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Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Man Climbing




Description of the landscape

  • 'I come to another drop-off', this introduces the extract by use of first person, showing that we are in one person's narrative. It's also an extremely short sentence, creating drama, especially because it starts with a verb phrase. The writer then goes into description of the rock he is going to descend down, distinguishing it from the one he climbed 'ten minutes ago', creates the immediate sense that he is adventurous and has an intricate knowledge of what he is doing. Furthered by specialised language 'chockstone.'

  • 'Wedged between the walls' creates the impression of a tight space, using alliteration to draw interest and emphasis.

  • 'The claustrophobic feel of a short tunnel' affects the reader by making us feel fear from him and making the landscape much more vivid. Might be foreshadowing for the event which is about to happen.

  • Lengthy sentences towards the end of the paragraph continue to make the landscape feel more vivid, mirroring the tunnel by use of the long and complex sentence. 'Fifty feet' creates a sense of just how long this is, while 'three feet' makes it seem very narrow.

  • By describing what 'it's possible' to do often, it gives the impression that the narrator is very skilled and able. Register and tone here are both technical and conversational, talking to the reader in order to make us feel closer to him but also explaining technical ideas like 'chimneying' so that we can better understand what is happening. This is extended by use of 'you' which directly addresses and involves the reader.

  • The chockstone is 'the size of a large bus tire', importantly using a description (simile) from everyday life so that we can picture just how big it is. Changes aspect to use conditional, 'If I can step onto it', creating a sense of the uncertainty of the outcome, which makes us feel nervous for him, deliberately creating suspense.

  • 'I'll dangle off the chockstone' showing that he isn't supported and making everything seem very precarious, 'rounded rocks' uses alliteration to create a sense of roundedness but also semantically conveys that he can't stand there, and there are a lot of rocks beneath him, making it more dangerous.

Depiction of the accident

  • ''Stemming across the canyon', uses another active to transition and start the paragraph, creating a sense of hard work and movement but quickening the pace. This is backed up by 'traverse' which connotes hard work. Frequent use of verbs in this paragraph gives sense of sequential movements which are happening at a fast pace, building tension and suspense for the reader. As if we're reading his accident happening blow by blow.

  • 'I lower myself from the chimneying position and step onto the chockstone. It supports me but teeters slightly.' These lines create tension through use of 'but' and the precarious verb 'teeters' and also the use of short sentences which again create dramatic effect and suggests the moments slowing down, as if he's moving towards the accident.

  • 'Sliding my belly over the front edge, I can lower myself and hang from my fully extended arms, akin to climbing down from the roof of a house.' Creates again a vivid description of his actions and also compares it to something we might understand that simultaneously makes it seem more dangerous. Again the pace has slowed down, as though he is being very careful with his actions, which also builds tension.

  • 'As I dangle' increases the tension even more by putting us in the moment of his nearness to falling, and 'scraping quake' uses assonance to create an echoing sound, making it sound more ominous. 'Quake' sounds very dangerous as it reminds us of a powerful earthquake. Words like 'Instantly' create a sense of pace again speeding up, everything is now happening.

  • 'instinctively, I let go' shows the danger and the speed of reaction needed, he doesn't even have time to think about it, his instinct simply kicks us. Reinforces his vulnerability in this situation.

  • 'When I look up, the backlit chockstone falling toward my head consumes the sky' This use of hyperbole/metaphor shows big the falling rock is - he can't see the sky around it - and so creates an atmosphere of suspense and imminent death. This enhanced by use of short sentences, 'Fear shoots my hands over my head', the verb 'shoots' also telling us how quickly he is moving.

  • The writer is using present tense 'I can't move backward', which is effective because it makes it seem as though it's happening now so we don't know what will happen. 'My only hope' increases our suspense and sense of doom.

  • 'The next three seconds play out at a tenth of their normal speed. Time dilates, as if I’m dreaming, and my reactions decelerate.' The fact that time seems to be slowing down allows us into the mind of the narrator and increases the sense of drama, as though everything is happening in slow-motion. We then have a juxtaposition of very strong verbs 'yank', 'crushes' and 'ensnares' which creates a sense of confusion as well as of dramatic movement. Violence of the verbs used, and 'ensnares' also reinforces the fact that he is horribly wounded and also trapped by the falling rocks, which makes him more helpless. The next part of the line is written in extremely short phrases to intricately describe his trapped arm, allowing us to focus on this. Gruesome description of his arm, then the moment of complete disbelief and agony in 'Then silence' - the action has stopped and now we have to reflect on what has happened.


How the writer leaves the reader on a cliff-hanger

  • 'My disbelief paralyzes me temporarily' - This shows through his physical sensations the absolutely shock which the writer is experiencing.

  • 'an implausibly small gap' exaggerates how little room there is between the boulder and the wall.

  • 'Good God, my hand' uses exclamation and alliteration to show us his thoughts and his shock/the 'flaring agony', which uses a metaphor of fire to allow us to feel his pain. Frequent use of alliteration, ellipsis and also exclamation creates a sense of his pain as well as his fear in this moment. It's almost as though he is shouting at himself to move.

  • 'A naive attempt to pull it out' shows that however much he wanted it to work, it wouldn't, but nevertheless he still tried it. 'But I'm stuck' uses a short sentence to indicate his panic and the simple horror of his predicament.

  • Description of his pain happens again in 'searing-hot pain shoots from my wrist up my arm', which paints a vivid image of how painful the situation must have been, using a violent verb 'shoots' to express how he feels.

  • The 'apocryphal story' he remembers of a mother overturning a car to free her baby shows his desperation to think of a way to escape, even if it seems impossible or extremely unlikely.

  • Use of the continuous aspect of 'heaving', 'pushing' and 'lifting' (also using tricolon) emphasizes and extends his vain attempt to lift the rock off his arm.

  • Use of dialogue in the last sentences, followed by the short 'Nothing' makes us feel extremely close to the writer in this moment of utter peril, before leaving us on a cliff-hanger, desperate to see what has happened next.

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