The centerpiece of this section is Krakauer’s portrait of Everett Ruess in Chapter Nine, which is positioned as a miniaturization of McCandless’s life. The narrator guides the reader through an explicit comparison between the two that advances the book’s secondary, more subtle plot of Krakauer’s developing character study of McCandless. Both McCandless and Ruess renounced the world in favor of a solitary life they found exhilarating and that was for them specific to the American west. Both McCandless and Ruess left behind loving families who were desperate to know what happened to their sons and mounted fruitless searches. They both generated wild speculation as to what might have happened to them, speculation that seems to endure to this day. The positioning of Ruess’s story within Into the Wild also broadens the appeal of McCandless’s story. Through its telling, Krakauer makes the implicit claim that McCandless’s death represents a particularly rich and ambiguous modern example of an enduring type. His connection of Ruess’s story to the life of the Anasazi people of Davis Gulch underlines this point.
Late in Chapter Nine, Krakauer turns to a much more ancient point of comparison than the other, twentieth century examples in this section, which launches one of Into the Wild’s minor themes and also evidences the important role of historical writing in the book. Krakauer names the papar, Irish priests who sailed for Iceland without navigational tools and without knowing that any destination awaited them. This comparison suggests that those who renounce life in society could be thought of as spiritual or as priestlike. Total comfort with, even desire for the unknown continues to mark McCandless as distinct from any of the people he meets and from his family, a comfort that reminds Krakauer of the priests. This otherworldly courage, Krakauer suggests, make McCandless not just an aesthete but a pilgrim or a person who seeks a kind of holiness in the wild. Krakauer uses historical writing and historical examples to make a very strong claim about McCandless’s character, suggesting that there may have always been young men like him and that there may always be.
Chapters Eight and Nine pose interesting questions about gender, since all the figures that Krakauer compares to Christopher McCandless are male. They also avoid intimate or even close relationships with women. Adventure and risktaking activity are described as masculine by default, and involve the rejection of domesticity even as, especially in McCandless’s case, survival requires domestic activity like cooking and socializing. Krakauer makes very little explicit comment on this fact in these particular chapters. This lends the narration a quality of innocent but unexamined bias.