Into the Wild Text Pairing

Bear Meat by Primo Levi

If you’re needing a text to pair with Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, may I suggest “Bear Meat”, a short story by Primo Levi, the Italian chemist, writer, Holocaust survivor.

Primo Levi | Creative Commons Wikimedia

“Bear Meat” is a story about young men who take to the mountains for adventure and danger. They become stranded, disoriented on a mountainside, and eventually spend the night on a frozen lake. At one point, the friends must sit on their frozen boots “as if we were hatching eggs” just to survive the night.

Find the short story here in the January 1, 2007 issue of The New Yorker.

This particular story is quoted by the character of Chris McCandless in Into the Wild, the excellent 2007 film based on the book of the same title by Jon Krakauer, author of Into Thin Air. The book and movie tell the story of Chris McCandless, a successful college student who took to the road after graduating from Emory University in 1990. He travelled throughout the American West and Midwest on a personal quest to eventually arrive in Alaska to live alone off the land. He eventually perished in August 1992 due to malnutrition and food poisoning.

McCandless’ redemptive story, where he learns that “happiness is only real when shared”, has struck a chord with readers across age groups and demographics.

McCandless was essentially a modern-day Henry David Thoreau. Krakauer’s account and the film directed by Sean Penn include myriad references and allusions to the literary works that informed McCandless’ life.

The short story is quoted in the movie (but not in the book). When McCandless braves the surf to mend a rift between his new friends Jan and Rainey, these beautiful lines from “Bear Meat” accompany the scene:

“…the sea’s only gifts are harsh blows and, occasionally, the chance to feel strong. Now, I don’t know much about the sea, but I do know that that’s the way it is here. And I also know how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong but to feel strong, to measure yourself at least once, to find yourself at least once in the most ancient of human conditions, facing blind, deaf stone alone, with nothing to help you but your own hands and your own head…”

into the wild

I’ll let you read the story to learn the meaning of bear meat, but it’s an uplifting story that causes one to understand the value of new experiences and accepting challenges.

I hope this helps you round out your Into the Wild unit or even gives you another idea of something to read for an upcoming First Chapter Friday.

“Bear Meat” may take some annotating, some explanation, some re-reading, to get the most out of the story. I love the first sentence: “Evenings spent in a mountain hut are among the most sublime and intense that life holds.” Happy reading!

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Published by Marilyn Yung

Writes | Teaches | Not sure where one ends and the other begins.

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