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Literary Devices and Main Ideas of John Krakauer in ‘Into Thin Air’

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The beloved poet, Langston Hughes, once wrote this in his poem ‘Dreams’: “Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly” (3-4). Hughes uses a metaphor to let the readers better envision the true meaning of a story or sentence. In this case, Hughes is attempting to inform the readers that if we fail to accomplish our dreams, life is pointless. Huges contrasts a bird whose wing is broken to unaccomplished dreams. Hughes metaphor is a marvelous and wonderful use of a literary device. Literary devices are generally used to convey a deeper significance to the reader. Rather than using several paragraphs to interpret an important meaning, Huges decides to use a metaphor. In almost every book, authors use literary devices to deliver the readers a different or deeper view on something. Whether it be reading, ‘The girl is an unstoppable fire’ or ‘The dog is calmer than the sea’ metaphors give a more detailed meaning, as do many other literary devices. In the book ‘Into Thin Air’ by Jon Krakauer, the author uses the literary devices unreliable narrator, 1st person, and imagery. Literary devices let the readers better imagine and understand a story.

Unreliable narrator and 1st person is practiced heaps of times during the book. Jon Kraukauer blends together unreliable narrator and 1st person, giving readers an uneasy feeling and opens a window to Jon’s worries, concerns, and feelings. The readers, without having to experience climbing mount everest first hand, are able to envision being on the mountain. Jon was uneasy throughout the whole trip up to the summit because anything could’ve happened. Avalanches or storms could have happened at anytime and Jon had to be 100% alert and mindful of his atmosphere.

Jon also writes about the mental struggles he faced whilst climbing the mountain. His body was not only affected, but his mental health, too. About halfway through the book, Jon, along with his fellow colleagues, arrive at the midpoint of the mountain. Jon explains his physical shape by writing: “I had to stop and draw three or four lungfuls of air after each ponderous step. Then I’d take one more step and have to pause for another four heaving breaths-and this was the fastest pace I could manage” (Krakauer, 179). Jon is not only feeling beyond drained and he is extremely low on oxygen because of the high altitude. In many books, readers are oftentimes blocked out of characters deepest thoughts, understandings, and feelings. Krakauer using 1st person is detrimental to the story because with using it, readers are able to get a crystal clear feel of how Jon was feeling and his concerns. If the author wrote the book in 3d person, the readers would possibly not be able to get a clear feel of Jon’s mood. Jon often expresses feelings of having to trust his teammates with his life by saying: ”Although everyone appeared to be in superb physical shape, circumstances had forced them to do the bulk of their training on StairMasters and treadmills rather than on actual peaks…..Physical conditioning is a crucial component of mountaineering, but there are many other equally important elements, none of which can be practiced in a gym” (Krakauer, 75). Jon tells the readers this because he is worried for him and his teammates' safety. Jon also writes that one climbers decisions can affect the whole group. He believes that on the mountain, teammates should check in on each other to make sure they are safe. Jon telling the readers this in 1st person instead of 3d or 2d person impacts the reader because the readers get to know more about Jon's personality and moral. Throughout the course of the book, Jon climbs higher and higher, resulting in his thinking processes to be impaired because of the high altitude. A few chapters of what the readers read could not exactly be true, or in other cases half-true. This is called having an unreliable narrator. In one part of the book, Jon was calling someone a different name for weeks, because of his lack of oxygen to his brain. When Jon writes about how he was wrong, the readers become very skeptical if everything Jon writes is true. Unreliable narrator and 1st person can impact how a story is received.

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Imagery is crucial to any story. Krakauer uses imagery to let readers imagine a scene in their heads. When Jon was high up on the mountain, he could see miles and miles of smaller mountains. He wanted to share what he saw with the readers by using very detailed words. Imagery puts a picture into words. Using imagery allows the reader to further understand the story. Imagery uses all of our senses to help the readers create a mental picture. An example of when Jon uses imagery is the following: “The thin air had a shimmering, crystalline quality that made even distant peaks seem close enough to touch. Extravagantly illuminated by the midday sun, Everest’s summit pyramid loomed through an intermittent gauze of clouds” (Krakauer, 160). Krakauer is saying that the sun makes the snow look like shiny crystals and he also explains how close distant peaks look. When he uses the descriptive sentence, readers put an image of shiny snow in their heads and imagine the picture. When authors use imagery, readers are able to envision the atmosphere the character is in. Another example of when Jon uses imagery is the following: “Dozens of avalanches rumbled down the steep walls above, but our camp was safely beyond their reach” (Krakauer, 106). When Jon described the avalanches he decided to give the readers an extremely detailed sentence rather than just saying ”There were many avalanches falling down but our camp was safe”, he used the word rumble to let the readers imagine “shaking” and or low thunder noises. He also used the word steep to let the readers imagine how the avalanche was descending. The readers can imagine snow rolling down a steep hill. Imagery greatly influences how the readers envision certain details.

Unreliable narrator, 1st person, and imagery are all impactful literary terms that Jon Krakauer used in ‘Into Thin Air’. Literary devices determine how readers feel, envision, and receive a story. One theme the author uses in his book is to trust teammates. In any sport or situation, teammates work together to achieve their main goal. Whether it’s passing a soccer ball to a teammate or saving a teammate from falling off a cliff, teammates should depend on each other. A message the author sends is that nature cannot be tamed. Mount Everest did not ask to be climbed, humans just see Mount Everest as a challenge needed to be defeated because it’s the tallest mountain in the world. Another reason why people climb Everst is because they expect to feel a sense of accomplishment. Everyone wants the feeling of accomplishment and many people go to extreme measures to get that feeling.

In conclusion, the author sends important themes and messages to readers in order for them to learn. He also uses literary devices to make the story more descriptive and engaging.

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Literary Devices and Main Ideas of John Krakauer in ‘Into Thin Air’. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 4, 2023, from
“Literary Devices and Main Ideas of John Krakauer in ‘Into Thin Air’.” Edubirdie, 25 Aug. 2022,
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