Into the Wild | Study Guide

Jon Krakauer

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Into the Wild | Chapter 5 : Bullhead City | Summary



After tramping around the Pacific Northwest during July and August of 1991, McCandless headed for Bullhead City, Arizona. He accepted a job at McDonald's and considered staying in Bullhead City for the winter. McCandless stayed in an abandoned trailer managed by a man named Charlie. Two assistant managers comment that he was a reliable but slow worker who was cordial to the other employees but didn't socialize with any of them during or outside of work. He decided to quit the job shortly after a supervisor brought up his lack of personal hygiene. McCandless apparently objected to being asked once too often to follow the rules.

About mid-December he left for Niland, California, where Jan Burres and her boyfriend, Bob, were spending the winter. Hundreds of wanderers like them had parked their vehicles on the empty concrete pads that had been foundations for buildings on a closed navy air base, giving the place its name—the Slabs. McCandless helped Burres sell books at a flea market. He enjoyed talking with everyone he met, loved to tease Jan, and entertained the residents by playing the electric organ and singing. Excited about his upcoming Alaskan adventure, he read and re-read all of Jack London's books and short stories, exercised every day, and discussed survival skills with Bob. Burres was concerned about McCandless's ability to survive in the wild but thought he had already proven that he could handle what happened in Mexico, jumping freight trains, and otherwise surviving on next-to-nothing on the road. If he was smart enough to handle all of that, "he'd figure out Alaska, too."


Despite his desire to forge a new identity, while working at McDonald's McCandless concealed his disrespect for government and corporate regulations by writing his actual name and Social Security number on the application. Although he detested socks, he adhered to McDonald's policy and wore them—but only during his shift. His obedience to the rules of the workplace apparently reached a breaking point when Lori Zarza, an assistant manager told him that he must follow the corporation's hygiene requirements. When other employees tried to be helpful by asking him if he needed soap, he decided to quit the job.

McCandless seemed to have no issue with giving to others but taking was another matter. McCandless gave Charlie, a mobile home caretaker, 50 dollars and a pack of cigarettes before leaving town. But when Burres insisted on buying knives and long underwear to keep McCandless warm, he became angry. He pretended to accept them but actually rejected them, hiding the gifts in bags under one of the seats in Burres's van. McCandless tolerated giving and taking as long as he was in control. Accepting heartfelt gifts seemed to erode his independence because he assumed strings were always attached. Chris's homage to Jack London's primordial beast at the beginning of the chapter shows how he identified with it. Like this creature, Chris wanted to develop his "poise and control."

Like Gallien in Chapter 1, Burres worried about Chris's chances of survival in the wild but thought he would pull through because of his previous experience on the road and because he was intelligent. On the one hand, McCandless had shown a surprising range of survival skills. On the other, people he met on the road regularly expressed their shock and concern at his cavalier desire to live in the moment, with insufficient concern about practical steps he could have taken to ensure survival.

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