Environmental Literature-English 204
Grant T. Smith, Ph. D.
Into the Wild: Discussion Questions

1.In the author's note Jon Krakauer claims that Christopher McCandless “invented a new life for himself' searching a “raw, transcendent experience.” Do you agree with the author's assessment? How did McCandless re-invent himself? How was his life “transcendent” after he graduated from college?


2.Krakauer titles his book Into the Wild which echoes Jack London’s work, The Call of the Wild. McCandless was obviously influenced by London, and Krakauer suggests that McCandless’s experience demonstrates the “grip wilderness has on the American imagination, the allure high-risk activities hold for young men of a certain mind...” How do you define “the call of the wild?” Does the call still exist in the same form it existed in previous periods in America’s history? How is the “wild” or the wilderness important to us as a people? To you as an individual?


3.McCandless was also greatly influenced by Henry David Thoreau. What did he borrow from Thoreau’s interaction with nature? How did he differ from Thoreau?


4.Gordon Young, who reviewed Into the Wild, said that McCandless did not die in vain, and that his life was enviable in many respects. Young asserts that McCandless was “a profoundly American figure, uncompromising 'in his approach and thoroughly optimistic about the future.” How is McCandless representative of the American character? Or how does McCandless fall short of what it means to be an American? Indeed, does McCandless in any way represent everything that is wrong about the American character?


5.Jon Krakauer first wrote about McCandless in “Death of an Innocent” in Outside magazine, January, 1993. According to McCandless the article generated more mail than any other article in the magazine’s history. How did the story affect you?


6.How is this story a “bildungsroman” story? How does it deviate from the definition of a bildungsroman?


7.Is Into the Wild a man’s book, in the same way that Refuge is a woman’s book? Are there gender issues in the narrative?

8.The author claims that Into the Wild is very much a story about a son’s relationship with his father. What conclusions did you make regarding McCandless’s response to his family? What did you learn about parental relationships from the narrative?