Into the Wild
Jon Krakauer
Contributed by Sherie Debus
Chapters 4-5

Summary: Chapter 4

In October 1990, a National Park Service ranger finds a yellow Datsun car in a dry riverbed in Lake Mead National Park. It has been abandoned and is free for the taking, reads the note on it. Inside the car, there are clothes, a guitar, and two bags of rice. A ranger looks for a clue of the owner and is led to a Hertz rental car operation but meets a dead end there. The rangers now use the car to make undercover drug investigations, Krakauer writes. He then reveals that the owner of yellow Datsun is Chris McCandless. On July 6, 1990, McCandless arrived in an area of Lake Mead called Detrital Wash and got caught in a flashflood due to which his car's engine got wet and he had to abandon the car. McCandless buried the rifle he was carrying and burnt all his money. The narrator cites McCandless’s diary to prove his point. He next describes McCandless's trip around Lake Mead for the next two months in which he hiked to Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada mountains. He worked on a farm in Northern California and meets a woman named Jan Burres and her boyfriend, Bob, who give him a ride.
Meanwhile, McCandless’s parents have also started searching for him. They receive a ticket for the Datsun car from California and hire a private investigator who finds out that Chris McCandless has donated his money to charity. On the West Coast, McCandless reaches Needles in California, and buys a canoe to navigate the Colorado River from California to Mexico.

During his travels, McCandless survives only on rice and fish caught from the river. On his way, he travels through the desert and many national parks. He sends a postcard to Wayne Westerberg, complaining light-heartedly that the money he earned at the Westerbergs has made tramping too easy. He also informs him that he will be spending his life on the road. In early December he crosses into Mexico, but by January he faces many difficulties and decides to abandon the canoe. He is arrested by the Immigration officers and then released at the US-Mexico border. McCandless goes to Los Angeles to get an ID but is too nervous and returns to Detrital Wash ands dig up his possessions. By late February 1991, McCandless is living on the street of Las Vegas. Krakauer gets an impression that McCandless is living life to the fullest.

Summary: Chapter 5

The narrator explains that once McCandless reaches Las Vegas, there is not much clarity on his whereabouts in the book. By July or August 1991, however, McCandless has moved on to Bullhead City in Arizona. There, he is employed in a McDonald’s outlet and opens a savings account under his own name. His managers and co-workers remember him as a hardworker and a loner with odd personality traits. Particularly, a dislike for wearing socks and an inability to tell that he smelled bad. His smelling anomaly becomes a cause of an unpleasant encounter with a co-worker. Krakauer says that McCandless did not tell his co-workers that he had no home or access to shower facilities. Soon, Chris meets a colorful old man, Charlie, who gives him shelter in his camping trailer.

In December, Chris invites Jan Burres and her boyfriend, Bob, to Bullhead City, but surprisingly shows up at her trailer instead. He lives with the couple at the Slabs near Niland and helps Burres organise her bookstall.

According to Burres, he enjoys a lot working there, especially helping her organise the classics. He also takes keen interest in the life at the Slabs, an itinerant community, playing an organ for other campers. Watching football one day, he accidentally reveals that he cheers for Washington, D.C. area teams. A girl named Tracy has a crush on him but he does not show much interest. McCandless starts following calisthenics to train for a rougher trip into the wild. Weeks later, Jan Burres drops him in Salton City so that he can buy supplies for he trip, Burres forcibly gets warm clothes for him but he leaves them under the seat of the car.


Chapters 4 and 5 keep a track of Christopher McCandless as he travels towards the Western United States by car and canoe. The reader experiences McCandless’s slow transformation into Alexander Supertramp as he moves across the sublime landscapes of California, Arizona and Nevada. On his journey, he makes enduring bonds with other misfits, travelers, and free spirits. He learns new skills and survives in the wild, while canoeing he survives only on rice and fish he has caught. McCandless seems to prove that self-reliance is possible or at least partially achievable. Although he suffers from malnutrition, he still remains hopeful. Despite knowing McCandless’s fate, the narrator raises hope of a bright future for him.

Krakauer’s hypothetical descriptions of McCandless’s emotional state highlighting his exhilaration, even giddiness, contribute in building the atmosphere. On the other hand, incidents like McCandless’s burning his money show irrationality in his actions. Many episodes in this section perform the function of foreshadowing, for example, McCandless’s friend Jan Burres’s description of him as incredibly hungry when they first meet. Another being Christopher’s rejection of supplies offered to him by Burres when he leaves her camp. These incidents recall McCandless’s refusal of aid from his family before leaving for journey and suggest that it is necessary for his understanding of his new identity. But McCandless’s stubbornness may cause disaster or unnecessary hardship for him. His hunger, relentless even while he is still living in civilization, reminds the reader of what they already know that McCandless will die of starvation. The melodramatic tone of McCandless’s diary entries suggests that he may have lost touch with reality but Krakauer’s analysis shows that he is enjoying his life of a tramp. His parents’ struggle to find McCandless also shows that Alexander has succeeded in attaining perfect independence.

Krakauer’s narrative technique in these chapters focuses on the leveraging of detail. He also follows stories outside of Christopher McCandless’s journeys to show how difficult it would have been to trace his movements at the time. Local police's attempts to find the owner of the yellow car dead-ended so soon. There is also a kind of comic irony in the episode as the car was adopted by police for undercover drug operations. This incident also shows McCandless’ impetuousness, it is clear that he could have fixed the car easily, but, instead, left it behind. On the other hand, this incident is also an indicator of how intense McCandless was in avoiding interactions with other people. Stranded in a desert after a flash flood, help would have come only after contacting police officers. It would have led to uncomfortable questions like why was his car's registration out of date. Why he was out of state plates? And so on... Instead, he chooses to abandon the car. In McCandless's hitchhiking from the Colorado River into Los Angeles and then to Las Vegas, Krakauer explores the concept of the American frontier, giving it more depth and its own set of characters. The landscapes in McCandless travels include beautiful desert, river and rough terrain. He survives a tough battle against the nature in his trip down the Colorado River. Other people in this section complete the Krakauer’s portrait of the West. Jan Burres and Wayne Westerberg represent life in alternative communities and rural areas, giving a peek into the fringes of mainstream American life. The convention of the flea market where Jan has a book stall adds another sociological dimension to the narrative.
These chapters also begin to challenge the idea that the frontier contains a perfect or untouched wilderness of any kind.  McCandless’s stint at the McDonald’s shows that commercialism and materialism is never far from an American experience. In America, materialism is as unavoidable as nature itself. McCandless’s interactions with McDonald’s employees lend a comic touch to this section, especially his dislike for wearing socks and smelling bad.

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