“Touching the void,” by Joe Simpson
Chapter 8 – “Silent Witness”
“If I hadn’t cut the rope I would have certainly died. Looking at the cliff, I knew there would be no surviving such a fall. Yet, having saved myself, I was now going to return home and tell people a story that a few would ever believe. No one cuts the rope! It could never be that bad! Why didn’t you do this, or try that? I could hear the questions, and see the doubts in the eyes even of those who accepted my story. It was bizarre, and it was cruel. I had been on to a loser from the moment he broke his leg, and nothing could have changed it.“
The tone throughout this passage from Simon heavily revolves around the concern he feels for the way people will perceive him after he made the decision to cut the rope and, as Simon believes, leave Joe for dead. We see Simon repeatedly try to console himself, making himself believe that the decision he made was right and just in defense against the abuse he believes will thrash him upon his return to civilization. Simon’s concern is not only shown through his words, but also in the manner in which he has constructed his sentences. He uses short, sharp bursts of speech with limited detail to show his, almost panic, at what he assumes his decision will result in.
In contrast to the rapid, panicky tone of the passage, the mood is more that of sympathy than anything else. While Simon is suffering from an anxious breakdown, so it seems, we as the reader can feel glad that we don’t have to experience the same thing. Despite not being in the same situation as Simon, I understand what this may feel like having had similar feelings of anxiety before. The sentence structure also plays a part in the creation of this mood. Whilst reading a book, I personally tend to be rather relaxed and calm. The short, fast paced passage allows us to, as I see it, look down on Simon as he has been put into a situation in which he is totally out of control and in a state of panic. This makes us feel sympathetic for a person who isn’t in the same state of calm we as the reader may be in.
“This place was ageless and lifeless. A mass of snow, and ice, and rock slowly moving upwards; freezing, thawing, cracking asunder, always chasing with the passing of centuries. What a silly thing to pit oneself against!”
The tone in this surrounds the feelings of stupidity and insignificance that Simon expresses as he looks back on what he and Joe had attempted to do; that is overcoming a feat of nature, never intended to be conquered by man. Simon realizing that he and Joe had attempted to climb a wild and untamed environment with the hopes of making it back without a scratch. This only now dawns on Simon as a stupid idea. The mountain of Siula Grande is, as he states, an ever changing mass of snow and ice, “ageless and lifeless.” This gives the reader an idea of how Simon feels insignificant compared with the mountain.