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Jim Gallien, the same Alaskan who gave Christopher McCandless his final ride into Alaska, sees a front-page news story about the boy’s death based on another story that appeared in The New York Times. Because Gallien thinks he knows the identity of the body, he calls the Anchorage police. After struggling to differentiate himself from other tipsters and cranks, Gallien convinces the police he encountered the dead hitchhiker on the Stampede Trail. He can only be so helpful, however. In informing the police that McCandless was from South Dakota, he unknowingly repeats a lie McCandless told him. The police begin an erroneous search for McCandless’s family in South Dakota.
In what Krakauer calls a very fortunate coincidence, a South Dakota friend of Wayne Westerberg then hears a description of Chris McCandless on a radio show. He radios Westerberg, who tunes into the show and then calls the Alaska State Troopers. They don’t believe him and ask him to call back when he has concrete evidence. He calls again and gives them the social security number McCandless used while working at the grain elevator as well as McCandless’s given name. A homicide detective reaches Sam McCandless, Chris McCandless’s half-brother, since the rest of the McCandless family has left Virginia. Sam travels to Alaska and positively identifies a headshot of McCandless. He then heads home to explain to his parents that McCandless is dead.
The narrator visits Samuel “Walt” McCandless at his home in Maryland. Walt, a jet propulsion engineer and sensor expert who oversaw a NASA satellite launch, describes his frustrations with and affection for Christopher McCandless. His son, he says, caused his parents great agony despite his kindness. Krakauer then relates Walt McCandless’s past. After college, he went to work in jet propulsion after the launch of Sputnik pushed the United States to pursue space exploration. He married young and was financially successful, but his relationship with his first wife and family fell apart. Walt then met Billie McCandless, Christopher’s mother. Billie McCandless worked as a receptionist at the science park where Walt McCandless was employed. She moved in with Walt McCandless, who already had three children, when she was twenty-two.
Christopher McCandless spent his childhood in an atmosphere of thriftiness and striving as his parents worked together to build a satellite systems consulting company. Fights between Billie and Walt McCandless led to closeness between McCandless and his sister, Carine. The tension was sometimes alleviated by camping trips that may have sparked Christopher’s love of the outdoors. Christopher’s paternal grandfather’s love of camping and climbing may also have contributed. Carine and Christopher were musical children and loved the family dog. McCandless also ran cross country and showed extreme determination to succeed in every task he undertook. Anecdotes from his school friends illustrate both his dislike of his parents and a contradictory unwillingness to complain. Other anecdotes from his parents demonstrate Christopher’s intensity and strong-willed independence, including a run-in with a physics teacher that led to him being failed for not wanting to follow arbitrary rules. Christopher also secretly housed a homeless man on the family’s property. The McCandless family lived comfortably. For example, as their business succeeded Billie and Walt McCandless eventually bought a sailboat and took their children on a cruise.
The narrator next details Christopher McCandless’s extraordinary success working as a manager for a construction firm before college. Subsequently, McCandless purchases the Datsun he will drive to the American West. When McCandless graduates from college, his parents offer to buy him a new car out of the money remaining in his college fund, but he lectures them about the folly of materialism. He donates the money to the charity OXFAM without telling them.
Initiated by the retelling of the process of finding positive identification of Christopher McCandless’s corpse, Chapters Ten and Eleven reach all the way back to the second chapter of Into the Wild. Krakauer left McCandless as he walked into the wild. From this new visit to Jim Gallien, he begins to tell the story of the months and weeks just after his death. Rather than interrupt the narrative, this move begins to tie together plot points and themes. The return of Jim Gallien’s character underlines the reader’s rich familiarity with the small group of people in the American West who came to know McCandless well. As the efforts to identify McCandless’s body proceed, Krakauer begins to subtly intimate to the reader that his efforts to examine McCandless’s mind are about to deepen and that a link between McCandless’s life in the West and his past in the East might be established. The phone call from an Alaskan homicide detective to McCandless’s half-brother accomplishes precisely this.
These chapters represent Krakauer’s attempt to fill in his psychological profile of McCandless from perspectives less romanticized and more complex than those of most of the people McCandless encountered and charmed on the road. Following the smooth transition provided him by a phone call from the police to McCandless’s half-brother at the end of Chapter Ten, Krakauer works with character and with tone to expand the emotional range of Into the Wild. He alters the book’s previously predominant note, that of admiration of McCandless and his journeys to a more sobering depiction of grief and family tragedy. The power of this depiction is only amplified by the fact that it follows fast on the heels of the news of McCandless’s death reaching his family. The puzzles and intricacies of McCandless’s character are thus made more interesting for the reader to follow, despite the fact that the book’s adventure narrative has been put on hold in favor of more domestic subjects.
In Chapter Eleven, Krakauer coordinates remarks and anecdotes made by both Christopher McCandless and his childhood friends to craft an account of a personality almost paradoxical in its extremes. Krakauer’s double portrait of Walt and Billie McCandless, Christopher’s parents, takes the reader deep into Christopher’s past. As he describes Walt, Krakauer uses his characterization as a means of characterizing his son. The traits he sees in Walt include authoritativeness and a strong, restless intellect, both of which he explicitly links to Christopher. His carriage and even his casual dress are reminiscent of Christopher McCandless’s dislike of ceremony and simultaneous love of seeming to be an authority. When Walt stresses the damage he feels his son has done to the family, he also strengthens a negative perspective on Christopher McCandless’s journey.
Read an in-depth analysis of Walt McCandless.
At the same time that Krakauer condemns Christopher McCandless, however, the reader also glimpses a gifted but isolated boy who took disappointment badly, internalized his anger and hurt, and yet still found opportunities to entertain and celebrate other people. Drawing from his conversation with McCandless’s parents, Krakauer emphasizes with great specificity his sociability and frequent sweetness. Krakauer’s description of Billie McCandless and her father highlight other humanizing characteristics, including a potential source for her son’s love of the outdoors. As the story of Christopher McCandless’s childhood moves into his adolescence, Krakauer allows anecdotes about his character to unfold naturally. His pursuit of running and of music testifies to his determination and extraordinary focus, though he eventually abandons both activities. His mother relates his success as an entrepreneur with warm irony, which prevents what would otherwise be hypocrisy in McCandless’s character from infecting Krakauer’s portrait.
The class and lifestyle distinctions between McCandless’s family and the narrator’s other interlocutors are subtly emphasized through detail. Krakauer describes Billie and Walt’s purchase of a boat, and the reader is left with the impression that this luxury was embarrassing rather than enjoyable for Christopher. A strong contrast develops, both implicit and explicit, between the McCandless’s class background and Christopher McCandless’s later contempt for material possessions and his love of travel as a means not for relaxing but for confronting the unknown and conquering the self. Class difference is also evident in the clear contrast between the lives of the McCandless family and Krakauer’s portraits of Christopher McCandless’s friends from his journeys.
Read more about self-reliance and familial influence as themes.