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IGCSE Touching the Void by Joe Simpson and Simon Yates Model Essays Question 05

IGCSE Touching the Void by Joe Simpson and Simon Yates Model Essays Question 05

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

Q5. Compare Joe and Simon’s reactions to the accident in ‘Touching the Void’.

You should think about the following:

  • the men’s emotions;
  • the men’s assumptions about what will happen next;
  • the writers’ use of language techniques.

You should refer closely to the text to support your answer. You may use brief quotations.

Edexcel English IGCSE Model Essay by an Expert

Whilst both men react to the accident with apparent calmness and rationality, Joe feels that he is very close to panicking, because of his closeness to death. Simon, on the other hand, does not react emotionally.

When considering the outcome of the accident, Joe and Simon have quite different emotional reactions. As the one who is most likely to die as a result of the accident, Joe experiences a wide range of emotions, including confusion, fear and hopelessness. Simon, however, remains apparently unemotional and rational. For example, Joe’s “thoughts raced madly”, showing that he was unable to control the thoughts going through his head. He experiences a “dark thought”, which is that his leg might be broken; the metaphor of darkness shows that the thought is pessimistic, but also shows that it is mysterious and not quite accessible. This reflects his inability to think clearly. In contrast, Simon remains clear-headed and rational. His account includes more description of his actions than his emotions, showing that he reacts to the accident with rational action. This is portrayed through the repeated pattern of the first person pronoun followed by a verb: “I knew”, “I waited”, “I began” and “I kept”, for example. This shows that he is more focused on acting appropriately than on identifying and reacting to his emotions.

Both men recognise the life-threatening nature of the accident, but, understandably, Joe feels more panicked than Simon about what will happen next. Joe’s realisation that he may have to be left behind is expressed in panicky terms. Very brief questions – Left here? Alone?” – reflect his terror at the idea that he could be left behind to die. He stays silent because he is “teetering on the edge” of panic, which shows his closeness to complete loss of rationality. In contrast, Simon considers the situation with almost heartless level-headedness. The triple structure in the sentence beginning “I knew where we were…” shows his logical progression of thoughts, culminating in the shocking realisation, “he was dead”. He thinks calmly through the possible options and outcomes of the accident, including Joe falling to his death and Simon going to help him. Unlike Joe, who is almost consumed by fear, the idea of dying while attempting to rescue Joe “didn’t frighten” Simon. This is perhaps an irrational reaction in itself.

This passage offers an insight into two quite different reactions to a potentially catastrophic event. Joe is open about his struggle to remain coherent in the face of his fear, whilst Simon seems to repress his emotional reactions while considering the logical outcomes of the accident.

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IGCSE Touching the Void by Joe Simpson and Simon Yates Model Essays Question 04

IGCSE Touching the Void by Joe Simpson and Simon Yates Model Essays Question 04

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

Q4. Joe experiences many emotions in the passage. How does the writer portray this range of emotions?

Edexcel English IGCSE Model Essay by an Expert

When Joe has his accident, he experiences pain and fear. He also undergoes a short period of denial, which is then subsumed by hopelessness. Joe also attempts not to allow his feelings of panic to overwhelm him.

Joe is in a great deal of pain in the passage, and this emotion is portrayed in a number of ways. A number of metaphors attempt to capture the extent of the pain, for example the metaphor of fire: “a fierce burning fire” and “the fireball”. This metaphor allows the reader to comprehend the burning pain that Joe is experiencing. When Joe kicks his leg to test whether or not it is broken, violent verbs are used to portray the intensity of the pain: “exploded”, “grated” and “rushed”. He also uses a triple structure to emphasise the pain: “ruptured, twisted, crushed”. From the intensity of the descriptions of Joe’s pain and injury, the reader appreciates that Joe is in a great deal of pain.

As well as being in pain, Joe experiences fear for his life, as he realises that he will probably die as a result of this accident. The thought of his death is described with the imagery of darkness, which is typically associated with death and the unknown: “something dark with dread” and “the dark thought”.  Joe’s thoughts are written in the form of direct speech, allowing the reader insight into exactly what was going through his head. These fearful thoughts are fractured; they are in short, incomplete sentences, and broken up with ellipses, reflecting the breathless panic that Joe is experiencing.

At first, Joe goes through the experience of denial, but subsequently accepts his fate with desperate hopelessness. Initially, he tries to persuade himself that his leg isn’t broken. He even tests his leg by kicking it, “feeling sure it wasn’t broken”. It becomes clear that the leg is badly broken, but even then, Joe “tried not to believe what [he] was seeing”. This denial is a symptom of Joe’s fear, as he tries not to accept that he will die. However, by the end of the passage, Joe experiences the opposite emotion: complete hopelessness. The writer portrays this with repeated use of the future tense, in which Joe lists the certain, terrible outcomes of accident.

Despite all of these conflicting and terrifying emotions, Joe remains silent. This is because he is trying not to allow panic to overwhelm him. The writer expresses this sense of panic with an ironically fitting metaphor – “I could feel myself teetering on the edge of it” – he is both figuratively teetering on the edge of panic, and physically teetering on the edge of a cliff.

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IGCSE Touching the Void by Joe Simpson and Simon Yates Model Essays Question 03

IGCSE Touching the Void by Joe Simpson and Simon Yates Model Essays Question 03

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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IGCSE Touching the Void by Joe Simpson and Simon Yates Model Essays Question 02

IGCSE Touching the Void by Joe Simpson and Simon Yates Model Essays Question 02

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

Q2. How does the writer convey Joe’s pain and fear?

Edexcel English IGCSE Model Essay by an Expert

When narrating his account, Joe conveys his pain with vivid descriptions of his injury. His fear increases towards the end of the passage, where a variety of techniques are employed to convey this emotion to the reader.

Dramatic vocabulary is used to portray the intensity of Joe’s pain. He describes the injury as “shattering” and “splitting”; these almost alliterative words emphasise the damage caused by the injury, by appealing to the reader’s sense of sound. Later, the writer uses a triple structure to build an accumulating sense of agony: “it was ruptured, twisted, crushed”. He also employs metaphors to capture his pain: comparisons with fire – “a fierce, burning fire” and “the fireball” – allow the reader to at least partially imagine the scorching pain that Joe was feeling. The reader also gains an impression of his pain with repetition, which reflects the “ragged gasps” with which he has to breathe, because of the intensity of the pain: “My leg!… My leg!”.

As well as portraying his pain, Joe gives a clear physical description of the injury, prompting feelings of squeamishness and disgust in the reader. The descriptions of the injury portray it as something unnatural and repulsive: “grotesque distortion” and a strange zigzag”. Furthermore, the build-up of three violent adjectives to describe his leg shows that it is worse than simply “broken”, which is a relatively common injury: the leg was “ruptured, twisted, “crushed”. Providing excruciating details allows the reader to visualise Joe’s broken leg, thereby coming to some understanding of the pain that would be caused by such a serious injury.

Perhaps more distressing than the physical pain, Joe experiences the fear of impending death. The realisation that his leg might be broken is described as a “dark thought”, showing how serious it is: it is mysterious and pessimistic. Joe’s description of his thoughts contains ellipses and repetitive use of the conditional, both of which portray his uncertainty and fear as he tries to delude himself that the injury isn’t as bad as it might look. There is a string of short sentences in lines 40-41, culminating in two very brief questions: “Left here? Alone?”. This conveys a sense of panic by emulating the breathless succession of terrifying thoughts that occurred to him at the time. The account ends with a metaphor of Joe “teetering on the edge” of panic; this metaphor is ironic because he is literally on the edge of a cliff. By combining the literal and the metaphorical, the gravity of the situation is emphasised to the reader.

Joe is in a terrible situation, characterised by fear and pain. These emotions are vividly portrayed, developing the reader’s sympathy towards Joe.

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IGCSE Touching the Void by Joe Simpson and Simon Yates Model Essays Question 01

IGCSE Touching the Void by Joe Simpson and Simon Yates Model Essays Question 01

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

Q1. Simon feels powerful emotions and yet reaches calm, logical conclusions. How does the writer present both these aspects of his experience?

You should refer closely to the text to support your answer. You may use brief quotations.

Edexcel English IGCSE Model Essay by an Expert

In ‘Touching the Void’, Simon, the narrator, portrays his reaction to the disaster as one of clear-headedness, despite the intense emotion that must have accompanied the experience.

When the accident first occurs, Simon emphasises his logical reaction. Rather than reacting with panic, he is cautious, ready to take action if necessary. By using language showing that he is prepared for further disaster, such as “braced myself”, “half expecting” and “tensed up and ready”, Simon is portrayed as a logical character, who is able to remain calm in a disaster. Despite being unaware of the scale of the disaster, Simon must have been shocked and frightened at this point. However, there is no explicit description of his emotions. This notable absence of emotion suggests that Simon is focused on dealing with the disaster logically and clearly, without his judgement being clouded by fear.

Even after Joe explains that he has broken his leg, there is still an absence of emotion in Simon’s account. Simon’s unemotional reaction is emphasised here: his thoughts came “without any emotion”, everything was “totally rational” and he watches his friend “dispassionately”. This final word in particular highlights the detached and impassive nature of Simon’s experience, by emphasising that he was lacking in ‘passion’, which is what we might expect from such a traumatic event. He seems to lack emotional engagement with the situation. For example, he describes Joe as “pathetic”, which is an insult. This is a cruel way to describe his helpless friend, and shows that Simon is not thinking in a normal, compassionate way. The fact that Simon explicitly comments on his lack of emotion implies that this logical response was surprising to him.

A variety of language techniques are used to emphasise the logical lens through which Simon views this highly emotional experience. He uses short sentences which bluntly portray the facts that he assumes to be true – that Joe is going to die: “I think he knew it too. I could see it in his face.” The use of a triple structure in the sentence beginning “I knew where we were” shows the logical sequence of his thoughts, shocking the reader when the final part of this rational, unemotional sequence is that Joe “was dead”. In the final paragraph, the writer employs emphatically repetitive use of the personal pronoun. This perhaps hints at logical self-preservation; in such a dangerous situation, logical instincts are likely to kick in, eclipsing the compassion that we might otherwise expect from Simon.

In conclusion, Simon is clearly experiencing powerful emotions because of the dramatic experience. However, these emotions are largely outweighed at the time by logic and clear-headedness.

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