Into Thin Air

into_thin_air

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer


Summary

In 1996, a team of eleven courageous men and women began the journey of a lifetime. Led by mountaineering expert Rob Hall, the team’s goal was to summit the infamous Mt. Everest in two months. However, when it came time to summit the mountain, an unforeseen series of events spiraled out of control leaving eight people dead. Jon Krakauer, a journalist invited along on the expedition by Outside Magazine, recounts the experience and the tumult of an expedition gone wrong.


Memorable Quotes

“I said no to the assignment [Outside Magazine] only because I thought it would be unbearably frustrating to spend two months in the shadow of Everest without ascending higher than Base Camp. If I were to travel to the far side of the globe and spend eight weeks away from my wife and home, I wanted an opportunity to climb the mountain,” (page 24).

“Gregarious by nature, Hall proved to be a skillful raconteur with a caustic Kiwi wit. Launching into a long story involving a French tourist, a Buddhist monk, and a particularly shaggy yak, Hall delivered the punch line with an impish squint, paused a beat for effect, then threw his head back in a booming, contagious laugh, unable to contain his delight in his own yarn. I liked him immediately,” (page 31).

“I wasn’t sure what to make of my fellow climbers. In outlook and experience they were nothing like the hard-core climbers with whom I usually went into the mountains. But they seemed like nice, decent folks, and there wasn’t a certifiable asshole in the entire group-at least not one who was showing his true colors at this early stage of the proceedings,” (page 37).

“The first six days of the trek went by in an ambrosial blur. The trail took us past glades of juniper and dwarf birch, blue pin and rhododendron, thundering waterfalls, enchanting boulder gardens, burbling streams. The Valkyrian skyline bristled with peaks that I’d been reading about since I was a child,” (page 48).

“Ascending Everest is a long, tedious process, more like a mammoth construction project than climbing as I’d previously known it,” (page 73).

“But if the Icefall was strenuous and terrifying, it had surprising allure as well. As dawn washed the darkness from the sky, the shattered glacier was revealed to be a three-dimensional landscape of phantasmal beauty, (page 79).

“‘If you get killed,’ she [Linda]  argued with a mix of despair and anger, ‘it’s not just you who’ll pay the price. I’ll have to pay, too, you know, for the rest of my life. Doesn’t that matter to you?’

‘I’m not going to get killed,’ I answered. ‘Don’t be melodramatic,'” (page 84).

“Reaching the top of Everest is supposed to trigger a surge of intense elation; against long odds, after all, I had just attained a goal I’d coveted since childhood. But the summit was really only the halfway point. Any impulse I might have felt toward self-congratulation was extinguished by overwhelming apprehension about the long, dangerous descent that lay ahead,” (page 181).

**Note: I only included quotes from the earlier portions of the book as to not give away too many spoilers. Although when beginning the book it is obvious disaster is inevitable, I think the ending of the book is important to read as a whole rather than in chopped-up quotes.


Thoughts

I started this book per recommendation of my dad and overall, I sincerely enjoyed Krakauer’s writing style. To be frank, the first 40 pages or so were a little rough to get through. In addition to the long-winded exposition, Krakauer throws in extensive history behind Everest’s commercialization which can either be extremely interesting or torturously boring. I found it to be somewhat dull, but at the same time I appreciated learning more about the first people to climb Everest and facts such as different routes to the summit, the history of climbing permits, and Sherpa culture.

Once Krakauer begins to write of the actual expedition, I could not put the book down. In addition to fantastic passages about the scenery on the mountain, the action and ever-present thrill of danger is unmatched. Krakauer’s recollection of acclimating to the various base camps up until the summit is a captivating account to read. However, the most heartbreaking sections of this book are where Krakauer goes into detail about his teammates.

At the beginning of the book, Krakauer touches upon his exigence behind his writing. He explains that in addition clearing the disaster out of his head as best as possible, his book serves as a tribute to his fallen teammates. And even with the happy moments in the book, there is always a grim reminder of Krakauer’s survivor’s guilt. What begins as an exuberant journey morphs into a grotesque catastrophe in a matter of hours.

I admire Jon Krakauer’s bravery in writing this book, and I sympathize with his survivor’s guilt. I cannot imagine the kind of hell he and the families of the victims must be trapped in. I cried many times while reading simply because no one deserved to die and yet… it happened.

Despite the sadness of reading about amazing people being sacrificed to Mother Nature herself, I loved this book. The adventure was contagious and it honestly made me want to go climb a mountain, (granted, one that is not Mt. Everest because that shit is crazy), and hug the people close to me because life is fleeting and accidents happen.

The events of the Mt. Everest expedition of 1996 serve as a reminder that life is not only fragile, but that human error is not the only driving force behind devastating occurrences. Mt. Everest is a harsh environment that is not meant for humans. Throughout the book, Krakauer continually reminds the reader that lucidity at 29,000 feet is not a common commodity. This means that the choices each person made on that mountain May 10th, 1996 should not be judged without heavy consideration of the altitude, exhaustion, and illness the entire team was suffering from. In hindsight, there are always choices that seem easily damnable; i.e. “Why didn’t ____ do this? Why didn’t ____ do that?” But in reality, when horrible things happen, sometimes there is nothing that can be done except for to step back and realize that certain events are out of human control.

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The Glass Menagerie

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The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams


Summary

“The Glass Menagerie” takes place in St. Louis in the year of 1937. The play follows the  Wingfield family and explores themes such as memory, the past, The American Dream, guilt, and denial. The narrator, Tom Wingfield, lives with his mother, Amanda, and his sister, Laura. The play opens with Tom explaining the crucial role his memory has in the way the events of the play are presented. He clarifies that what is shown may not be acute reenactments of the past, but rather hazy scenes dulled and warped by time and personal attachments. Throughout the play Tom frequently breaks the fourth wall in order to justify his actions or explain the situations at hand.

Amanda is a concerned and over-bearing mother who is worried about her children. Despite the fact that both Tom and Laura are adults, Amanda feels compelled to micromanage her children’s lives. Tom is employed at a factory and works to support his mother and unmarried sister. Due to the dull work, Tom lacks excitement in his life and instead lives out his fantasies through adventure movies at the cinema. He dreams of mirroring his father’s actions and leaving his family, however, an ever-present guilt ties him to the lonely St. Louis apartment. Tom knows that if he leaves his mother and sister he will permanently scar them and they will be forced to grapple with life on their own. But Tom simultaneously realizes that if he doesn’t leave he will be chained to a life of obligation, misery, and boredom.

Meanwhile, Laura is a severely introverted and self-deprecating young women. Even with the loud presence of her well-meaning, but exceedingly controlling mother, Laura manages to continually evade life. She is painfully self-conscious because she suffers from Pleurosis, however, later events in the play suggest that perhaps her limp is not as noticeable as she believes and thus, she is self-conscious for no reason at all. This toxic tendency causes Laura to drop out of school only to hide and waste away at home. Laura’s escapism and naive denial is presented in the form of her glass collection, which Amanda refers to as the “glass menagerie.”

While her children struggle with issues of their own, Amanda lives in a world of the past. She spends the majority of her time dancing in youthful memories and recalling the times when her life seemed most promising. She dreams of finding a suitor for Laura and living a successful and happy life. She believes that if she pushes her children hard enough, success is bound to show itself. Unfortunately, her strong ties to past fantasies and unrealistic visions for the future often cloud any chances of success. In many ways, Amanda’s denial is just as strong, or stronger, than Laura’s.

The play deals with individual demons and the ways in which people turn to each other for solace when life becomes unmanageable. The biggest conflict in the play occurs when Amanda forces Tom to find a gentleman caller for Laura. What suddenly appears as a shot at well-deserved happiness suddenly becomes a spinning nightmare that crashes into, and obliterates the Wingfield family.


Memorable Quotes

(NOTE**: The edition I used to read this play does not include line numbers, so I will be using page numbers to cite quotes. This edition was published by New Directions Publishing Company and includes an introduction by Robert Bray.)

Tom: “But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion,” (page 4).

Tom: “The play is memory. Being a memory play, it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is not realistic,” (page 5).

Tom: “But since I have a poet’s weakness for symbols, I am using this character [Jim] also as a symbol; he is the long-delayed but always expected something that we live for,” (page 5).

Amanda: “So what are we going to do the rest of our lives? Stay home and watch the parades go by? Amuse ourselves with the glass menagerie, darling? Eternally play those worn-out phonograph records your father left as a painful reminder of him? We won’t have a business career- we’ve given that up because it gave us nervous indigestion!” (page 16).

Tom: “After the fiasco at Rubicam’s Business College, the idea of getting a gentleman caller for Laura began to play a more and more important part in Mother’s calculations. It became an obsession. Like some archetype of the universal unconscious, the image of the gentleman caller haunted our small apartment…” (page 19).

Tom: “Every time you come in yelling that Goddamn ‘Rise and Shine!’  ‘Rise and Shine!’  I say to myself, ‘How lucky dead people are!’ But I get up. I go!'” (page 21).

Tom: “But here there was only hot swing music and liquor, dance halls, bars, and movies, and sex that hung in the gloom like a chandelier and flooded the world with brief, deceptive rainbows… All the world was waiting for bombardments!” (page 39).

Laura: “I was out of school a little while with pleurosis. When I came back you asked me what was the matter. I said I had pleurosis- you thought I said Blue Roses. That’s what you always called me after that!” (page 75).

Jim: “People are not so dreadful when you know them. That’s what you have to remember! And everybody has problems, not just you, but practically everybody has got some problems. You think of yourself as having the only problems, as being the only one who is disappointed. But just look around you and you will see lots of people as disappointed as you are,” (page 76).

Amanda: “That’s right, now that you’ve had us make such fools of ourselves. The effort, the preparations, all the expense! The new floor lamp, the rug, the clothes for Laura! All for what? To entertain some other girl’s fiancé! Go to the movies, go! Don’t think about us, a mother deserted, an unmarried sister who’s crippled and has no job! Don’t let anything interfere with your selfish pleasure! Just go, go, go-to the movies!” (page 96).


Thoughts

“The Glass Menagerie” is vastly different from Tennessee Williams’ other well-known piece, “A Streetcar Named Desire” for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s quite a bit shorter than Streetcar. Secondly, Menagerie has a lot more concrete symbolism. From Laura’s glass menagerie to the setup of the stage to emulate the presence of memories, “The Glass Menagerie” blatantly reveals the main symbols to the audience. In “A Streetcar Named Desire,” the streetcar makes its appearance a couple of times, but the play itself holds a lot more cards in its hands when compared to Menagerie. In Streetcar, Blanche’s age is a recurring theme, but it is not exactly something that is tangible. Lastly, Tom’s consistent narration provides clear insight into the meaning of “The Glass Menagerie,” whereas the themes in “A Streetcar Named Desire”are not as apparent and the key to understanding the play is much more dialogue based. 

I would love to see this play live because the way the stage is arranged plays a huge part in visually demonstrating the powers of memory and the past. I think that watching Tom step out of the scenes to narrate is something that would add to my understanding of the play. Reading “The Glass Menagerie” was an extremely powerful experience by itself, so I can only imagine how powerful it would be to see it live.

My favorite character in the play is Amanda because she is the hardest character to relate to. Perhaps it is because I have never been a mother, but I think it is something more than that. In my edition of the play, Robert Bray writes that the audience will either ” demonize Amanda or regard her as a misguided saint.” However, what Bray fails to note is that instead of simply feeling strongly one way, the audience’s opinion of Amanda may switch back and forth throughout the play.

While reading the play, my feelings for Amanda constantly shifted. At times I was irritated with her because of her overbearing nature. I tired quickly of her fiery attitude and her immediate distaste in her children’s choices. Yet in some scenes I sympathized with Amanda and pictured myself struggling along with her. How disappointing would it be to obsessively dream about a life oversaturated with love only to live the reality of one without? The day Amanda’s husband abandoned her was the day her life stalled and refused to move forward. Amanda sees herself in her children and yearns for Laura to find a companion so to avoid further abandonment. How frustrated would I be if my children refused to take life by the horns and truly live? I figure very. Despite her sweet nature, Laura is terribly frustrating and consistently her own worst enemy. This causes Amanda to spend all of her time spinning fairytale fantasies for Laura’s future, urging her that if she just takes a moment to step outside of herself, the world will shine for them both. Sadly, by the time the play ends and Laura actually does try to live, life has other plans.

Amanda claims to live in the present, but ever since the day of her family’s abandonment, she has been stuck in the past. Ironically, while Amanda is one of the most realistic characters in the play, she is also the most unrealistic. She tells her children to wake up and stop living in memories while she does exactly that. In the tiny apartment the family shares, all that is left are precious memories and pieces of broken glass. The future Amanda sees is one similar to Gatsby’s; a whirlwind of déjà vu moments that are devoid of originality and eerily reflect facets of past events. 

Laura is probably the most pitiful character only because Jim’s observations about her are so spot-on. Her inferiority complex completely stagnates her life. She is at the young age of twenty-four, yet she lives as if she is eighty-four. Like a child, she plays with glass animals and skips school because she is too afraid of judgement. The saddest part is that this is a reality many people face. People miss out on life because they are afraid of judgement and the possibility of failure. We tell ourselves that we are not, but like Laura, something as silly as indigestion can become a hinderance when it comes to living life to the fullest.

Tom is the most relatable character because like many people, he spends his life stuck in a job that he despises. He goes as far as to tell his mother that he envies dead people for God’s sake! If that’s not pitiful, I don’t know what is. But alas, Tom is a man who is unsatisfied. He dreams of scaling the highest mountains and breathing in the salty ocean air. The reality of his life is that he is chained to his dependent mother and sister. And although he works hard each and every day, nothing he does is truly enough for his mother. Despite his efforts, she still manages to guilt him into staying and home and thereby slugging through his soul-sucking life.

Each character in “The Glass Menagerie” paints a picture of the modern-day human condition as a result of societal pressures and industrialization. The family gets by, yet each member of it is trapped in a unique kind of hell. And worst of all, this quiet, never-ending torture is the most realistic kind of pain that people experience.

Another intriguing (and depressing) feature about this play is that apparently it somewhat mirrored Williams’ own life. According to Robert Bray, Williams had a mother and sister he felt entirely responsible for. This responsibility created a saddening weight for Williams along with a bitter taste of dry obligation. In the end, Williams ended up leaving his family in order to pursue his dreams of becoming a writer.

Overall, this play is extremely thought-provoking. It is a short read, but surprisingly it is a dense piece filled with tangible, yet heavy themes. The honest pain that is illustrated in the play shows that getting by does not mean actually living to the fullest. If anything, this play has inspired me to do one thing; and that is to live.