How does the structure of Into the Wild contribute to the theme of the pursuit of happiness?

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bbtrees eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Into the Wild presents two sets of parallels: physical and spiritual journeys, and the ways that those are experienced by two men—the author and his primary subject. Because Jon Krakauer already knew the basic facts of Chris McCandless’s disappearance and death, he was not setting out to solve a mystery. Rather, Krakauer was trying to understand McCandless’s motivations for actually traveling into the Alaskan wilderness but also—and in some ways more importantly—to comprehend what the other sojourner had felt he could discover about his deepest needs, including what made him happy.

The author locates that particular individual within this type of spiritual quest, especially as a quintessentially American wilderness experience. He also shares the commonalities between that legacy and his own inquiries into these types of existential questions. While he could have written an insightful book without actually following Chris’s footsteps, he felt that there were things he could learn only by making that physical journey. Thus, he utilizes the overall structure of placing Chris’s story within the frame he has constructed.

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It is worth thinking about how carefully Krakauer structures this book and in particular how the narrative shifts between two sections of the life of Chris McCandless. It starts, for example, with his arrival in Alaska and his last reported contact with another human before reaching his long-awaited goal of the Alaskan wilds. Then we flick back to Chris's youth and childhood, and what he did before he reached Alaska, focussing on the people that he had contact with and the way that he had an impact on them. As this excellent book develops, constantly the nature and content of the narrative forces us to ask deep and hard questions about happiness and how it is constituted and what price we are willing to pay for it. The narrative culminates in the death of Chris McCandless and then the revisit to the actual site of his death by the author. We are haunted by this eventual culmination in the death of the protagonist and then the visit, and this forces us to think about whether Chris did actually achieve a state of happiness in his life, even though he paid such a high price for it.

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