Precise writers make linguistic choices to create certain effects. They want to have their readers react in a certain way. Go back through the text and analyze Krakauer’s use of words, sentences, and paragraphs, and take note as to how effective a writer he is.
Analyzing Chapters 8–10
In the first part of Chapter 8, Krakauer quotes Alaskans who had opinions about McCandless and his death.
1. Why does Krakauer cite these letters? How does citing them add to or detract from the text?
2. Choose one of these letters, and respond to it, explaining the degree to which you agree or disagree.
Krakauer inserts himself into the story in Chapter 8.
3. Does this give him more credibility?
4. Do you find this annoying? Why or why not?
Analyzing Chapters 11–13
A few pages into Chapter 13, Krakauer describes McCandless’s sister’s behavior when she was told about her brother’s death.
5. Why does he use the word “keening” instead of crying?
6. What are the denotations and connotations of this word? What is its history?
Reread aloud the next-to-last paragraph in Chapter 13, where Krakauer powerfully describes Billie’s grief.
7. Rephrase the paragraph and simplify it in your own words.
8. What makes Krakauer’s description (quoted below) powerful? “It is all she can do to force herself to examine the fuzzy snapshots. As she studies the pictures, she breaks down from time to time, weeping as only a mother who has outlived a child can weep, betraying a sense of loss so huge and irreparable that the mind balks at taking its measure.
“Such bereavement, witnessed at close range, makes even the most eloquent apologies for high-risk activities ring fatuous and hollow.”
Analyzing Chapters 14 and 15
Krakauer uses technical vocabulary related to mountain climbing in these two chapters. Investigate the meaning technical words you don’t know. What is the effect of these words on the reader?
Summarizing and Responding
Chapters 1-7 describe McCandless’s journey and death. Chapters 8-15 try to
put McCandless’s life in a larger context by comparing him to other people: other wanderers, his family, and the author of the book. Look over your notes and annotations and answer the following questions. Write your answers in your notebook:
1. How does McCandless compare with the other wanderers Krakauer describes? In what ways is McCandless similar? In what ways is he different? Do we understand McCandless better after making these comparisons?
2. Krakauer and others have speculated that McCandless was estranged from his family because of his relationship with his father. What was his family life like? Does it explain his later behavior?
3. Krakauer clearly feels a strong connection to McCandless. Do you think they were very similar? Why or why not? In what ways is this book as much about Krakauer as it is about McCandless?
4. Taking your notes and your answers to the above questions into account, write a short paragraph answering the following question: Who was Chris McCandless?
Rhetorical appeals are the accepted ways in which we persuade or argue a case. The following questions will move you through more traditional rhetorical appeals. By focusing on appeals to the writer, to emotion, and to logic, you will be able to discover how Krakauer has persuaded us and how you can use these techniques to persuade others when you write or speak.
Questions about Logic (Logos)
1. Krakauer summarizes the response to his article by saying, “The prevailing Alaska wisdom held that McCandless was simply one more dreamy half-cocked greenhorn who went into the country expecting to find answers to all his problems and instead found only mosquitos and a lonely death” (72). Has Krakauer made the case that the prevailing Alaska wisdom is wrong? Why or why not?
2. At the end of Chapter 9, Krakauer describes Irish monks known as the papar who sought out lonely places so much that they left Iceland for Greenland when some Norwegians showed up because they thought that it had become too crowded, even though the land was nearly uninhabited. Krakauer writes, “Reading of these monks, one cannot help thinking of Everett Reuss and Chris McCandless” (97). Krakauer implies that there is some kind of similarity between Reuss, McCandless, and the papar, but instead of making a specific connection, he just says “one cannot help thinking of.” Is this a good argument? Why or why not?
3. Krakauer argues in Chapter 14 that McCandless’s death was unplanned and was a terrible accident (134). Does the book so far support that position? Do you agree with Krakauer? Why or why not?
4. Look for other claims that Krakauer makes that might be weak or unsupported. What are they?
Questions about the Writer (Ethos)
5. Chapters 14 and 15 describe Krakauer’s successful attempt when he was 23 years old to climb the “Devil’s Thumb,” a mountain in Alaska. He also describes what he thinks are parallels between McCandless and himself. Do these chapters increase his credibility for writing this book, or do they undermine his credibility by making it seem like he has his own agenda and is not objective?
Questions about Emotions (Pathos)
6. Chapters 11-13 are about McCandless’s relationships with his family. Do any of these descriptions cause an emotional reaction in the reader? If so, what is it about the descriptions that causes this connection? Is it the words? Is it that we identify with the family situations? Do these effects make the book more powerful? Explain your answer.
7. Chapters 14-15 describe the author’s actions and his emotional and psychological state as he climbs the mountain. For example, when he accidentally burns a big hole in his tent, which actually belongs to his father, he is more worried about his father’s reaction than the cold. What are some other details that have an emotional impact on the readers? How do these affect you as the reader?
Reading (Chapters 16-18, Plus Epilogue)
Reading for Understanding: First Reading
As you read this section of the text, keep your notes, questions, and observations in your Into the Wild notebook. Continue to keep track of the literary quotations that Krakauer uses in his epigraphs. Because you are studying McCandless’s personality to discover why he made the decisions he did, continue to keep a log of McCandless’s personality traits.
Reading Chapters 16–18: Into the Alaskan Wild
1. After a long detour, Krakauer brings us back to the scene of McCandless’s death. What does Krakauer discuss in these chapters that he did not discuss in the previous chapters? Why did he delay presenting this information?
2. Krakauer provides a lot of quotations from McCandless’s journal in these chapters. What is McCandless talking about? Why did Krakauer include these selections?
3. Krakauer quotes one of McCandless’s friends, who said that McCandless “was born into the wrong century. He was looking for more adventure and freedom than today’s society gives people” (174). Do you think this is true?
Reading the Epilogue: Grief
4. What was your initial sense of McCandless’s mental condition compared to what you think now? Have you changed your mind?
5. What was your reaction to his parents as they visited the bus?
Considering the Structure of the Text
Mapping out the organizational structure of the text helps us to understand the content itself.
Outlining Chapters 16–18
1. In Chapter 16, Krakauer gives a summary of the last few months of McCandless’s life. Do you think Krakauer admires McCandless or not? Cite your evidence.
2. In Chapter 17, Krakauer does not arrive at the bus until after about four pages. In those first pages, he gives us the details of the equipment he carries, the flow of the river, and the others with him. Is this necessary? What does it add? What does it detract?
3. Krakauer says that McCandless had a kind of “idiosyncratic logic.” Explain Krakauer’s meaning and the extent to which you agree or disagree with him.
Outlining the Epilogue
This part of the book is very short.
4. What is the effect of having an epilogue that focuses entirely on the parents’ return to the bus? Does it provide closure?
Annotating and Questioning the Text
Our first reading of a book gives us the story line, the major conflicts, and a sense of what the author intends. The second (or third) reading provides richer analyses and a deeper understanding of the text.
In the author’s notes, Krakauer provides a guide to our reading—especially to our subsequent reading of Into the Wild.
In the “Author’s Note” at the beginning of the book, Krakauer introduces the complexity of Chris McCandless. His words imply the following four questions, which we have been considering throughout the book:
1. Should we admire McCandless for his courage and noble ideas?
2. Was he a reckless idiot?
3. Was he crazy?
4. Was he an arrogant and stupid narcissist?
Make marginal notes as you reread the text. When you respond to the chapter questions, cite the text, if necessary, where you find evidence for your judgments. At this point in your reading, have your answers to these questions changed in any way?
Annotating Chapters 16–18
5. List the various miscalculations and mistakes McCandless made.
6. Toward the end of Chapter 16, Krakauer tells us that McCandless read Walden. You may want to take a look at Thoreau’s text and figure out what Chris found most interesting in Thoreau’s discussion of food.
7. Have you ever fasted? Do you know anyone who has? Do some research on fasting and report to the class what you find or write a short report.
Annotating the Epilogue
The traditional definition of an epilogue is that it is a concluding part of a literary work.
8. Is Into the Wild a “literary work”? Why or why not?
9. Is the last paragraph of the book an effective ending to the book? Why or why not?
Analyzing Stylistic Choices
Analyzing Stylistic Choices helps you see the linguistic and rhetorical choices writers make to inform or convince readers.
Precise writers make linguistic choices to create certain effects because they want their readers to react in a certain way. Go back through the text, and analyze Krakauer’s use of words, sentences, and paragraphs. Then decide how effective his writing is.
Analyzing Chapters 16–18
Read aloud the last paragraph in Chapter 18.
1. How does Krakauer know that McCandless “was at peace, serene as a monk gone to God”? Explain.
2. Does Krakauer have the right to infer from the photograph that McCandless had the serenity of a monk?
3. What is an alternative interpretation of the photograph?
Analyzing the Epilogue
Read aloud the last paragraph of the book.
4. Is the language literary? Why or why not? What is its effect on you?
Rhetorical appeals are the accepted ways in which we persuade or argue a case. The following questions will consider the traditional rhetorical appeals. By focusing on the appeal to logic, to the writer, and to emotion, you will understand further how Krakauer has persuaded us and how you can use these techniques to persuade others when you write or speak.
Questions about Logic (Logos)
1. In Chapter 16, Krakauer says that McCandless “seemed to have moved beyond his need to assert so adamantly his autonomy, his need to separate himself from his parents. Maybe he was prepared to forgive their imperfections; maybe he was even prepared to forgive some of his own. McCandless seemed ready, perhaps, to go home.” Do you agree with Krakauer’s assessment?
2. Look at McCandless’s response to several passages in Tolstoy’s “Family Happiness” toward the end of Chapter 16:
He was right in saying that the only certain happiness in life is to live for others . . . I have lived through much, and now
I think I have found what is needed for happiness. A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one’s neighbor—such is my idea of happiness. And then, on top of all that, you for a mate, and children, perhaps—what more can the heart of a man desire. (169)
Does this indicate a change in McCandless? Was he ready to “go home”?
3. Krakauer says that in his original article, he “reported with great certainty that H. mackenzii, the wild sweet pea, killed the boy” (192). He now feels he was wrong. What evidence does he have for his new position?
4. Does Krakauer prove his hypothesis that McCandless’s death was an unplanned accident?
Questions about the Writer (Ethos)
5. What is your impression of Krakauer as a person and a writer at this point? What are some of the details that give you this impression?
Questions about Emotions (Pathos)
6. Does this piece affect you emotionally? Which parts?
Summarizing and Responding
In Chapter 18, Krakauer reports that some cabins stocked with food and emergency gear were located about three hours upstream from the bus where McCandless died. However, after McCandless had been found dead, a wildlife biologist in the area discovered that the cabins had been vandalized. He said,
I’m a bear technician, so I know what bear damage looks like. This looked like somebody had gone at the cabins with a claw hammer and bashed everything in sight. From the size of the fireweed growing up through mattresses that had been tossed outside, it was clear that the vandalism had occurred many weeks earlier. (196)
Some people blamed McCandless, saying that he was angry that civilization had intruded into his wilderness. Others said that there was no evidence that McCandless had even walked that way. Considering everything you know about McCandless—his journey, his character, his ideas—do you think that he was capable of trashing these cabins? After reading this book, do you know McCandless well enough to know whether or not he would do this? Write a paragraph in your notebook about your thoughts.
Reflecting on Your Reading Process
1. There is still so much unknown about Chris McCandless and his journey. What do you want to learn next?
2. What reading strategies did you use or learn in this module? Which strategies will you use in reading other texts? How will these strategies apply in other classes?
3. In what ways has your ability to read and discuss texts like this one improved?