Jeremy Young graduated from Bremen High School where he held officer positions on Student Council, National Honor Society, and Energy Club; he also participated in Key Club and swimming. At NIU, Jeremy is involved in SEA and Phi Sigma. As a biological sciences major, Jeremy plans to teach biology or anatomy at the high school or college level. Jeremy says his essay “is important [to him] because at times, we all feel the same urge that Chris McCandless felt: the need to get away from it all and be free” to find our “primordial beast.”

Jeremy Young
Jeremy Young

“The dominant primordial beast was strong in Buck, and under the fierce conditions of trail life, it grew and grew. Yet it was a secret growth. His newborn cunning gave him poise and control.”

Jack London, The Call of the Wild (qtd. in Krakauer 38)

The main characters in The Call of the Wild, by Jack London, and Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer, are similar because of the way the harsh reality of the wilderness changes each of them into an almost completely different entity: a “dominant primordial beast.” This is an important aspect to consider when understanding Jon Krakauer’s use of this quote in his novel. Krakauer chooses quotations for the beginning of each chapter in the novel to give a hint of the content of each chapter. In addition, each quotation plays its own part in summarizing the book as a whole. Knowing the background of each quote allows the reader to understand better the author’s reason for choosing the quote and the way the quote relates to both the particular chapter and the book as a whole.

In 1903, Jack London wrote an adventure novel that eventually became one of the most iconic novels in American literature. The Call of the Wild tells the story of a sheepdog named Buck and the life changes he undergoes while he is a sled dog in the Northern Territories of Canada. Thrust into this new lifestyle, Buck leaves his comfortable life on an estate in Northern California, when he is kidnapped and sold to a dog sled team in the Klondike territory. However brutal this new life may be, Buck’s new environment influences him, and eventually he learns to embrace the new life and the instincts that accompany it. The Call of the Wild shows Buck adapting to his new life in the cold wilderness where he must develop his innate skills and get in touch with his inner “primordial beast.”

Into the Wild’s main character, Chris McCandless, develops similar innate skills and finds his “primordial beast” in Alaska. However, his journey is quite different. Jon Krakauer tells the story of this twenty-something transcendentalist who, after graduating from college, sets out on an adventure to get away from everything he knew and free himself. McCandless wanted to live without the conveniences of modern society; he wanted a free life in which instincts were the sole governing body. McCandless made his way across the country and eventually arrived at the last frontier: Alaska. In Alaska, he planned to live entirely in the wilderness and fend for himself.

In terms of the chapter alone, Krakauer chooses the quote by London particularly because it helps the reader to identify and understand the changes that McCandless is going through while he is on his journey; the reader sees the changes that occur within McCandless as his trek unfolds. In addition, it gives a contrast to this chapter because McCandless spends more time with civilization and around people than he does in other sections of the book. Even though McCandless surrounds himself with human companions, the “dominant primordial beast” is still at work, growing inside him and ever slightly changing his outlook. The control that McCandless is learning from these changes helps him be around people for the first time in a year, “He stopped moving for more than two months … [It was] the longest he stayed in one place” (Krakauer 39). However, looking at the quotation in terms of the book as a whole, the reader is able to understand that the main intention behind Krakauer’s implementation of this quote is the desire to help support his overarching thesis.

Krakauer’s main intent for choosing this quotation from London is to lay the groundwork for his theory about McCandless. A quote from the graffiti McCandless wrote inside the bus accompanies the quote from London: “All Hail the Dominant Primordial Beast! And Captain Ahab Too!” (qtd. in Krakauer 38). Krakauer uses this relationship purposely to help explain his theory: Chris McCandless is the same kind of person as the literary figure, Captain Ahab. Ahab and McCandless both leave civilization to find and live off the most basic of instincts: a lifestyle that is tough but often rewards the purser with self-fulfillment. Krakauer is showing that McCandless is not turning his back on society but turning to confront and welcome the primal human inside. Krakauer uses the quote to point out that this noble and courageous undertaking requires skill, wisdom, poise, and self-control. In addition to the evidence that McCandless provides through his personal journals, the quote from London readily serves to support Krakauer’s thesis. McCandless is evolving into a higher order of human being, who is a self-aware and self-sufficient person because of the “fierce conditions of trail life” (London qtd. in Krakauer 38).

The life that McCandless chooses to follow during the years after his graduation, however challenging they may have been, proves to be the epitome of his mission. Krakauer uses a quote by Henry David Thoreau in another chapter to strengthen his main thesis: “Yet perhaps no one can say that the consequences were to be regretted … The greatest of gains and values are farthest from being appreciated” (qtd. in Krakauer 47). Christopher McCandless knew this and risked his own well-being to fulfill what he saw to be his true destiny: to find and welcome the “dominant primordial beast” within himself.


Work Cited

Krakauer, Jon. Into the Wild. New York: Anchor, 2007. Print.

Published by Aaron Geiger

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