Describe at least one important technique in the written text. Explain how this technique/s helped you understand one or more key ideas.
In the non-fiction text Touching the Void, Simon Yates, and Joe Simpson attempted the first ascent of the West Face of the 6,244-metre tall Siula Grande, located in the Peruvian Andes. During their decent, Joe fell shattering his kneecap. With no hope of rescue, the men decided to attempt descent together with Simon lowering Joe 300 feet at a time in a slow, painful process. Simon unknowingly then lowered Joe over the lip of a crevasse. With the gradient having gone from steep to vertical, he was no longer able to hold on. Expecting that they were about to be pulled jointly to their deaths, Simon made the decision to cut the rope. Joe Simpson captures the audience through the techniques of foreshadowing and symbolism to engage the reader and to show what it was like to endure what he did, and to make it out alive.
Foreshadowing was used to show the idea that disaster will more likely occur in high altitude environments. We see this at the start of the novel, during Joe Simpsons and Simon Yates ascent of the previously unscaled West face of Siula Grande. At the beginning of the novel climber, Joe states that “the daunting 4,500-foot West Face had so far defeated all attempts”. Joe also describes the location as being “hostile and remote”. He states that “there were no climbers no helicopters and no rescue, just us and the mountains”. Also, as he and Simon Yates are leaving for the big first ascent, they say to Richard “You’ll probably jump to all sorts of conclusions after three days but try not to worry. We know what we are doing, and if something does go wrong there is nothing whatever you can do”. This shows that the climb is extremely difficult, even for experienced climbers, and that if an accident occurs during their ascent of Siula Grande, there is no rescue.
This foreshadowing comes true when they are descending off the summit and Joe falls off the face. “As the hammer came out there was a sharp cracking sound and my right hand, gripping the axe, pulled down. The sudden jerk turned me outwards and instantly I was falling, Both knees locked as I struck the slope. I felt a shattering blow in my knee, felt bones splitting, and screamed.” Joe knows that because he has broken his leg, he will most likely not survive. He also states “We were above 19,000 feet, still on the ridge, and very much alone…I looked at the small rise I had hoped to scale quickly…I would never get over it. Simon would not be able to get me up it. He would leave me. He had no choice.” This gives the reader insight into just how serious the situation is. This foreshadowing makes the reader feel anticipation for what comes next, it makes us realise how alone the climbers are and how far away they are from safety. The reader also feels despair for Joe who does not know that disaster will occur. People often do dangerous acts to get an adrenaline rush or a buzz from it, but in climbing, it is more about the experience and the journey than anything else. Mountaineering comes with significant risks but the experience outweighs all of them. This relates back to Sir Edmund Hillary’s famous quote “It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves”.
The symbol of the rope was used to show the key idea of trust in the section of the text when Joe Simpson is being lowered down the mountain by the rope connecting him to Simon Yates. Joe is being lowered off Siula Grande because he can not descend the mountain without Simons assistance. But because of the weather conditions affecting visibility, Simon does not realise that he is lowering Joe off an ice cliff. Joe’s narration states “ the ropes suddenly whipped out through my gloves…tugged sharply at my harness, pulling me chest first into the slope…Simon must have fallen…the ropes remained taut with his body weight.” Also, Joe recounts from another ascent “We hung on that fragile rope for twelve formidable hours”. These quotes show the reader the idea that the rope acts as a bond between the climbers mentally and physically, it symbolises trust, accountability, and safety. It shows that Simon believes he could get down, but he stays and helps Joe despite knowing he will quite possibly die as well. Joe also feels helpless believing that they will both die no matter what Simon does. Joe believes that Simon will not cut the rope, shown when Joe says, “Either he would die in his seat or be pulled from it by the constant strain of my body”.
The symbol of the rope also shows how easily the trust and bond can be broken. “The taut rope exploded at the touch of the blade”. “I saw the rope flick down, and my hopes sank. I stared at the frayed end. Cut! I couldn’t take my eyes off it”. This shows the reader that despite the bond between them, Simon still valued his own life over Joe, and betrayed the trust by cutting the rope. This makes the reader feel despair and sympathy for Joe who has done everything he can to survive, but was all in vain. This reminds us of our own personal experiences such as when we work hard to gain the trust of others, but find that bond can all be destroyed by the smallest things. It makes us realise how fragile trust can be. It is human nature is to be selfish and self-centered in order to survive, so to trust someone with your life is an extremely difficult thing to do. Joe trusted Simon with his life but in the end, Simon betrayed that trust and bond by cutting the rope.
In the passage of the text when Joe Simpson falls into the crevasse the symbol of the Void is used to show the key idea of death. Joe is lowered off a cliff by Simon Yates as they are descending the mountain. But because of the weather and the time of day, Simon does not realise that he is lowering Joe into the void. Joe states “Something terrible, something dark with dread occurred to me, and as I thought about it I felt the dark thought break into panic”. Also, as he has just fallen into the void, Joe states “I lay still, with open mouth, open eyes staring into blackness”. After Simon has cut the rope, in his dreams he “ sensed that something awful was hidden in the powder avalanches swirling madly through the black night below my snow cave.” These quotes show the reader the idea that the void symbolises death and despair through the continuous use of the word “Darkness” and the comment of “Down in the frozen dark chaos below”. These allow the reader to understand the connection between the void and death. Joe feels he can not escape the void. He feels trapped when he says, “The darkness beyond the light gripped my attention. I could guess what it hid, and I filled with dread”. This proves to the reader that Joe is afraid of the void and the death and darkness that comes with it. The reader also feels sympathy for Joe, who has fought and fought to survive but has still ended up as another victim to the void. We can strongly relate to this when we experience various types of difficulty in our lives. However, we may never be able to understand Joe’s life or death situation. We can only feel emotions such as compassion, empathy, emptiness, and sympathy as we absorb Joe’s words.
In conclusion, the language techniques of foreshadowing and symbolism helped me to understand the key ideas of disaster, trust and death in the novel ‘Touching the Void’. Foreshadowing was used to help me understand the idea of disaster by giving me a sense that it is very likely to occur in high altitude environments. The technique of symbolism was also used in two ways. The rope was used as a symbol of trust, and the void was used as a symbol of death. The rope illustrated the strength of the bond between the climbers, and the void represented the ever-present risk of death in that environment.