Examining Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer through two different literary theories allowed me to gain insight on the text on a deeper level of understanding. Reader Response theory challenged me to step into Krakauer’s shoes and connect to his story using my own identity and personal experiences, while Postcolonial theory opened my eyes to the underlying issue of the influence of Western presence on Sherpa culture. However, my analysis through a Reader Response perspective was an effective way to help me understand the author’s message that high aspirations come with great risks. This is shown through Krakauer’s motivation to succeed, his strained marriage, and the psychological toll the mountain takes on him..
Krakauer’s intention of climbing Everest obviously comes with risks to his physical health, but through his journey to the mountain, it is evident that motivation trumps this uncertainty. When Krakauer is asked to travel to Everest to report for Outside magazine, he initially fears the adventure as Everest’s lowest point – the base camp – was already a higher altitude than he had ever climbed before (Krakauer, 28). The uncertainty, as well as the unknown physical challenges that lie ahead are what hold him back at first. However, this fear of the unknown does not stay for too long as his “boyhood dreams die hard, [he] discovered, and good sense be damned.
When asked if I was sure I wanted to go through with this, I said yes without even pausing to catch my breath.” (28), demonstrating that motivation, passion, and interest push him away from the fear and towards his dream to climb. I interpret this conflicted start to his journey as a struggle that almost everyone, including myself, goes through at least once in their lives. Krakauer’s motivation standing face to face with his uncertainty and doubts can interact and connect to an incredible amount of personal choices I have made throughout the years. For instance, though playing basketball poses a huge risk to my physical well being (for example, if I were to get a serious injury from playing), the possibility of that risk does not stop me from participating in the sport. Why? Simply because the motivation to attempt an activity is stronger than the uncertainty that plagues one’s mind.
Not only can huge ambitions challenge one’s doubts and uncertainties – it can test one’s personal and social life as well. Krakauer puts his relationship with his wife at risk when he chooses to pursue his passion – climb Everest. His climbing puts a great deal of stress between the two as he and his wife inch closer and closer to divorce, mainly because his climbing “lay at the core of [their] troubles.” (88). I have noticed that there is very little mention of his wife throughout the novel – mainly only in small sections. I thought, initially, that it was because his relationship was still strained due to his love for climbing. However, through transactional analysis, Krakauer’s relationship to his wife interacts with me in a different way than I expected. I feel that this lack of information about his wife embodies the state of their relationship during the period of time that he wrote this book – right after his Everest experience. It seems as if their relationship is strained and is put at risk due to the trauma that Krakauer has just experienced, not because of his passion for climbing. There is a sly, underlying tension between Krakauer and his wife displayed throughout the entire novel, demonstrating the not-so-easily seen consequences of the risk that is taken to pursue one’s passion.
With such an immense task like climbing Everest, there is a certain psychological risk that may haunt a person by attempting it. As Krakauer descends from the summit, he experiences extreme confusion due to his depleting oxygen source, causing him to make a mistake that he would regret for the rest of his life. Krakauer confuses his colleague, Andy, for another man during an encounter on the mountain, leading him to believe that Andy had gotten back to camp safely. But in reality, Andy was nowhere to be found and presumed dead, leaving Andy’s family – who had gotten news from Krakauer that Andy was safe – in emotional distress from the heartbreaking situation (231). Krakauer’s flawed mental state triggered an emotional response from my perspective as a reader. A mistake, to this extent, can take a huge mental toll on anyone, let alone someone who has been through as much physical and emotional trauma as Krakauer. But that is the thing with big dreams and goals – one has to essentially drive themself crazy and be unafraid to make mistakes in order to achieve something so grand. That takes a great deal of mental vigour and endurance, something that is hard to do when one does not even have enough oxygen to function. One needs to accept and learn to work with the psychological risks that come with their dream in order to start working towards it.
Shown through three very different examples – his motivation, his marriage, and his psychological health – Krakauer seamlessly weaves his main idea through the novel without anyone really noticing. Though Postcolonial literary theory offered me a fresh perspective of Into Thin Air, Reader Response theory allowed me to connect to and identify Krakauer’s main message that he tries to portray – with great ambition comes great uncertainty.
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