandless' family and friends.

McCandless survived for just over 110 days in the Alaskan wilderness, foraging for edible roots and berries, hunting a variety of game including moose, and keeping a journal. He had planned to hike the Alaskan coast, but the terrain proved too challenging and he decided to camp in an abandoned bus instead. He decided to leave in July, but his path was blocked by a river that had melted in the summer 'heat'. On July 30th, McCandless' journey reads simply "EXTREMELY WEAK. FAULT OF POT. SEED..."

Krakauer hypothesizes that POT. SEED meant the seed of the Hedysarum Alpinum, an edible plant known as the 'Eskimo Potato', which are sweet and nourishing in the spring, but too tough to eat in the summer. McCandless may have tried to eat the seeds instead, which Krakauer believes to be poisonous with a chemical that blocks nutrient absorption, causing malnutrition. A well-nourished person might have eaten the seeds and survived, but McCandless foraged for his food, so he wasn't getting enough nutrients in the first place.

Regardless of the specifics, McCandless' body weighed only sixty-seven pounds when it was discovered, and it is accepted that whatever caused it, malnutrition was his cause of death.

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