McKenna Air by Jon Krakauer is a narrative

McKenna KellnerMickelsonAP Language and Composition5 December 2017Krakauer, Jon, and Randy Rackliff. Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster, 1999. Print.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer is a narrative of Jon Krakauer’s fatal adventure to the top of Mount Everest, the highest mountain on Earth. Originally an article Krakauer wrote from the magazine Outsider, Into Thin Air is an in-depth novel meant to the tell the whole truth of one of the most disastrous Everest climbs in history, in which eight people died due to an unexpected tumultuous storm at the summit. Krakauer, one of the only survivors, retells his harrowing few months attempting the most difficult feat on Earth, reflecting on the steps that led up to the disaster and why the mountain came to mean so much to him.The Author and His Times    Jon Krakauer was born on April 12, 1954, in Brooklyn, Massachusetts. He grew up with a deep appreciation of nature; in 1976, he received his degree in Environmental Studies from Hampshire College in Massachusetts. Out of college, Krakauer spent three weeks alone in the Alaskan wilderness, which inspired him to begin writing.

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In 1983, he quit his job as a carpenter to become a full time writer. Krakauer wrote many articles, mostly about mountaineering and rock climbing, in respected publishers, including The New York Times and National Geographic, and had written two novels, Eiger Dreams: Ventures Among Men and Mountains and Into The Wild. While working for the magazine Outsider, Krakauer was approached with the idea of writing an article on the growing commercialization of Mount Everest.  As an avid mountaineer, Krakauer was initially disappointed with being assigned just some time on base camp; when the magazine offered to pay the tens of thousands of dollars to get Krakauer a spot on a guided team with Adventure Consultants to the summit, he was much faster to agree, saying yes “without even pausing to catch my breath” (Krakauer 34). Previously, Krakauer had climbed Cerro Torre, a climb considered to be the most technically difficult. After experiencing commercial success with his Outsider article detailing the 1996 Mount Everest Disaster he experienced, Krakauer believed there was more to be told of the story; he converted his Outsider article into a full length novel, Into Thin Air. The novel was a huge success and eventually resulted in a movie released in 2015. Now, Krakauer continues to write novels such as Under the Banner of Heaven, Where Men Win Glory, Three Cups of Deceit.

He uses his now powerful platform to speak out against the dangerous culture of mountain climbing that glorifies risk, disrespecting the lives of those who died on the summit.Form, Structure, and Plot     The majority of Into Thin Air bis written in chronological order of the events by which they happened during his months-long journey to the summit of Everest. Each chapter begins with an image foreshadowing the events of the chapter, a date, and the height at which the climbers are at. In the beginning of the novel, there is more expositional information including excerpts injected into the time Krakauer spent there, explaining previous stories and adventures his climbing partners experienced to explain their personalities, provide motivations for their future actions, and bolster the relationship the reader feels with each character. For example, Krakauer takes a step back from his own narrative to retell the story of Pete Schoening, a “living Himalayan legend” who saved six of his fellow climbers from a deadly fall on an unsuccessful Everest expedition (Krakauer 91).  Krakauer’s intensive, imagery packed storytelling skills help establish a connection between the reader and the events being described. In this particular excerpt, the reader gets an idea of the types of brave and experienced climbing traveling alongside Krakauer. Throughout the exposition, Krakauer also foreshadows the coming tragedy, with phrases the highlighted the team’s naivety of the gravity of the situation, claiming “nobody suspected the end of that very long day, every minute would matter” (Krakauer 9).

As the novel progresses into an action based plot, it shies away from linked stories and instead travels on tight chronological order that builds intensity and tension, up to the final day after the summit during which the disastrous storm occurs. The book starts off slow and steady, but torpedoes into the reality of the tragic collateral damage of man’s intense desire to explore the unexplored.Research/Literary Criticism    In Alistair Scott’s review of Into Thin Air for the New York Times, written on May 18th, 1997 and entitled “Fatal Attraction”, Scott praises Jon Krakauer from deviating from the norm of mountaineering authors being better at adventuring than they are at writing. Scott summarizes the main plot of the novel while commending him for his beautiful literary ability.

Something Scott wrote that I realized I was thinking but I couldn’t into put into words was Scott’s description of Krakauer’s use of imagery as “re-creating the tragedy with a lucid and terrifying intimacy” (Scott 5). Referring to Krakauer’s writing style as “intimate” was very accurate; every step Krakauer takes up the mountain, the reader feels as if they are right there with him. I also enjoyed the insight that Into Thin Air was written as a “work of atonement” (Scott 7). Although Krakauer mentions his feelings of guilt and regret, such as when he neglects to realize Andy Harris’ injury and lack of lucidity when he thinks many of the oxygen tanks left were empty when they were full (Krakauer 189), I hadn’t considered how deeply Krakauer’s feelings of survivor guilt were interwoven with the story.

Survivor’s guilt was a strong motivator for him to expand his article into a larger piece. In some ways, Into Thin Air was Krakauer’s way of releasing his experience into the world and lifting the weight of it off of his own shoulders. However, those intense few months will stay forever in the forefront of Krakauer’s mind and legacy. Setting    Obviously, the entirety of Jon Krakauer’s novel takes place in the setting of the tallest mountain on Earth, Mount Everest, standing 29,029 feet above sea level on the border to Nepal and Tibet.

Krakauer utilizes a large portion of his novel to describe the mountain itself, as a mountaineer with a strong love of nature. He often speaks of the mountain as it both astounds him and frightens him, as it stands as a symbol of man’s determination to explore. Krakauer describes the setting in a way that satisfies all five senses, making the reader feel as if they were on the mountain with him, feeling the cold wind in their ragged lungs 20,000 feet above sea level. With phrases like, “dense clouds swirled above the glacier and snow pelted the tends with a furious clamor” and in the beginning of the novel, describing his first sights of the scene with “glades of juniper and dwarf birch, blue pine and rhododendron, thundering waterfalls, enchanting boulder gardens, burbling streams” saying they were the sights he had  “been reading about since he was a child”. These descriptions of the mountain throughout the novel are later contrasted with the harsh, brutal reality of the fatal risks presented by the mountain; Krakauer shifts from describing the mountain as fantastical to a “desolate, inhospitable habitation” (Krakauer 161), representing the shift in Krakauer’s personal and internal focus from his dream of climbing Everest to the realization of the nightmare he experienced.

Diction    Throughout Into Thin Air, Krakauer uses academic, journalistic language to describe the events taking place, which can be contributed to his journalistic assignment to the climb. Krakauer’s academic diction often comes off as cold, or detached, as if he was an outsider looking into a journey, like he was in his previous novel Into the Wild. To me, the author’s diction at times even came off as pretentious, or “cluttered”. For example, when describing the sickness a fellow climber experienced due to altitude sickness, he calls diarrhea “violently discharging the contents of his gastrointestinal tract” (Krakauer 58). He describes his hunger despite being sick to his stomach as his body “consuming itself for sustenance” (Krakauer 68). Despite being humorous at times, Krakauer’s almost ridiculously factual retellings of events achieve a consistent meaningful and serious tone in the novel.

Often times, the reader will forget Krakauer was even a part of the journey with how omnisciently he narrates. Even at the most pivotal and emotional points in the novel, Krakauer continues to use this diction, in fact describing himself as feeling a “robotic state of detachment” and “emotionally anesthetized” after they began their descent. Specifically, the use of the word “anesthetized” seems unnecessarily medical and academic when Krakauer simply means numb.

This tone and diction reflects Krakauer’s feelings towards his experiences when he wrote the novel, after they had happened. The reader feels his detachment is purposeful, as if he is attempting to create a completely accurate, whole truth of the events that took place during his journey without his emotional interference despite him feeling so obviously strong about it.Significance of the Title    Before reading Into Thin Air, the significance of the title seems quite obvious: the novel is about a climb to the summit of Mount Everest, or a climb “into thin air,” because the air in higher altitudes is factually thinner and requires acclimatization to familiarize the body with it. Whilst climbing the mountain, every mountaineer experiences some level of altitude sickness brought on by the intensified air pressure and lack of oxygen of the brain. Once you finish the novel, the true significance of the title becomes more clear.

Oxygen deprivation is a pivotal plot point in the novel as the first of Krakauer’s team to die is Doug Hansen, who runs out of supplemental oxygen: extra oxygen provided at the highest altitudes because of the impossible levels in the air.  The title is foreshadowing to the disastrous events that occur on the summit.  Because of the insanely high altitude of Everest’s summit, helicopter are unable to fly to those heights, so dead bodies cannot be moved.

Bodies on the summit freeze and mummify; some of the bodies left there are decades old. “Into Thin Air” is also an allusion to the phrase “disappear into thin air”- referring to the sudden and unexpected deaths of his friends and the grief he felt in leaving them on the mountain, as if they had disappeared completely from the earth.Works CitedKrakauer, Jon, and Randy Rackliff.

Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster, 1999. Print.Scott, Alistair.

“Fatal Attraction.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 18 May 1997. Web.

13 Dec. 2017. .


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