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Edexcel English IGCSE: Touching the void by Joe Simpson and Simon Yates

Q3. What kind of person does Simon come across as? Explain how the writer conveys his personality.

Edexcel English IGCSE Model Essay by an Expert

Simon is portrayed as calm and logical, displaying a strange lack of compassion when he witnesses his friend’s potentially fatal accident. However, this coldness may not be typical of Simon’s normal personality.

When the accident occurs, Simon reacts very calmly, implying that he remains cool in a crisis. The writer uses vocabulary that shows how clear-headed he is, as he is prepared for the situation to worsen: “braced myself”, “expecting” and “ready”. Admittedly, this is before he has realised the severity of the accident, but the fact that he is able to remain cool-headed when Joe falls shows that he is generally of a calm disposition. It also suggests that he is competent in dealing with accidents such as this. He “stayed put” rather than following what the reader might assume to be the natural instinct, which is to go and see what has happened. He has the presence of mind to wait until Joe has removed his weight from the rope before going to check on him.

Strangely, this calmness and logical way of thinking continues even when he realises that Joe could die, making him come across as cold and potentially heartless. He recognises the severity of the situation “without any emotion” and watches Joe “quite dispassionately”. He also describes Joe as “pathetic”, which has revealing double-meaning: whilst this word can be used to describe someone inspiring sympathy, it is more commonly used as an insult for someone who is weak. The use of this word thus encapsulates the tension between Simon’s sympathy for Joe and his resentment towards him. Even more shocking is when Simon claims that he “hoped [Joe] would fall”. These reactions portray Simon as heartless and selfish.

However, there are several suggestions in the text that Simon’s reactions to this traumatic event are not reliable measures of his personality. Firstly, Simon mentions his lack of emotion repeatedly, suggesting that he was shocked by his own heartlessness, which implies that this was not a characteristic reaction. Perhaps Simon was in shock because of the severity of the accident, and he was therefore unable to process his emotions. Furthermore, the only reason he “hoped [Joe] would fall” was because he knew he “couldn’t leave him” while he was still alive. This is despite the fact that Joe recognises that the best course of action for Simon would be to leave him there. This shows that he does care for Joe, in spite of his apparent callousness.

The personality traits revealed in this account are measures of Simon’s ability to react to a trauma: that he is calm and logical, potentially to the point of heartlessness. However, they are not necessarily indicative of his personality in more everyday situations.

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