Wild: An Initial Reaction

I’m already enjoying Wild. Yet I cannot help but compare Cheryl Strayed’s writing style to that of Paul Theroux. The two travel authors are embarking upon completely separate and distinct journeys. Theroux is writing for others, whereas Strayed seems to be writing for herself. However, there is obvious bias in both travelogues. We have noted Theroux’s subjectivity when it comes to his describing the South numerous times over. On the other hand, Strayed presents a unique bias. She will clearly discuss nature and her surroundings soon, as she is on the verge of beginning her month’s long hike. However, she took the time to inform readers on her reasoning behind the hike and all in which her adventure truly encompasses. Strayed holds a special connection with nature. Earth’s surroundings symbolically turn back the clock to intimate moments spent alongside her mother, when all of life’s pieces appeared perfectly in place. Strayed also examines her previous move to New York with her husband, Paul. She was not in the big city long. Essentially, she could have briefly pointed to her time spent outside Minnesota without the personal details regarding her day-to-night identity change which reached a surmountable level staying in New York. Strayed utilized the New York tale to contrast her inner peace which surfaces while visiting her dream-home places such as Ashland, Oregon. Even more, her seemingly bizarre behavior already conflicts with her meticulous, determined persona currently arising from her planning her hike.

Oprah’s Book Club expressed much interest in Wild. Upon its publication an article was released alongside Strayed’s personal photographs. “Here she is 10 days into her hike,” the write-up reads.

Strayed, in my opinion, is emotionally lost at this point in her text. She is unable to remain physically or emotionally close with another person. She does not make an effort to stay in touch with her family, just as she willingly allows her marriage to disintegrate before her eyes. If she were to have moved to New York permanently with Paul, Strayed would have been leaving her mother behind. Moving on with her life and her relationship meant a world in which her new companions and accomplishments could not be shared with her mother. But more than anything, she is perhaps asking herself, “What would my mother think?” Her desire for motherly guidance is evident in the second chapter as she recalls, “I lay down in the mother ash dirt among the crocuses and told her it was okay. That I’d surrendered. That since she died, everything had changed. Things she couldn’t have imagined and wouldn’t have guessed” (Strayed 29).

Here is an image of Cheryl, her siblings Leaf and Karen, and her mother.

We learned of her childhood in a tiny, one-room cabin sitting upon acres of land. Her mom and stepdad had come into plenty of money which could have provided them with a typical, suburban home—each child with their own room and a designated family dining table, near to the television where they would watch cartoons on Saturday morning or enjoy Friday night movies. Her mother freely, and happily, opted for the simple life. Paradoxically, she passed in a traumatic manner: “She wanted to die sitting up, so I took all the pillows I could get my hands on and made a backrest for her. I wanted to take her from the hospital and prop her in a field of yarrows to die” (Strayed 24). She suffered—a direct contrast to the mantra from which she had built her and her daughter’s lives. Strayed is searching for only that which is necessary to now get by in her seemingly desolate years. Nature is becoming greater than even the writer. As readers, we worry whether Strayed will make it through to the end of her journey alive and well, mentally and physically. If Strayed benefits as much as she is hoping and predicting from her hike, Wild then speaks volumes in respects to modern society today. An intelligent woman, a double major student, a married twenty-something girl, is leaving people behind in order to re-craft herself on nature’s terms. Her relationship with nature is almost a form of religion. The only way in which Strayed may return to her roots is by reaffirming her bond with the natural world: “Trees that had once looked like any other to me became as recognizable as the faces of old friends in a crowd, their branches gesturing with sudden meaning, their leaves beckoning like identifiable hands” (Strayed 15). Her imagery works in two ways, as it “strives to recreate the view for the reader, itemizing its key features in some detail, and in a metaphoric language that aims to convey vividly not so much objective facts about the external scene, as the subjective impressions created in the spectator” (Thompson 110). Strayed is running back to the critical period of her childhood in which she begins to individually shape her way of thinking. She is in search of life’s second chance, where she may define her future not based upon her response to tragedy, but rather her ability to overcome even nature’s most troubling circumstances.

Here’s a third photo included in the Oprah’s Book Club article on Wild. On display is the home which Cheryl’s mother and her stepfather, Eddie, constructed after receiving a large settlement from an injury claim.

This analysis of Strayed’s narration aligns with Thompson’s definition of travel writing, the parameters of autobiographical writing, “[as namely] a conscious attempt on the part of the writer to explore his or her selfhood and identity, to express the contours of their inner world of thought and feeling, and to reach an understanding of eth influences of circumstances that shaped them” (104). The first few chapters are telling of the power struggle between Strayed and nature. Though she may depict a scene as an extraordinary facet of the sublime—an area of the trail which on first glance appears quite ordinary to any other’s eye—Strayed’s bias is not limiting to the travel text itself. Rather than her effect upon nature, we will become subject to her reaction to Earth’s unhindered surroundings. In this manner, the text becomes a transcendental exploration whereas “the traveler becomes as much the object of the reader’s attention as the place travelled to” (Thompson 99).

One thought on “Wild: An Initial Reaction

  1. Lots of great ideas here and effective applications of Thomson’s ideas about autobiographical travel writing. I am intrigued by your comment about relationship with nature as a substitute for religion, which has a long tradition that goes back to Romanticism.

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