Into Thin Air: A Personal Response Essay, Research Paper
In Jon Krakauer?s Into Thin Air, a non-climbing reader is thrown into a flurry of new vocabulary and surprising events. At many points in the book, confusion and excitement set in simultaneously. There are many aspects of this story that prove to be intriguing and interesting, but there were also several less-exciting parts. Krakauer uses excellent story-telling techniques that depicted much detail, and has a brilliant way of determining tone throughout the book.
It was necessary for Krakauer to use a considerable amount of exposition in order to provide a correct and full depiction of the history, lives and motives of both former and present climbers. He is very helpful to the non-climber and successfully explains the sport in easier terms, usually through footnotes. For example, he writes
Although the Tibetan name for the peak is Jomolungma and the Nepali name is Sagarmatha, most Sherpas seem to refer to the mountain as “Everest” in daily conversation – even when speaking with other Sherpas. Krakauer, 60)
The first half of the book is basically dedicated to getting the climbers to Base Camp. These detailed explanations add a lot of positive atmosphere to the story but somewhat make the storyline seem to crawl along rather slowly. It becomes difficult to remember all of the different Sherpas and their roles, and it is also very hard to retain the historical information given to the reader within each separate anecdote. For example, the following footnote giving the reader historical information seems rather unnecessary and is difficult to fully understand and retain:
Although it is a somewhat arbitrary destination, mountaineers have always attached special prestige to ascents of 8,000-meter peaks. The first person to climb all fourteen of them was Reinhold Messner, in 1986. To date, only four other climbers have repeated the feat. (Krakauer, 78)
Other than the lengthiness of some descriptions, I feel that Krakauer was very effective and he was accommodating to the inexperienced climber.
Much detail and use of descriptive words are used in Krakauer?s writing. This in turn helps to make the reader feel as if he is experiencing the climb for himself. For instance, as he looks up at Everest, he writes, “As always seemed to be the case, a horizontal plume of condensation streamed from the summit like frozen smoke, betraying the violence of the jet-stream winds (Krakauer, 59).” His strong use of detail assists in building support and appreciation for a sport that is relatively unknown. Krakauer is also very effective in stirring up emotion in the reader?s mind, such as the time his expedition team spent in Lobuje. “Huge stinking piles of human feces lay everywhere; it was impossible not to walk in it (Krakauer, 66).”
The tone of determination and of the strong relationships within the climbing groups is clear and well-explained. The motives of each climber are different, but this in turn helps to cement hard-working and unwavering attitudes within the expedition groups. The Sherpas refuse to give in, even when they know that death is imminent. “But there is an element of machismo in the Sherpa culture that makes many men extremely reluctant to acknowledge physical infirmities (Krakauer, 141).” He describes his own group as “…a ragtag collection of pretty decent small-town softball players who?d bribed their way into the World Series (Krakauer, 120).” Even with this self-proclaimed inexperience, there is still a hint of overconfidence and climbing knowledge detected from Krakauer and his group. According to Krakauer, his group is somewhat respectable, and this is noticeable in his attitude when he sees climbers from other expeditions: “…I was shocked to see them go across [a crevasse] together, almost in lockstep – a needlessly dangerous act (Krakauer, 121).”
Krakauer uses many vivid explanations in the retelling of the Everest disaster. It becomes much clearer to the reader why there is so much emotion involved in climbing the mountain in the first place. A non-climber can easily understand and appreciate the dedication and soul-searching that must go on in order for a climb to the summit of Everest, or any mountain, to be successful.