Within literature, an archetype is defined as a typical character, event, or action that seems to represent common patterns of human nature. Character archetypes are the recurring personalities, traits, and characteristics that appear within different characters in a text. Although they are most commonly seen and used in fictional stories, Into Thin Air, a true story by Jon Krakauer, depicts real people who showcase numerous character archetypes. This proves that character archetypes developed in writing are realistic and ultimately help build a stronger relationship between the reader and the characters in the story by provoking emotions of empathy and concern for the characters.
One major character within Into Thin Air that displays multiple character archetypes is Jon Krakauer, the author and first-person narrator.
Jon Krakauer, the protagonist and main character within Into Thin Air, showed two easily identifiable character archetypes; ‘The Everyman’, and ‘The Observer’. A character who exhibits the qualities of ‘The Everyman’ archetype is not a typical hero, but rather an average character that readers can easily relate to. ‘The Everyman’ lives a normal life, but is faced with extraordinary circumstances. These characters are usually down to earth, empathetic, and show common sense. Krakauer possesses many of traits associated to ‘The Everyman’. He has an ordinary personality, is committed to his task/completing his goal, and was stuck in a difficult situation for a good part of the story. Unlike ‘The Hero’, ‘The Everyman’ is not trying to work for the greater good, or make a change, but is trying to get through a difficult situation (Scribendi Inc.). In comparison to the rest of his expedition team, Krakauer is just an above-average climber, focused on reaching the summit of Mt. Everest while simultaneously gathering information to write for his piece in Outsider magazine. Krakauer’s difficult situation was facing the giant storm that awaited him and his fellow climbers as they attempted to descend from the summit of Mt. Everest. Krakauer was an average guy, never the center of attention, but merely another climber who joined the fateful expedition. Krakauer wasn’t afraid to show his emotions either, “…I cried for my lost companions, I cried because I was grateful to be alive, I cried because I felt terrible for having survived while others had died.” (279), making it easy for readers to see Krakauer as a real person. A real-life example of an ‘Everyman’ would be Matt Damon, the actor, and a fictional example would be Carl Fredricksen from the movie Up. An example from the texts analyzed during the course would be Tim O’Brien, from the short story On the Rainy River. O’Brien was just 21 years old when he was drafted to fight in the Vietnam war, but it was a war he didn’t understand. He left his family and town behind while he took some time to himself to deal with his conflicting moral obligations and emotions. When I usually read fiction novels, it becomes hard to actually identify with the protagonist, because they often appear as the ‘Hero’. When the ‘Everyman’ archetype is involved though, I can almost immediately empathize with what their decisions and fears, because I can relate their experience to one of my own. Usually, this experience isn’t a happy one, but nonetheless it provides a connection to that character, and makes me feel like I have something in common with them.
‘The Observer’ character archetype is identified within characters who are usually bystanders. These characters aren’t the leader of anything, and they typically let others be the focus so that they are not the center of attention. ‘Observer’ character types might even be writing or researching what they are observing. This archetype is common for a narrator/protagonist in non-fiction stories; the author is typically writing and describing the events that happen around them as they unfold. At one point in the novel, Krakauer describes that at times, it felt like he wasn’t climbing the mountain himself, but “that surrogates were doing it for me” (176). I took this to mean that Krakauer was feeling like he was observing himself climb the mountain, not physically doing it. Further solidifying Krakauer’s archetype of ‘The Observer’, Krakauer was hired by Outsider magazine to climb and reach the summit of Mt. Everest to gather information and write an article about it. A real-life example of an ‘Observer’ would be Jane Goodall, the researcher, and a fictional example would be Joe Goldberg from the Netflix series You. An example from the course would be Elroy Berdahl from the short story On the Rainy River. ‘Observer’ archetypes tend to be watchful of those around them, and can sometimes be a caring presence. I know that when I have a bad day or something is upsetting me, it’s nice to just have someone be around, without them trying to comfort me. This is exactly what Elroy did for Tim O’Brien. Krakauer was also a watchful presence around his teammates, and would often offer them support if he saw fit. ‘Observer’ archetypes can both inspire empathy towards the characters displaying the archetype, and towards those characters in need of their help.
Additionally, ‘Observer’ archetypes can be found everywhere. Have you ever caught yourself watching someone do something? Or have you found yourself comforting a friend going through a rough time? If yes, then you have displayed the qualities of the ‘Observer’ more than you think.
Jon Krakauer is one of the many characters in the non-fiction novel Into Thin Air who exhibits a couple of character archetypes, thus making it apparent that character archetypes are very realistic, and build a stronger relationship between the characters and the reader by provoking empathy and concern within the reader.
Inc, Scribendi. “5 Common Character Archetypes in Literature | Scribendi.com.” Scribendi.com, http://www.scribendi.com/advice/character_archetypes_in_literature.en.html. Accessed 18 January 2020.
Krakauer, Jon. Into Thin Air. Anchor Books, 1999.