Loyalty and Its Consequences in ‘Into Thin Air’
Literary theorist and critic Roland Barthes once said, “Literature is the question minus the answer.” In Jon Krakauer’s novel Into Thin Air, the author questions if he is loyal enough to his teammates to take the chance of forfeiting his summit push or even putting his life into their hands. On the South Summit, Krakauer fails to help the guide Andy Harris, an example of how the breakdown of loyalty can lead to disastrous consequences, while Anatoli Boukreev’s heroism on the South Col provides an example of loyalty, selflessness, and good judgment. Rob Hall’s late ill-judged summit push with his client, however, provides an example to the reader where an excessive amount of loyalty can also lead to devastating consequences, or in Hall’s case, death.
When Krakauer abandons responsibility on the South Summit, his breakdown of loyalty leads to a tour guide’s death. On the South Col, instead of helping Andy with his regulator, Krakauer decides not to argue with Andy about whether or not there were full oxygen bottles: “Turning to Andy, I said, ‘No big deal, Harold. Much ado about nothing.’ Then I grabbed a new oxygen canister, screwed it onto my regulator, and headed down the mountain” (188). Desperate to get down the mountain, Krakauer “abdicate[s] [his] responsibility” (188) and continues climbing down the mountain. As he watches the series of events unfold over the next few hours, however, Krakauer feels the full force of his failure to act. He later expresses regret over what happened on the South Summit, saying, “My actions – or failure to act – played a direct role in the death of Andy Harris” (283). His nonchalant act of brushing off Andy’s delirious state and failing to help Andy plagues Krakauer. He mentions that as he was huddling in the safety of his tent, concerned with only his own safety, his co-climbers were dying. The breakdown of loyalty between Krakauer and Harris does not only lead to Harris’ death but also leads to Krakauer’s incessant survivor’s guilt. Krakauer’s failure to help Andy Harris shows the reader that the breakdown of loyalty, especially in such dangerous conditions, can lead to catastrophic consequences and in Harris’ case, death.
Anatoli Boukreev’s actions on the South Col provide an example of loyalty and selflessness, all while keeping good judgment. When he hears of a group of climbers in need of help, Boukreev sets out to search: “The Russian resolved to bring back the group on his own. Bravely plunging into the maw of the hurricane, he searched the Col for nearly an hour but was unable to find anybody” (213). Having just climbed down from the summit a few hours earlier, Boukreev is exhausted. He, however, stays loyal to his climbers and decides to set out on his own. Even more, Anatoli continues to search for his lost climbers: “Boukreev didn’t give up. He returned to camp, obtained a more detailed set of directions from Beidleman and Schoening, then went out into the storm again” (213). Anatoli Boukreev’s heroic actions and persistence are not in vain—he saves three climbers, bringing them back to the safety of the tents. His loyalty and selflessness for his teammates save many lives. He is not able to save the other two, however, for fear that he would not be able to safely carry so many helpless and frostbitten climbers. Boukreev’s heroism is an example of good judgment, selflessness, and loyalty, and proves to the reader that strong loyalty among teammates can lead to better outcomes.
Rob Hall’s lapse of judgment in climbing to the summit with Hansen at well after 4:00 P.M. provides an example to the reader where an excessive amount of loyalty can also lead to devastating consequences, or in Hall’s case, death. “Rob had called him from New Zealand “a dozen times” urging him to give it another shot-and this time Doug was absolutely determined to bag the top” (224). The previous year, Hall had turned Hansen around at 2:10 on the South Summit, just 330 vertical feet below the summit of Everest. Hall had called Hansen from New Zealand dozens of times to persuade him to give Everest another shot, and to raise money, Hansen had worked two full-time jobs, and the students of Sunrise Elementary School had even sold t-shirts to help fund his climb. To not reach the top of Everest the second year after all the fundraising he and the children had done would be extremely disappointing not only to Hansen himself but also to the Sunrise Elementary students. “Hall did not turn Hansen around at 2:00 P.M.–or, for that matter, at 4:00, when he met his client just below the top. Instead, according to Lopsang, Hall placed Hansen’s arm around his neck and assisted the weary client up the final forty feet to the summit” (225). Because he continued to climb even hours after the official turn-around time, Rob Hall had a “serious lapse of judgment” (225) as he did not tell Hansen to turn around, but assisted him in his final climb to the summit. Hall, however, was under immense pressure to succeed in guiding Hansen to the top. Realizing that climbing Everest was Hansen’s dream, Hall was extremely loyal to Hansen’s wish and honored it by allowing Hansen to climb on. Hall’s loyalty to his client helped Hansen reach the top but also resulted in both their deaths. Because Hall had a lapse in judgement in not turning Hansen around on the official turn-around time, this tragic event shows the reader that even an excessive amount of loyalty can also lead to disastrous consequences.
In Jon Krakauer’s novel Into Thin Air, the author addresses the importance of loyalty, saying that loyalty among teammates results in the survival of the team and the breakdown of that loyalty results in the death of others. Krakauer’s inability to help Andy Harris directly results in Harris’ death, while Anatoli Boukreev’s heroic act of saving his team from the blizzard results in the survival of three clients that would have perished without Boukreev’s help. Rob Hall, however, perishes with his client Doug Hansen on the South Col when Hall has a lapse of good judgment and continues to guide his weary client up well past the turn-back-time. Although Krakauer does not forfeit his own summit push, he loses his best friend on the expedition, Hansen, and faces survivor’s guilt that never goes away.
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