Into the Wild

by: Jon Krakauer

Chapters 4 - 5

Krakauer’s narrative technique in these chapters centers on the leveraging of detail. He also pursues storylines outside of Christopher McCandless’s journeys to emphasize how difficult his movements would have been to trace for anyone trying to find him at the time. The fate of McCandless’s yellow Datsun, for instance, illustrates that attempts to find the car’s owner by local police dead-ended almost immediately and led to a kind of comic irony by which the car was adopted by police for undercover drug operations. The same anecdote also underlines McCandless’s impetuousness, since it reveals that he could have fixed the car easily, but instead left it behind. In addition, this acts as a gauge of how committed McCandless was becoming to avoiding interactions with other people. Stranded in a desert after a flash flood, calling for help would have required McCandless to speak to police officers to explain why his registration was out of date, why he had out of state plates, and so forth, so he chooses instead to abandon the car.

Krakauer continues to explore the concept of the American frontier, giving it more nuance and its own set of characters as he relays Christopher McCandless’s journey down the Colorado River, and into Los Angeles, via hitchhiking, then to Las Vegas. The landscapes through which McCandless travels include stark, beautiful desert and other rough terrain. He battles against the natural world particularly in his trip down the Colorado River. Other people in this section fill in Krakauer’s portrait of the West. The characters of Jan Burres and Wayne Westerberg in particular symbolize life in alternative communities and rural areas, offering a glimpse of the fringes of mainstream American life. The flea market in which Jan participates and the conventions of her community add a sociological dimension to the narrative. At the same time, these chapters also begin to challenge the idea that the frontier contains a perfect or untouched wilderness of any kind. Christopher McCandless’s employment at an Arizona McDonald’s, for example, demonstrates that commercialism and materialism are never far from the American experience. They are at least as unavoidable as nature itself. McCandless’s interactions with McDonald’s employees, who think he smells and can’t understand his dislike of wearing socks, lend a faintly comic tone to this section of his journey.