Touching the Void – Model Exam Answer

Question: How does Simpson present the mountains as powerful in Touching the Void?

Joe Simpson in his novel Touching the Void presents the mountains as a powerful force in the lives of the climbers. Whether it is the danger that they represent, the very real violence of their actions on the climbers or the irresistible force of attraction they exert on the climbers, the mountains are presented as a significant character in the text that exert a powerful impact on all three men.

From the beginning of the novel, the mountains are presented by Simpson as a magnetic force, exerting an attraction that he finds difficult to understand. He says, on reaching the summit of the mountain, “If you succeed in one dream, you come back to square one and it’s not long before you’re conjuring up another”. Simpson’s use of the words “dream” and “conjuring” reinforce the sense of achievement you gain from climbing to the top. The feeling is presented as out of this world and something ineffable or magical. [George M]

Joe Simpson also uses anthropomorphism to reinforce the power of the mountain when he says “When I hopped and rolled out of the yawning drop, I lay against the snow, numb with relief”, he represents the crevasse as a wide open mouth, seemingly ready to swallow him. This suggests that the mountain is both monstrous and malevolent – and out to get him. [Ebenezer]

Simpson continues to personify the mountain’s power by presenting it as an evil force that is literally out to destroy the climbers when he has Simon say “The cruelty of it all sickened me. It felt as if there was something deliberate about it. Something pre-ordained by a bored and evil force” This suggests that the mountain is playing a game with them and that it is getting bored with their survival and is taking the game to the next, more dangerous level. In its power, as soon as the climbers start to make progress the mountain acts to betray their hopes of escaping. [Alex]

This is taken to an almost religious level when he uses the word ‘preordained’. This further reinforces the mountain’s power because it associates the mountain’s seemingly deliberate actions with the actions of a god. The chapter title “Silent Witness” further contributes to this as it confers the impression that the mountains are all watching in the same way a god might watch the trials of human beings without acting to intervene. [Daniel and Darius]

The violent power of the mountains is demonstrated through the use of violent imagery. During Joe Simpson’s flashback to an earlier climbing incident, he refers to the death of the Japanese climbing team as “brutally final”. This choice of language further strengthens the idea that the mountains are both powerful and determined to harm the climbers who attempt to conquer them. [Nya]

In his descriptions of the mountain itself, Simpson frequently invokes our fear and distaste. He uses a harsh alliteration when he describes the glacier’s edge as “cracked and contorted” which reinforces int he reader’s mind the harsh and cruel nature of the mountain. [George F]

Author: Christopher Waugh

“Risk! Risk anything! Care no more for the opinions of others, for those voices. Do the hardest thing on earth for you. Act for yourself. Face the truth.” (Katherine Mansfield)

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