By recounting the story of Chris McCandless in a non-chronological way, Krakauer reveals that he is not just telling the story of McCandless’ life and death, but is concerned to explore the motives which drove such a passionate and fearless individual. Krakauer is trying to educate the reader in to the influences which affected McCandless to make seemingly self-destructive decisions, and to turn his back on what could have been a comfortable life.
Krakauer uses quotations from the literary inspirations which drew McCandless into the wild: Tolstoy,London, Thoreau. The text is also filled with McCandless’ own words: in letters and postcards he sent, and graffiti he composed when he was close to death.
The text is as much about what drives a man such as McCandless as his story in particular. Krakauer himself experienced the elation of pitting himself against Nature and the elements, and explains the purpose of his narrative in the Author’s Note-
In trying to understand McCandless, I inevitably came to reflect on other, larger subjects as well: the grip wilderness has on the American imagination, the allure high-risk activities hold for young men of a certain mind, the complicated, highly charged bond that exists between fathers and sons. The result of this meandering inquiry is the book now before you.
Krakauer begins his book -- the first sentence on the Author's note -- by giving away the end of the story, so there is really no reason to tell the story chronologically -- there is no suspense here. Another thing about the non-chronological approach is that it marks the book as, at best, a non-traditional sort of biography, if we can really call it a "biography" at all. I mean that, in my opinion, the book is not so much about McCandless's life as it is about the impulse that led him to go off to Alaska in the first place -- an impulse that Krakauer knows and shares. So the non-chronological structure makes it possible for Krakauer to think about McCandless's experience in thematic or spiritual terms -- he is not so much interested in what happened to Chris and when, but what drove him, what his psychology was. The argument of the book, hopping as it does from Alaska to California to South Dakota, is meant to show the development of that spirit. I suspect that a parallel organizing principle was Krakauer exploring his own relationship with McCandless, a person he writes about professionally but whose story causes him to challenge assumptions he has about himself, both personally and professionally. The book is as much about Krakauer's relationship to the wild as it is McCandless's -- Krakauer's writing of the book, and our reading of it, are part of extensions of the spiritual journal McCandless began.