Why does Krakauer begin each chapter with quotes?
I teach both public speaking and introduction to writing courses, and one of the class topics that I spend some time stressing is the importance of getting audience attention right away. I always stress to my students that you, the writer/speaker, must get the audience's attention from the very first sentence. I call this the "attention getter."
Typically, there are four main attention getters.
- Ask a question. Questions immediately grab reader attention because they require some kind of audience response. Even if the question is rhetorical, most audience members are actively thinking of their own answer while listening to the one that you are going to give.
- Make a bold, perhaps controversial, statement. This attention getter is trying to trigger an emotional response from the audience. Emotionally engaged audiences listen right away and are able to pay attention longer.
- Use a definition. A definition is kind of like a quote. It's very focused, though, and audiences usually wonder why that particular definition is important. Curious audiences listen.
- Use a quote. Quotes gather audience attention because audiences automatically think that the quote is critical and important for some reason. It must be, because otherwise the author or speaker wouldn't bother with using somebody else's words. By using a quote, the writer or speaker is telling an audience that those particular words are super important. Audiences are generally curious about why a particular quote is so important, and curious audiences are audiences that keep listening.
By using quotes for Into the Wild, Krakauer is using a standard attention getter to focus reader attention. We wonder why that particular quote is important enough for Krakauer to use before he begins to use his own words. What I especially like about some of Krakauer's quotes is that they are quotes that are also bold, perhaps controversial statements. Chapter 2 starts this way.
Jack London is King.
I like Jack London a lot, but I'm not sure that he is worthy of the title "king." I'm already thinking about ways to contradict that statement. I'm already thinking about stories he wrote and characters that he conceived. I'm also thinking about McCandless. Why would he think Jack London is king?
Krakauer immediately follows that quote up with a quoted section of London's White Fang. Krakauer is further deepening the importance to his audience of Jack London. As Into the Wild progresses, readers realize that the quotes that Krakauer is using are not necessarily important quotes to him. They are important quotes to Chris McCandless. Krakauer uses authors and texts that were important to McCandless and served as inspiration for him to live the life that he was living. The quotes serve as a way to grab reader attention at the start of each chapter, to show McCandless's inspiration for his lifestyle. The quotes serve as a way to show that his thoughts were not unique to him. McCandless longed for the freedom that many of those men wrote about, and the quotes help explain that passion.
It should not be denied... that being footloose has always exhilarated us. It is associated in our minds with escape from history and oppression and law and irksome obligations, with absolute freedom, and the road has always led west.
One of the objectives of the text is to communicate that the desires and drives which took McCandless to the edge of his endurance and beyond were not unique to him. Krakauer uses quotations from the inspirations behind McCandless’ adventure. Many of the quotations are from Tolstoy, whose writings had a profound impact on the young man. Often Krakauer uses quotations from other sources which have clearly affected McCandless. Chapter 2 begins with a quotation from McCandless himself-
Jack London is King
Krakauer explains that this was carved into a piece of wood where McCandless’ body was found. He then follows this with a quotation from Jack London’s “White Fang”-
…It was the masterful and incommunicable wisdom of eternity laughing at the futility of life and the effort of life…
Krakauer uses the quotations to illustrate and explain the passionate drive which compelled McCandless to push himself so far into the inhospitable landscape.