These chapters represent Krakauer’s attempt to fill in his psychological profile of McCandless from perspectives less romanticized and more complex than those of most of the people McCandless encountered and charmed on the road. Following the smooth transition provided him by a phone call from the police to McCandless’s half-brother at the end of Chapter Ten, Krakauer works with character and with tone to expand the emotional range of Into the Wild. He alters the book’s previously predominant note, that of admiration of McCandless and his journeys to a more sobering depiction of grief and family tragedy. The power of this depiction is only amplified by the fact that it follows fast on the heels of the news of McCandless’s death reaching his family. The puzzles and intricacies of McCandless’s character are thus made more interesting for the reader to follow, despite the fact that the book’s adventure narrative has been put on hold in favor of more domestic subjects.

In Chapter Eleven, Krakauer coordinates remarks and anecdotes made by both Christopher McCandless and his childhood friends to craft an account of a personality almost paradoxical in its extremes. Krakauer’s double portrait of Walt and Billie McCandless, Christopher’s parents, takes the reader deep into Christopher’s past. As he describes Walt, Krakauer uses his characterization as a means of characterizing his son. The traits he sees in Walt include authoritativeness and a strong, restless intellect, both of which he explicitly links to Christopher. His carriage and even his casual dress are reminiscent of Christopher McCandless’s dislike of ceremony and simultaneous love of seeming to be an authority. When Walt stresses the damage he feels his son has done to the family, he also strengthens a negative perspective on Christopher McCandless’s journey.

At the same time that Krakauer condemns Christopher McCandless, however, the reader also glimpses a gifted but isolated boy who took disappointment badly, internalized his anger and hurt, and yet still found opportunities to entertain and celebrate other people. Drawing from his conversation with McCandless’s parents, Krakauer emphasizes with great specificity his sociability and frequent sweetness. Krakauer’s description of Billie McCandless and her father highlight other humanizing characteristics, including a potential source for her son’s love of the outdoors. As the story of Christopher McCandless’s childhood moves into his adolescence, Krakauer allows anecdotes about his character to unfold naturally. His pursuit of running and of music testifies to his determination and extraordinary focus, though he eventually abandons both activities. His mother relates his success as an entrepreneur with warm irony, which prevents what would otherwise be hypocrisy in McCandless’s character from infecting Krakauer’s portrait.

The class and lifestyle distinctions between McCandless’s family and the narrator’s other interlocutors are subtly emphasized through detail. Krakauer describes Billie and Walt’s purchase of a boat,, and the reader is left with the impression that this luxury was embarrassing rather than enjoyable for Christopher. A strong contrast develops, both implicit and explicit, between the McCandless’s class background and Christopher McCandless’s later contempt for material possessions and his love of travel as a means not for relaxing but for confronting the unknown and conquering the self. Class difference is also evident in the clear contrast between the lives of the McCandless family and Krakauer’s portraits of Christopher McCandless’s friends from his journeys.