Into the Wild is a journalistic, narrative-driven nonfiction work that explores the adventurous and tragic life of Chris McCandless. The form of this book is a good way of introducing students to compelling nonfiction while raising questions about literary nonfiction as a new type of journalism as well as the ethics and practices of nonfiction writing.

McCandless's journey was inspired by Jack London and Henry David Thoreau. These authors' works can be assigned in conjunction with this text. Transcendentalism also influenced McCandless, so students should learn about the philosophical and spiritual movement. Into the Wild and these referenced authors deal heavily with the individual's place in or apart from society. This theme prompts class discussion on whether one should find oneself through isolation in nature and how such actions conflict with being an active member in society. McCandless's attempt to inject himself totally into the natural wilderness also raises questions about the drawbacks of a society immersed in consumerism. Students can discuss views on consumer culture and material possessions.

1. Summarize Into the Wild

Into the Wild recounts the true story of Chris McCandless, who journeyed into the Alaskan wilderness in search of his own enlightenment. After graduating from Emory University, McCandless donated all his savings, abandoned his possessions, broke contact with his family, and hitchhiked to Alaska. Along the way, he met and interacted with many people but never stopped wandering. He decided to live in the wild, away from society, and he stayed in a bus with only rudimentary supplies and his diary until hikers stumbled upon his remains.

Content Warning: Into the Wild contains some strong language, drug references, and brief sexual content.

2. Identify Objectives for Teaching Into the Wild:

  • Discuss the motif of the allure of the wilderness on the American imagination, citing historical examples from the book and showing how it affected Chris McCandless.
  • Compare and contrast the character and personality of McCandless and Krakauer as young men.
  • Analyze how the relationships between fathers and sons influenced the choices the sons made.
  • Evaluate Into the Wild as an example of journalism.
  • Cite examples of local color, and discuss their purpose in the text.
  • Discuss the rigors of mountain climbing and the dangers of the Alaskan interior.
  • Identify the main characters who interact with McCandless and summarize their relationships.

3. Pinpoint Key Facts and Literary Elements

Key Facts

  • Length: 207 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 1270
  • Publication Date: 1996
  • Recommended Grade Band: 9 – 10
  • New York Times Bestseller
  • YASLA Best Books for Young Adults

Literary Elements

  • Allusion
  • Anecdote
  • Epigraph
  • Flashback
  • Foreshadowing
  • Imagery
  • Metaphor
  • Nonlinear Narrative
  • Simile
  • Symbol

4. Understand Themes and Motifs

  • Alienation — Chris McCandless feels discontent and alienated in society. He is an outsider, which is why he isolates himself in Alaska.
  • Individual and Society — McCandless attempts to completely remove himself from society and desires his own isolation.
  • Nature —  McCandless seeks his individual enlightenment by surviving in nature and living off of the wilderness.

5. Explore Related Works

Theme of Alienation

Theme of Individual and Society

Theme of Nature

6. Employ Films and Other External Resources

7. Consider What Your Students Will Love

  • The truth-seeking, journalistic style of Krakauer's account
  • The youthful ambition and idealistic mind of McCandless

8. Anticipate What Your Students May Struggle With

  • The tragic ending of the book; it is a sad but awe-inspiring story.
  • Time jumps; often, the author neglects to follow the chronological order of events in order to share information at the most effective moments.

9. Order Into the Wild Resources from Prestwick House:

Resource Format
Into the Wild Paperback Student Edition
Into the Wild Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Into the Wild Activity Pack Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Into the Wild Response Journal Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Into the Wild Complete Teacher's Kit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set

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