Chapters 3-7 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on February 4, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1546

Summary
Chris McCandless graduated from Atlanta's Emory University in May 1990. He had done well in school, completing a history and anthropology major with a 3.72 GPA. While a student, however, he had declined awards and recognitions, insisting that such honors were meaningless. Upon graduation, he donated the remaining money in his college fund to charity, casually told his parents he was "going to disappear for awhile," packed up his beloved 1982 Datsun 210, and took to the road. Chris's parents received one brief note from him in June 1990, along with a copy of his final transcripts; this was the last anyone in his family ever heard from him. It was as if, out of a sense of obligation, he had fulfilled the odious task of completing his education, and now, his duty accomplished, he was free to undertake the "epic journey" which he felt was his life's calling.

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Like the brave pioneers before him, Chris McCandless headed west, with no itinerary. In October 1990, his Datsun was found by authorities abandoned in a dry riverbed near Lake Mead in Arizona. McCandless had driven from Atlanta to the Lake Mead area three months earlier, and, disregarding posted warning signs, had driven off the road and been caught in a flash flood. Frustrated when he could not get the car started after the waters receded, McCandless had abandoned it, continuing his odyssey on foot. Hiking around Lake Mead in midsummer, he was at one point overcome with heat stroke, and ruefully recorded this tremendous mistake in his journal. For the next two months he tramped around the western states, "spellbound" by their natural beauty. He hitchhiked up north as far as Seattle, occasionally communing with fellow drifters, but for the most part living out his dream of traveling "alone and young and willful and wildhearted."

After leaving Seattle, McCandless hitchhiked east, ending up in Carthage, South Dakota in early September. There, he was befriended by Wayne Westerberg, the owner of a grain elevator. McCandless introduced himself as Alex, and was offered a job at the elevator. Westerberg remembers the young man as "an amiable kid" who was a little odd, but extremely ethical, and "the hardest worker (he had) ever seen." McCandless stayed in Carthage for only about a month, but he quickly developed an attachment for both the town and for Westerberg. He stayed in touch as he continued his journey, and told everyone from that point on that South Dakota was his home.

At the end of October 1990, Chris McCandless caught a ride with a trucker from Carthage to Needles, California. After spending some time hiking in the desert, he impulsively bought a secondhand canoe and traveled down the Colorado River to Mexico. After sneaking across the border, he became lost in a maze of irrigation canals, but was fortunately rescued by a party of duck hunters. McCandless enjoyed a few weeks of contemplative isolation along the Gulf of California, but was caught in a ferocious storm while paddling in his canoe along the barren shore. According to his journal, McCandless narrowly escaped death, and the incident prompted him to abandon the canoe and head north on foot. Malnourished but exulting in his freedom, he crossed the border back into the United States, wandering the western part of the country and eventually settling in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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Latest answer posted May 16, 2011, 3:08 am (UTC)

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Since he stopped keeping a journal at this point, little is known about McCandless's activities between the time he left Las Vegas in May 1991 and arrived in Bullhead City, Arizona, in October of that same year. McCandless developed an affinity for the city, and expressed in a letter to Wayne Westerberg the possibility that he might settle there. During his time in Bullhead City, McCandless dropped his alter-ego, Alex, and resumed using his real name. He obtained full-time employment at a local McDonald's, where coworkers found him to be eccentric but reliable. McCandless camped in the desert on the outskirts of town during his first weeks in Bullhead City, eventually reuniting with a couple he had met during his travels. The three moved out to the "Slabs," an abandoned Navy base which was a gathering place for "a teeming itinerant society." There, McCandless read voraciously and socialized freely, entertaining residents with his amazing musical ability, regaling them with tales about a favorite author, Jack London, and outlining for them his own plans of journeying into the wilds of Alaska alone.

After a little over two months, Chris McCandless left Bullhead City to set up camp at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, near the Salton Sea in California. On one of his forays into the small town of Salton City to get supplies, he became acquainted with a lonely eighty-year-old man, Ronald Franz. Franz, whose wife and only child had been killed by a drunk driver over thirty years previously, took an instant liking to the vagabond, who again reverted to calling himself Alex. The two visited frequently, and had deep philosophical discussions about how each had chosen to live his life. Alex confided to Franz that he was "biding his time until spring, when he intended to go to Alaska and embark on an 'ultimate adventure.'" Alex took leave of Franz and the Anza-Borrego area in early February. He spent the next two months "riding the rails" in the western states, eventually returning to Wayne Westerberg in Carthage, South Dakota. There, he worked at the grain elevators again for a short time to earn money to outfit himself for his trip to Alaska.

Analysis
In Chapters 3-7 of Into the Wild, the author focuses on the life of Christopher McCandless from the time of his college graduation in May 1990 until his fateful trip into the Alaskan wilderness in April 1992. During those two years, McCandless traveled widely, beginning in Atlanta, crossing and recrossing the United States, and ultimately centering his explorations in the western part of the continent. McCandless's wanderings were a celebration of his own freedom; throwing aside the "irksome" confines of obligations and artificially imposed restrictions, he traveled and sojourned, following no other beacon but his own will. During those two years, McCandless lived as he had always wanted to live, reveling in adventure and the beauty of the natural world. Widely read, he drew inspiration from writers and philosophers such as Tolstoy, London, Thoreau, and others, as he re-created his own identity, aptly renaming himself "Alexander Supertramp."

In examining the character of Christopher McCandless in these chapters, the author highlights several aspects of the young vagabond's personality that are of significance in understanding both the individual himself and his eventual fate. There is no doubt that McCandless was a notable personality, an enigma who insisted on doing things on his own, but at the same time was recognized for his amiability by quite a number of those whose paths he crossed. McCandless left a huge impression on those he befriended as he meandered around the country. Most notably, Wayne Westerberg, impressed with the youth's work ethic, strove to convince him to stay on at the elevator through the summer, and Ron Franz, the octogenarian who "astoundingly" sought to emulate his young friend, moving out of his apartment and setting up camp in the desert for a time, actually wanted to adopt him.

Despite the fact that people were drawn to him and that he genuinely seemed to enjoy the company of others, McCandless was scrupulous about not forming lasting attachments. He got along well with Westerberg and loved the city of Carthage, but left without compunction when his wanderlust returned, and though he seemed to care deeply for Ron Franz, writing him at least one very lengthy missive after he had moved on, McCandless never wavered from his intention to hit the road again when he deemed that it was time. When McCandless took leave of Franz, the author suggests that he must have done so with a sense of relief "that he had again evaded the impending threat of human intimacy, or friendship." Christopher McCandless seemed to be almost pathologically averse to anything, or anyone, that would tie him down. To him, freedom was everything; the thing he valued most in life was the unfettered ability to heed the call within to wander and experience the world on his terms, alone.

A final element of Chris McCandless's persona which the author explores in depth in these chapters is his penchant for calamity. McCandless was an exceptionally intelligent, capable individual, but his tendency to approach experiences impulsively and with untempered enthusiasm caused him to get into situations that were dangerous, if not life-threatening, time and time again. During the two years he spent wandering the country after graduation, McCandless was caught in a flash flood, was overcome by heatstroke, and "narrowly escaped death" when he was caught in a fierce storm while paddling a canoe on the ocean. Chris McCandless did promise Wayne Westerberg that he would return to Carthage to work the autumn harvest, indicating that he fully intended to survive his Alaskan adventure and return to civilization, but though he was fearless, McCandless was not invincible. In grim foreshadowing, it seemed that it would be only a matter of time before things caught up to him and he would find himself in a situation he really could not handle.

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