Summary and Analysis
Chapter 5 - Bullhead City
His camera ruined after he buries it in the desert, McCandless stops taking photographs and writing in his journal. As a result, his whereabouts during this time are vague. He works for a while in Las Vegas, then travels to Oregon before heading west once more, to Bullhead City, Arizona. McCandless lives in Bullhead City for two months, working at a McDonald's and even opening a savings account.
He lives as a drifter on the edge of town until an old man offers him the use of a trailer that he is overseeing while its occupants are away. McCandless writes to Jan Burres and Bob, who are not far away, in California's Imperial Valley. They plan on visiting him, but before they can, he turns up at their campsite. He tells them he quit his job because he was tired of the "plastic people" he worked with.
McCandless stays with Jan and Bob at "the Slabs," the remnants of a demolished Navy air base that has become home to a community of drifters. There he helps Jan and Bob sell used books at the local flea market. McCandless proves himself a charismatic salesman and tries to convince every denizen of the Slabs to read Jack London's Call of the Wild. Additionally, he exercises every morning to prepare himself for the rigors of the Alaskan wilderness and discusses survival tactics with Bob, a "self-styled survivalist."
In this chapter, a theme introduced when McCandless presented a copy of War and Peace to Wayne Westerberg reappears: the young man's abiding love of literature. Since childhood, he was obsessed with the novels and stories of Jack London, who condemned capitalism and glorified nature. According to Krakauer, however, McCandless forgot he was reading fiction and "conveniently overlooked the fact that London himself had spent just a single winter in the North and that he'd died by his own hand on his California estate at the age of forty, a fatuous drunk, obese and pathetic."
Krakauer characterizes his protagonist more deeply by means of contrast with those who surround him: Note that even at the Slabs, where snowbirds, rubber tramps, and other antiestablishment types congregated, McCandless was an anomaly: an individual who wanted life to be not easier (as most of the habitués of the Slabs presumably do) but more difficult. Thus he prepares at the Slabs for a life in the harsh wilderness of Alaska.
Notice as well the extent to which author Krakauer relies on documents left behind by McCandless to tell the young man's story. During this part of his journey, he ceases regularly keeping a journal, and Into the Wild becomes sketchier, more reliant on authorial inference.