Analysis

Chapters Six and Seven both rely on a similar narrative structure: McCandless displays some warmth or sociability and then reverses or rejects it. Krakauer raises questions of morality and selfishness. He builds emotional tension as McCandless begins to say goodbye to his friends and commit himself to life in the wild. Both Chapters Six and Seven involve Christopher alarming or wounding people he has met while on the road, usually by accepting their assistance but not their warnings. While the first section of Into the Wild largely offered descriptions of McCandless’s growing happiness, exhilaration, and commitment to his new identity as a tramp, these chapters move even farther outside McCandless’s point of view to start to suggest a note of selfishness in his motivations. The section also underlines that the solitary people Krakauer encounters as part of his investigation into McCandless’s life have often chosen solitude after a significant trauma, which seems not to be true of McCandless himself.

Nowhere is the danger of McCandless’s hurting others by heading into the wild more evident than in his meeting with the veteran and recovered alcoholic Ronald A. Franz. McCandless’s friendship Franz leads to considerable damage to the older man. When Franz finds out McCandless is dead, he breaks his sobriety and sickens himself on an entire bottle of whiskey. Krakauer’s narration of this outcome casts McCandless not just as impetuous but as deeply irresponsible, especially because the reader learns of his whiskey binge at the end of a chapter, undercutting that chapter’s forgoing description of the close friendship between Franz and McCandless. At the same structurally significant point in the chapter where he places the revelation of Franz’s grief, Krakauer’s tone turns solemn as he discusses the depth of Franz’s grief. McCandless’s relationship with Franz also underlines a motif of McCandless’s frustrating or hurting the parental figures in his life. Taken as a whole, McCandless’s impact on Franz only complicates and undermines the sympathy the narrator seems to feel for McCandless.

Chapter Seven provides another bittersweet portrait of Christopher McCandless’s relationships. As was the case in Chapter Four, hen Krakauer described McCandless’s contributions for Jan Burres’s community, and even sparks romantic interest, Chapter Seven reveals that McCandless could belong if he wanted to. His relationships with Wayne Westerberg and his girlfriend, and even his ability to entertain a group of people with his musical talent, reveals that he has the ability to make connections and to function in a society. However, his goal of self-sufficiency and living in the wild supersedes the connections he makes. Taken together, the tone of Chapters Six and Seven becomes elegiac, even as McCandless surprises his friends, including Wayne Westerberg and Burres, with a series of postcards informing them he may never return.

In terms of content, Chapters Six and Seven distinguish themselves from the bulk of Into the Wild because they contain large amounts of writing quoted directly from Christopher McCandless. Krakauer quotes an entire letter from McCandless to Ronald Franz. The reader is thus allowed to hear McCandless’s voice, if only in written form, and to think through his formulations of his ideas about life and the inability of most people to change their situations and achieve happiness. McCandless urges Franz to leave Salton City and experience adventure and the passion for the road as a means of changing his life for the better. His strong phrases give the reader the experience of being subject to McCandless’s persuasion. His writing underlines his friendly feelings for Franz but also his own strong sense of rectitude, self-righteousness, and authority. The postcards that arrive at the end of Chapter Seven act as counterpoint to this longer letter as well as a fulfillment of its philosophical advice. Their short length suggests determination and the irrevocability of McCandless’s decision to leave society behind.