Symbols and Themes

The Call of the Wild

The novelist Jack London, author of Call of the Wild, is one of McCandless’s favorite authors, and the title of Krakauer’s book is an allusion to London’s novel. In his effort to shed light on the personality of McCandless, Krakauer often quotes Jack London and discusses passages of his books that McCandless highlighted and annotated. McCandless’s fervent desire to disappear into the Alaskan wilderness is portrayed not as intentionally self-destructive, but rather as the result of the young man’s quest for freedom and experience. McCandless feels that the only way to live his life fully, in accordance with his ideals, is to leave civilization behind and heed the call of the wild. Krakauer explores this same quest in the lives of other young men, as well—notably Everett Reuss, whose disappearance in the desert of Utah in the 1930s has much in common with McCandless’s experience. Krakauer also shares personal reflections about his own motivations for making a dangerous, solitary ascent of Devils Thumb. In drawing connections between each of these stories, Krakauer explores the profound power that the “call of the wild” has upon the imaginations of certain individuals throughout history.

Father-Son Relationships

In his research, Krakauer discovers that McCandless had a troubled relationship with his father Walt. McCandless rebelled against his father’s authority and often criticized the older man’s hypocrisy and materialism. Furthermore, McCandless harbored a seething, secret rage against his father after discovering that Walt had been a bigamist. Krakauer suggests that the young McCandless’s difficult relationship with his father was a significant factor in his disappearance from the family. Krakauer also offers a personal exploration of his own troubled relationship with his father, Lewis. Throughout Into the Wild, the importance of the father-son relationship is explored in a number of ways. Significantly,...

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