Monday, February 18, 2013

Ominous Beginnings and Restructured Climax

From the introductory material of Into Thin Air, it was obvious that this narrative was to function differently than the others we’ve read, especially the other two mountain climbing narratives. Whether it was reaching the summit or crossing Antarctica unharmed, the other books we’ve read so far have all been constructed around the pursuit of a climactic moment, with the outcomes essentially limited to either success or failure. By starting his narrative from the summit, Krakauer makes it clear that the drama of this narrative lives elsewhere. Furthermore, since a successful summit ascent is essentially the only victorious outcome available to a climbing narrative, his uncelebratory presentation of the summit moment sets an ominous mood from the narrative’s very beginning. Furthermore, since he’s retelling true events that had already attracted certain publicity (including much from Krakauer’s own pen), he enters into the narrative with the assumption that the reader has at least a basic idea of its tragic conclusion. This is particularly obvious as he is opening materials also include a dedication to all of the fallen climbers by name, a map of their final locations and pictures of the climbers that died from his expedition. By foregrounding these details, he shifts the focus of the narrative away from the question of what and towards that of how—specifically, how did all of these people die? It’s significantly different, but certainly no less intriguing than the questions that our other narratives have posed in the buildup to their own climactic moments.
Although he openly shares the final outcome of the narrative from the beginning, this restructuring doesn’t stop him from trying to build suspense and drama throughout the story in a way that I found somewhat maddening and manipulative. Since I knew from the beginning that certain characters wouldn’t make it down from Everest, I could see right through Krakauer as he dwelled on intimate details of Andy Harris’ wife and domestic aspirations (pages 48-49) or Doug Hansen’s determination to overcome the adversity of his weakened larynx, poor circulation and tissue-damaged toes (page 125). Because he doesn’t go into such sympathetic detail of the surviving climbers’ lives or struggles, these story-building details seem to add a level of unfair bias and audience manipulation to the story, especially as he seems to intend the book as a comprehensive journalistic account of the tragedy.

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