Into Thin Air

Themes and Colors
Danger and Mortality Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
Commercialization Theme Icon
Individualism and the Group Theme Icon
Guilt Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Into Thin Air, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

A simple question hangs over Into Thin Air: why would people travel to the other side of the world and pay lavish sums of money to risk their own lives on the slopes of Mount Everest? In general, why would anyone climb mountains for fun, when the mortality rate for mountaineers is alarmingly high? As Jon Krakauer shows, mountaineers enjoy climbing Everest not in spite of the danger, but because of it. The…

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Another important theme of Into Thin Air is the natural world. Climbers choose to ascend mountains, not just because of the inherent danger of doing so (see above), but also because of the mountains’ sublime beauty and majesty—qualities that civilization cannot rival. The characters in the book believe that they can use their training, technology, and intelligence to “conquer” Everest. However, the 1996 Everest disaster provides them an unforgettable reminder of nature’s awesome power—power that…

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As Krakauer sees it, there are two ways to climb a mountain: 1) by oneself, with no one else’s help; or 2) in a tour group, as part of a large commercial business (which charges its clients many tens of thousands of dollars). While both forms of mountaineering can be found on Mount Everest, Krakauer argues that it’s getting increasingly difficult to practice the first. The Nepalese government now requires all independent Everest climbers…

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In the forty-odd years since Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first human beings to climb to the summit of Mount Everest, the sport of mountaineering has experienced some major changes. Climbing Mount Everest has largely become a group activity, where before it was usually a challenge for a single, determined climber, or, at most, two climbers with a close bond of friendship and talent. While Krakauer spends many pages dissecting why…

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In the final chapters of Into Thin Air, it becomes clear that guilt is one of the key themes of the book. On the afternoon of May 10, 1996, Jon Krakauer makes it back to his tent, having climbed to the summit of Mount Everest; exhausted, he falls into a deep sleep. Unbeknownst to Krakauer at the time, however, many of his teammates get caught in the middle of a deadly snowstorm. One…

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