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Touching The Void Language Analysis Essays

How to plan and essay based on a sample question from Touching the Void.


How does Joe Simpson create tension in Touching the Void?


This is an important question, because we probably already know the outcome of the story - eg Simpson is writing the book so must have survived. Here are some of the techniques he uses to overcome this:

Part 1

  • dramatic irony – this is way of letting us, the readers, know that something will go wrong even if the characters don’t know it at the time

  • action – the repeated falls of both Joe and Simon prepare us for the big fall later on

  • point-of-view – the story switches between Joe’s and Simon’s point of view, often at crucial moments

  • language – the language Simpson uses is simple and direct while using a lot of descriptive words

Part 2

  • mood – the moods of the characters keeps on changing: when they feel confident, something bad happens.

  • anecdotes – these are the other mountaineering stories that are told to remind us of all the different things that can go wrong on the mountains

  • point-of-view – the story switches between Joe’s and Simon’s point of view, often at crucial moments

  • humour – the strange intrusion of the voice, the disco song and the Shakespeare quote create tension

From Touching the Void

I hit the slope at the base of the cliff before I saw it coming. I was facing into the 

slope and both knees locked as I struck it. I felt a shattering blow in my knee, felt 

bones splitting, and screamed. The impact catapulted me over backwards and down 

the slope of the East Face. I slid, head-first, on my back. The rushing speed of it 

confused me. I thought of the drop below but felt nothing. Simon would be ripped off 

the mountain. He couldn’t hold this. I screamed again as I jerked to a suddenviolent 


Everything was still, silent. My thoughts racedmadly. Then pain flooded down my 

thigha fierce burning fire coming down the inside of my thigh, seeming to ball in 

my groin, building and building until I cried out at it, and my breathing came in 

ragged gasps. MY LEG! ... MY LEG! 

I hung, head down, on my back, left leg tangled in the rope above me and my 

right leg hanging slackly to one side. I lifted my head from the snow and stared, up 

across my chest, at a grotesque distortion in the right knee, twisting the leg into a 

strange zigzag. I didn’t connect it with the pain which burnt my groin. That had 

nothing to do with my knee. I kicked my left leg free of the rope and swung round 

until I was hanging against the snow on my chest, feet down. The pain eased. I 

kicked my left foot into the slope and stood up. 

A wave of nausea surged over me. I pressed my face into the snow, and the sharp 

cold seemed to calm me. Something terrible, something dark with dread occurred to 

me, and as I thought about it I felt the dark thought break into panic: ‘I’VE BROKEN 




I kicked my right leg against the slope, feeling sure it wasn’t broken. My knee 

exploded. Bone grated, and the fireball rushed from groin to knee. I screamed. I 

looked down at the knee and could see it was broken, yet I tried not to believe what 

I was seeing. It wasn’t just broken, it was ruptured, twisted, crushed, and I could see 

the kink in the joint and knew what had happened. The impact had driven my lower 

leg up through the knee joint. … 

I dug my axes into the snow, and pounded my good leg deeply into the soft slope 

until I felt sure it wouldn’t slip. The effort brought back the nausea and I felt my 

head spin giddily to the point of fainting. I moved and a searing spasm of pain 

cleared away the faintness. I could see the summit of Seria Norte away to the west. I 

was not far below it. The sight drove home how desperately things had changed. We 

were above 19,000 feet, still on the ridge, and very much alone. I looked south at 

the small rise I had hoped to scale quickly and it seemed to grow with every second 

that I stared. I would never get over it. Simon would not be able to get me up it. He 

would leave me. He had no choice. I held my breath, thinking about it. Left here? 

Alone? … For an age I felt overwhelmed at the notion of being left; I felt like 

screaming, and I felt like swearing, but stayed silent. If I said a word, I would panic. I 

could feel myself teetering on the edge of it.

Simon's account

Joe had disappeared behind a rise in the ridge and began moving faster than I could 

go. I was glad we had put the steep section behind us at last. … I felt tired and was 

grateful to be able to follow Joe’s tracks instead of breaking trail*. 

I rested a while when I saw that Joe had stopped moving. Obviously he had found 

an obstacle and I thought I would wait until he started moving again. When the rope 

moved again I trudged forward after it, slowly. 

Suddenly there was a sharp tug as the rope lashed outtaut across the slope. I was 

pulled forward several feet as I pushed my axes into the snow and braced myself for 

another jerk. Nothing happened. I knew that Joe had fallen, but I couldn’t see him, 

so I stayed put. I waited for about ten minutes until the tautened rope went slack on 

the snow and I felt sure that Joe had got his weight off me. I began to move along his 

footsteps cautiously, half expecting something else to happen. I kept tensed up and 

ready to dig my axes in at the first sign of trouble. 

As I crested the rise, I could see down a slope to where the rope disappeared over 

the edge of a drop. I approached slowly, wondering what had happened. When I 

reached the top of the drop I saw Joe below me. He had one foot dug in and was 

leaning against the slope with his face buried in the snow. I asked him what had 

happened and he looked at me in surprise. I knew he was injured, but the 

significance didn’t hit me at first

He told me very calmly that he had broken his leg. He looked pathetic, and my 

immediate thought came without any emotion. … YOU’RE DEAD … NO TWO WAYS ABOUT 

IT! I think he knew it too. I could see it in his face. It was all totally rational. I knew 

where we were, I took in everything around me instantly, and knew he was dead. It 

never occurred to me that I might also die. I accepted without question that I could 

get off the mountain alone. I had no doubt about that

… Below him I could see thousands of feet of open face falling into the eastern 

glacier bay. I watched him quite dispassionately. I couldn’t help him, and it occurred 

to me that in all likelihood he would fall to his death. I wasn’t disturbed by the 

thought. In a way I hoped he would fall. I knew I couldn’t leave him while he was still 

fighting for it, but I had no idea how I might help him. I could get down. If I tried to 

get him down I might die with him. It didn’t frighten me. It just seemed a waste. It 

would be pointless. I kept staring at him, expecting him to fall … 

Joe Simpson 

Joe's account

- Uses lots of references to fire and water, which are both very powerful and uncontrollable elements
- Written in first person, i.e. uses lots of "I" and "me" which makes emphasises how he is on his own in the situation and makes the account more personal and direct
- Short sentences and lots of commas to break up sentences - emphasising how quickly everything is happening

First paragraph:

- talks about his physical pain

"I felt a shattering blow in my knee, felt bones splitting, and screamed."
- Use of "I" - direct and personal, writes about how he feels
- Use of the powerful, dramatic language -"shattering" emphasises his pain
- Sibilance (repeated 's' sounds) "splitting" and "screamed" shows how scary and frightening it is

 "I slid, head first, on my back"
- use of commas to break up sentences - creates movement and impact

Second Paragraph:

- talks more about his internal pain

"Then pain flooded down my thigh - a fierce burning fire..."
- Juxtaposes idea of water and fire to create contrast "flooded" (water) and "burning" (fire) this makes pain sound very extreme
- idea of "burning" is also a contrast to the icy surroundings

Third Paragraph:

"grotesque distortion" - powerful, hyperbolic and forceful emphasising how disgusting it looks
"strange zigzag" - very visual and detailed, emphasises how strange the whole experience is
"burnt"- another reference to fire

Fourth Paragraph:

"A wave of nausea surged over me."
-"wave" and "surged" references to water which shows force and movement

"Something terrible, somethingdark with dread"
- dramatic alliteration "dark" and "dread" emphasises how frightening it is
- repetition of "something" emphasises the ambiguity of this "terrible" thing and creates suspense

"I'm dead."
- Prolepsis (anticipation that something is gong to happen)
- short sentence draws attention

"if it's broken...if..."
-use of ellipsis shows his disorientation - the incoherent sentences express his confusion and racing thoughts

Fifth Paragraph:

"My knee exploded"
- hyperbole and short sentence emphasises intense pain and how sudden it is

"fireball" - another reference to fire

"ruptured, twisted crushed"
- use of triplet of adjectives adds impact and shows how painful it is

"the impact had driven my lower leg up through the knee joint..."
- stated fact- there is no feeling left which shows his exhaustion and acceptance of his fate

Last paragraph:

"I felt like screaming and swearing, but stayed silent"
- contrast between what's going on internally and what's going on externally
- sibilance "screaming", "swearing" and "silent"

"...teetering on the edge of it."
- could be referencing metaphorically to his state of mind
- or because he is literally on the edge of a mountain

Simon's account

A much more rational and realistic account. Simon writes much less about his feelings and more about fact.

First Paragraph:

"I was glad" "I felt tired"
- he is stating his feelings - not much emotion

Second Paragraph:

Use of the word "obviously" shows how clearly and rationally he thinks

"When the rope moved again I trudged forward after it, slowly."
Simon's sentences are much longer and less broken up than Joe's which highlights his logical and less emotional character. Simon's account, although shorter in writing than Joe's moves a lot more slowly, which is emphasised by the use of the words "trudged" and "slowly'

Third Paragraph:

"Suddenly there was a sharp tug as the rope lashed out taut across the slope."
- contrast to previous paragraph which was very slow moving
- use of dramatic language, "lashed out" to emphasis the sudden movement of the rope

"Nothing happened"
- short sentence adds impact as it creates a moment of silence.

"I knew" "I felt sure"
- expresses Simon's calm, confident and controlled way of thinking - he knew what was going to happen

Last Paragraphs:

"I couldn't help him."
- Matter of fact - Acknowledges his own helplessness but knows when to give up and puts himself first

"I wasn't disturbed"
- able to absorb all of this and has no emotion - he is completely emotionally detached, which is shown in his calm and slow manner of writing.

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