Into Thin Air

Into Thin Air Literary Elements



Setting and Context

Mt. Everest (Nepal) in the spring of 1996

Narrator and Point of View

Written as a first-person narrative from the point of view of the author, Jon Krakauer.

Tone and Mood

Journalistic writing, often with an ominous tone and informative expository sections on the sport of mountaineering.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Protagonists: the members of the Adventure Consultants climbing expedition, including the author; Antagonists: nature and Mt. Everest.

Major Conflict

Man vs. nature, pitting the ambition and determination of the climbers against the dangerous forces of nature at high altitudes.


When the blizzard hits Mt. Everest as the expedition is descending from the summit, leaving many team members stranded in life-threatening conditions.


The book opens with a flash-forward of Krakauer on the summit of Mt. Everest as it begins to lightly snow, foreshadowing the danger to come later in the narrative. Also, the mountain and the summit are repeatedly described in an ominous tone, never allowing the reader to feel a sense of safety.


Krakauer frequently writes about how many amateur climbers, including himself, underestimate the difficulty of climbing Mt. Everest.


Krakauer writes about the irresistible pull of high altitude mountaineering, but he struggles to identify a clear payoff or logic to justify the extreme pain and suffering involved. This can be interpreted as an allusion to religious or spiritual journeys, where hardships in life are buoyed by powerful but intangible forces of faith and salvation or nirvana. Such an interpretation nicely ties into the idea that intense climbing can be something like a religious experience.


The sub-zero conditions on Mt. Everest and the effects of high altitude on the human body are described in clear, vivid language. Krakauer also uses imagery to convey both the stunning beauty and immense danger of the mountain.


The main paradox in the book is that experience and preparation ultimately means little on Mt. Everest. In particular, no one expected that such a tragedy could occur on an expedition guided by Rob Hall, the most celebrated Everest guide at the time.


The backstories of various characters are presented over the course of the book. This serves to show how the climbers have a wide variety of backgrounds, experiences, strengths, and weaknesses. Krakauer also uses parallelism after the team is split up in the blizzard, retracing the same time period to describe the actions and decisions of each group during the dangerous descent from the summit.

Metonymy and Synecdoche

There is no clear use of metonymy and synecdoche, although the Adventure Consultants team can be seen as a stand-in for the commercial mountaineering industry and the problems of allowing amateur climbers to "buy" the summit of Mt. Everest.


Krakauer frequently uses personification to describe Mt. Everest and the harsh forces of nature on its slopes, making it appear that they are actively fighting the climbers as they attempt to reach the summit and survive the descent. An example can be found on pg. 59, where he describes the sounds of a glacier: "Retiring to my tent at night, I was serenaded by a madrigal of creaks and percussive cracks, a reminder that I was lying on a moving river of ice."