The Theme of Forgiveness in Into the Wild

Forgiveness is a central theme that Krakauer repeatedly portrays in Into the Wild, from the opening to the final chapter of the book. Most importantly, the author achieves to communicate this theme through the life of the main character Chris McCandless as well as how it correlates with not only his parents but also the rest of the people around him and the society at large. Krakauer draws Chris McCandless as a compassionate person who is troubled by the problems and the suffering of the other people around him. For this reason, he is not willing to ignore the need to help these people, especially to share some food with them to prevent them from starving. Nonetheless, Krakauer goes on to show a contradicting personality of McCandless, essentially his actions that hurt those who are passionate and love him. Importantly, Krakauer brings this inability to forgive in Chris in covering the way he relates with his father as McCandless cannot forgive his parents for their mistakes, and by this the Krakauer manages to show the cruelty in McCandless’s personality despite his desire to help those starving around him.

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McCandless’s resentment for his parents is the primary reason he has to make a difficult decision to go into the wilderness. While from an analytical point of view it is true that the long-kept family secret that McCandless’s father was a bigamist, which he finds out when on a trip to California after graduating from high school, was wrong, the amount of anger that McCandless develops against his parents upon this revelation is beyond measure. Krakauer, describing the anger McCandless felt for his father upon the discovery of the family secret, says that McCandless was consumed by “a blinding range” (102), and that his realization that his father who had all the years of McCandless’s life shown himself as a deity was only human was beyond McCandless’s “power to forgive” (102). That the anger gets beyond limit for the family betrayal comes out clear to the reader in that while his sister, Carine, may also have had little knowledge of this secret, McCandless chooses to treat her similarly to his parents and never contacts her after leaving home for the wild. The central point that the author makes by McCandless having to choose to leave home and into the wild is that he is not a forgiving person, and he would rather walk away from home than make a difficult decision of forgiving his parents.

McCandless’s unforgiving personality is also extended to the society. This extension of his inability to forgive is revealed clearly when he is at Emory where he mostly appears to be very isolated from the society. He pushes away his friends, keeping only very few friends. That he does not have the power to forgive is a major reason he chooses to leave into the wild. Through his actions, the author indicates to the reader that had McCandless chosen to forgive his parents and be at peace with the larger society, he would not have led the kind of life that he did as depicted in the book, ultimately dying alone in the wildness.

It must be noted that Krakauer also emphasizes the theme of forgiveness in this book by painting how McCandless was willing to forgive some sins and mistakes of other people, some of which are far much beyond those of his father. Krakauer explains that towards the end of his life, McCandless professed to admire a man who repeatedly beat up his girlfriend and even though he (McCandless) was aware of the faults of this man, he forgave all the faults. McCandless was also capable of forgiving the sins of “his literary heroes” (Krakauer 85) including Jack London and Tolstoy who despite advocating for celibacy “went on to father at least thirteen children” (Krakauer, 85). He also shows to be an understanding and compassionate people to the friends he has at the time he is leaving to the wild as shown in his last not where he tells everyone to “take care” and reminds them that “it was great knowing you” (Krakauer 69). Through these examples, Krakauer successfully manages to show how McCandless is useful in conveying the theme of forgiveness in this book.

In conclusion, as can be seen in McCandless’s difference in perception and the willingness to forgive sins and faults of some people and not the wrongs of his father, the authors focus on forgiveness as one of the major themes in the story.


Work Cited

Krakauer, Jon. Into the Wild. Villard, 1996.