“ “Alaska has long been a magnet for dreamers and misfits, people who think the unsullied enormity of the Last Frontier will patch all the holes in their lives. The bush is an unforgiving place, however, that cares nothing for hope or longing. (4)
Krakauer’s description of the “Last Frontier” and its probable difficulties and disappointments establishes an early theme of the impossibility of solving deep and sometimes impenetrable psychological issues by confronting nature. The reader is thus given a sturdy footing in the literal and metaphorical terrain Into the Wild will explore. The use of the clichéd phrase “Last Frontier” casts doubt that the frontier still exists or ever existed to begin with, though the subsequent abstract phrase “unsullied enormity” at once affirms and romanticizes it. Both phrases contrast with “the bush,” a much more utilitarian phrase used by people who are familiar with its harshness. The folksy idiom “patch all the holes in their lives” rings with understandable but thorough naiveté and is contradicted by the personification of the bush as caring “nothing for hope or longing.” Strongly foreshadowed in the passage is that Christopher McCandless will not find his stay in Alaska an easy or even a psychologically successful one.
Throughout Into the Wild, the reader knows that Christopher McCandless has died as a result of ignorance, chance, and unfortunate decisions, but this early description of the task ahead of him nonetheless raises the narrative stakes. It also classes McCandless and many of the other characters the reader encounters as “misfits and dreamers” and prepares the reader for a special examination of those character types. A careful reader might discern an address to herself in the mention of “dreamers and misfits.” The reader, too, is embarking on a journey into Alaska, which might grant them status in the same class as many of the characters depicted in the pages of Into the Wild. The passage is thus characteristic of Krakauer’s subtle rhetorical entanglement of reader and story. It foreshadows, too, Krakauer’s entanglement in McCandless’s story and the retelling of his near-fatal mountain climbing excursion when he was in his twenties.