Summary and Analysis Chapter 7 - Carthage


In March 1992, McCandless appears at Wayne Westerberg's grain elevator in Carthage, South Dakota, ready to work. He plans on staying until April 15, when he will buy new gear and travel to Alaska. For four weeks, McCandless works at the grain elevator. According to Westerberg, "Alex definitely wasn't what you'd call mechanically minded." Others note that McCandless lacked common sense and the ability to see "the forest for the trees": he was unable to use a microwave oven properly, for instance.

Westerberg muses on the relationship between McCandless and his father, suggesting that "Alex" " . . . just got stuck on something that happened between him and his dad and couldn't leave it be." Apparently this was true. Walt McCandless was stubborn and controlling. Christopher McCandless was stubborn and independent. In a letter to his sister shortly before he disappeared, Chris wrote of his father and mother, "I'm going to divorce them as my parents once and for all and never speak to either of those idiots again as long as I live."

Still, Christopher McCandless charmed the inhabitants of Carthage. Along with Wayne Westerberg, he also established deep friendships with Westerberg's mother and long-time girlfriend. Westerberg told Krakauer, "There was something fascinating about him . . . He was hungry to learn about things. Unlike most of us, he was the sort of person who insisted on living out his beliefs."


Regarding McCandless's character, it is interesting — and of course believable — that he can be intelligent, hardworking, and resilient, yet lack mechanical dexterity and perhaps even common sense. While the former characteristic, his awkwardness with machines, is consequential in ways that he manages to recover from (as in the abandonment of his car), the latter, his difficulty being just plain sensible, will have a greater impact.

McCandless's rage toward his parents, and particularly his father, is something that many of those who meet him pick up on. It seems to be their lifestyle more than anything else that McCandless is rejecting when he flees the conventional middle-class American way of life, though why it so repels him is never made completely clear by Into the Wild. It is not uncommon for men and women of Christopher McCandless's age to flee their parents' particular ways of doing things (psychology even has a term for this dynamic: reaction formation), but rarely is the response so extreme, so complete. The degree of McCandless's renunciation of his family's values is a large part of what makes Krakauer's book so fascinating.

Finally, there is something admirable about McCandless's utter devotion to what he believes in. It is easy to be inspired by books and the ideas they espouse, but not so easy to live the kind of life envisioned by thinkers like Tolstoy and London. McCandless "talks the talk" in a way that alienates fewer listeners than one would predict, but he "walks the walk," too — which may account for the fact that so many of those he encountered continued to listen.

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