In Into the Wild, what are the similarities and differences between Chris and Ruess, Waterman, McCunn, and Rossellini?

Quick answer:

Similarities between Chris McCandless and Ruess include similar family dynamics. Differences include that Chris’s body was found but Everett’s was not. A similarity between McCandless and Waterman is their lack of equipment. Their differences include their state of mind and ambitions. McCunn and McCandless share a lack of common sense but are driven by different passions. Rosellini and McCandless come from similar affluent backgrounds. The big difference is that Chris dies of natural causes while Rosellini commits suicide.

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At the end of chapter 8, the point is made that to fully understand the McCandless tragedy, we must look to other explorers or young men “cut from the same exotic cloth.” With this in mind, the narrator directs our attention back in time to 1934, when Everett Ruess “walked into the desert and never came out.”

Like Chris McCandless, Ruess turned his back on his life and everything that he had known. Both men have a penchant for graffiti, carving “NEMO 1934” and “Alexander Supertramp/May 1992” into their respective surroundings. Both young men seem to have had a similar family dynamic, having strained relationships with their parents but enjoying closeness with a sibling. A notable difference between Ruess’s story and that of McCandless is that while McCandless’s body was found in a bus close to the Sushana River, the remains of Everett Ruess have never been found.

A key similarity between McCandless and John Mallon Waterman is their lack of equipment. While Waterman attempts yet another climb of Mt. Denali with limited supplies, leading to his demise, Chris heads off into Alaska when winter is approaching, with next to nothing. The first difference between McCandless and Waterman that comes to mind is that Waterman appears to have been less mentally stable than Chris. As a student, he once wore “a long black cape and blue Elton John-type glasses” on campus. While Waterman was known as eccentric, Chris was known as a highly intelligent young man. While Waterman had political ambitions, Chris simply wanted to experience nature.

Carl McCunn and Chris McCandless seem to share a lack of common sense. While McCunn “forgot” to organize a flight back from his remote location above the Coleen River, McCandless went into the Alaskan wilderness woefully unprepared. With regard to differences between McCunn and McCandless, McCunn had been working in Alaska for some years, while McCandless had not been there for long. While McCunn’s passion was photography, McCandless was driven simply by his desire to live a simple and nomadic way of life.

McCandless and Gene Rosellini both come from affluent backgrounds, and both sought a connection with nature, rather than with people or resources. Both believed in their own ability to survive in the wilderness. The big difference between the two is that while Chris dies of natural causes, Rosellini commits suicide.

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Krakauer mentions these men in an attempt to better understand McCandless's motivations. These men were similar in that they all went into the wilderness alone and eventually died, but their reasons for doing so were quite different. Unlike Rosselini, the "mayor of hippy cove" who was engaged in a kind of "experiment" to see if it was possible to live as a Stone Age person, McCandless was not trying to "prove" anything. Unlike Waterman, whose determination to make a solo ascent of Denali was the result of extreme emotional trauma, McCandless was not mentally ill. And unlike McCunn, who was airlifted into the bush and "forgot" to arrange for a return flight, McCandless was not incompetent.

Perhaps the best comparison to McCandless was Ruess, who, like McCandless, came from a privileged background and was seduced by the beauty of the Utah wilderness. While it is unclear how Ruess died, it seems clear that, like McCandless, Ruess's deep affinity for natural beauty caused him lose sight of the harshness of the desert environment. Perhaps the thing that best links the two is their youthful sense of immortality—that is, the notion that their sense of oneness with nature somehow made them able to survive in circumstances where survival is impossible.

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Author Jon Krakauer attempts to describe other men of similar qualities to Chris McCandless in chapters 8 and 9 of Into the Wild.  

Chapter 8 focuses on Gene Rossellini, John Waterman, and Carl McGunn. The similarities between those three men and Chris are small.  Mainly those three are men that sought solitude in the Alaskan wilderness and died.  That's what happened to Chris as well.  While all three men bear some similarities to Chris, Krakauer admits that they were still not enough like Chris to fully understand what might have made Chris "tick."  

There are similarities among Rosellini, Waterman, McCunn, and McCandless. Like Rosellini and Waterman, McCandless was a seeker and had an impractical fascination with the harsh side of nature. Like Waterman and McCunn, he displayed a staggering paucity of common sense. But unlike Waterman, McCandless wasn’t mentally ill. And unlike McCunn, he didn’t go into the bush assuming someone would automatically appear to save his bacon before he came to grief.

Krakauer tells his readers that in order to better understand Chris, he needs to inform readers about Everett Ruess.  

Some insight into the tragedy of Chris McCandless can be gained by studying predecessors cut from the same exotic cloth. And in order to do that, one must look beyond Alaska, to the bald-rock canyons of southern Utah. There, in 1934, a peculiar twenty-year-old boy walked into the desert and never came out. His name was Everett Ruess.

Ruess and Chris are unbelievably similar in a variety of ways.  Both men began their solitary journey as young men.  Both men also didn't shy away from rough, rugged, and harsh conditions.  

Also like McCandless, Ruess was undeterred by physical discomfort; at times he seemed to welcome it.

Both men had a habit of taking on aliases during their travels.  Chris often told people that his name was Alex, and he had a habit of signing his stuff "Supertramp."  Both men enjoyed their solitude, but both men didn't shy away from friendly companionship either.  They simply didn't tolerate it for very long.  

We like companionship, see, but we can’t stand to be around people for very long. So we go get ourselves lost, come back for a while, then get the hell out again. And that’s what Everett was doing.

Personality wise, Ruess and McCandless are cut from the same cloth.  The only difference that I can think of, based on Krakauer's text, is not a personality difference.  We know what happened to McCandless.  His body was found.  Ruess's body was never found. 

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The main similarities between these men and MCandless is their single-minded determination to conquer some aspect of nature and of themselves.

Krakauer explains the reasons for highlighting the stories of these other adventurers-

 Some insight into the tragedy of Chris McCandless can be gained by studying predecessors cut from the same exotic cloth.

Carl McGunn kept a journal where he detailed his decline before taking his own life. Waterman was undoubtedly deeply affected by his parents’ divorce just like McCandless struggled to cope with his own complex family relationships. Ruess’ letters were very like those which McCandless sent as he travelled, and both were described as “reckless” by people they encountered. Rosselini equalled if not exceeded the intelligence of McCandless. Krakauer notes in Chapter 8-

Like Rossellini and Waterman, McCandless was a seeker and had an impractical fascination with the harsh side of nature. Like Waterman and McGunn, he displayed a staggering paucity of common sense.


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