There are many similarities in the content of biographies. There are many differences in the features of these biographies that make them different from each other. These conventions are used to enhance the reader’s enjoyment. This is all done exceptionally well in Jon Krakauer’s biography Into the Wild. Krakauer tells the story of Chris McCandless’ liberating journey through North America. It is told in a disjointed but compelling timeline. Krakauer uses original sources to create his biography. He also includes an explanation of his personal life experiences in each chapter to enrich the reader’s reading experience.
The book follows biographical conventions in that it retraces Chris’ steps using original sources. Krakauer 3, for example, is able to recall Gallien’s first encounter with Chris McCandless as a hitchhiker. Krakauer is required by law to interview Chris’s family and friends in order for him to have more credibility as a biographer. Krakauer also refers to Chris McCandless’s writings and includes his journals and letters throughout the entire book. Krakauer, for instance, includes Wayne Westerberg’s letter in which Chris mentions his arrival in Yukon Territory. He declares that “I now enter the wild” (3). Krakauer uses the title quote in the beginning chapter. This echoes Chris’ bold tone and creates a dark, foreboding atmosphere for the rest. Krakauer’s usual use of primary sources to collect information for his biography enriches both the reader’s enjoyment and also his credibility as an author. Krakauer places the title quote at the beginning of the first chapter. Most notably, maps are placed before chapters start. For example, the map that appears before chapter 9 depicts the area surrounding Davis Gulch at the border of Arizona and Utah (86). This map allows readers to visualize the contents of the chapter and gives them a sense of Chris’ journey. The map is not the only thing that Krakauer uses to start each chapter. He also includes epigraphs from Chris and other writers to complement any image Krakauer has aligned with it. Everett Ruess is the one who emphasizes this. He writes in a letter (87) that he “asks when I will see civilization, it may not be soon…I do not tire of the wilderness, but I rather enjoy its beauty. This refreshing departure from the standard paragraphs that describe Chris’ story and other books adds to the reader’s curiosity. The letter also juxtaposes Everett Ruess’ philosophies and ventures. They were both influenced by transcendentalist beliefs, approximately sixty years apart. Krakauer wanted to illustrate the message and subject matter of the chapter. He also wanted to let readers draw their own conclusions about Chris’ uniqueness and compare the adventures between them. This book’s minor differences in structure and genre, which almost resembles a written documentary about Chris is what adds to the reader’s fascination and retention throughout.
Krakauer’s evident authorial bias also deviates from standard biographical conventions. Krakauer even dedicates chapters to discussing his own personal experiences. Krakauer makes a blatant confession in the Author’s Note: “I won’t claim that I am an impartial biographer” explaining how he was personally affected by Chris’ story. It made it impossible to “dispassionately render the tragedy possible”. He is honest about his admiration and bias towards Chris and establishes trust with his readers by being open about it. Two chapters in the book deal with Krakauer’s connection to Chris. This unusual convention allows readers to see Krakauer’s authorial view of Chris’ story. It focuses on Krakauer’s personal connection to Chris and their experiences in the wildernesses. This second distinction provides readers with an additional perspective of Chris McCandless, the book and Krakauer.
Many conventions can be used in different biographies or other books with similar genres. They each have their own distinctive features and conceptually overlap with others. Jon Krakauer uses biographical conventions to tell Chris’ story across North America in Into the Wild. Jon Krakauer creates an intriguing and compelling biography of Chris using conventions. These include using primary sources for information, formulating unique chapters, and including personal experiences that he shares with Chris McCandless.