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English department

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

She lost her mother to cancer. She couldn't keep her family together. She got divorced. She was in a life crisis. In hope for change, Cheryl Strayed quit her job and set for the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).

Wild, however is unlike Strayed’s previous novel Torch. Though both books introduce family, cancer, and grief, Wild is an honest memoir about her personal experiences, courage, and life. Strayed’s memoir takes her reader beyond a typical backpacking experience on the PCT.

Strayed braids her memoir together with events that led to her decision to hike the PCT and her actual journey on the PCT. The memoir begins with her losing her boot on the PCT: “In the years before I pitched my boot over the edge of that mountain, I’d been pitching myself over the edge too.” She turns the scene around, letting her reader know she'll be telling what happened to her before she decided to hike the PCT. Strayed does this throughout the memoir—where she reflects back to a time before her hike. By weaving her stories together, she enables the reader to see the bigger picture and better understand her situation.

By weaving stories, Strayed’s memoir is not a direct linear narrative but features many flashback moments and reflections; therefore, she uses detailed and clear language to paint stories, emotions, and create movement. In a scene where she was done hiking for the day she describes her legs: “they were ghostly pale to the line a few inches above my ankles...My calves above them were muscled and golden and hairy, dusted with dirt and a constellation of bruises and scratches.” Her details here, paint a picture of the effects of her hike, which helps the reader to understand why she’s in pain. Even so, she doesn’t quit hiking the trail which represents endurance and courage. These emotions, though indirectly stated by Strayed, helps keep her moving through her journey.

She is also honest in her language. She uses profanity in her memoir. However, she uses it to be true and honest to the character's language and her individual thoughts which create authenticity. Her honesty is also represented through being open about her feelings. Strayed explains a night when she camped out with other hikers: “It was that same hungry, empty feeling I’d had back in that Mojave motel when I’d wish I had a companion. Not someone to love. Just someone to press my body against.” Her honesty may create some discomfort among the reader, but her emotional expressions help keep her memoir honest—towards her experience and her reader.

Even though she is honest about her emotions, she leaves room for the reader to have an emotional response. She presents stories and emotions in such a way that the reader is free to make their own judgments; she doesn’t force the reader to feel a certain way towards her. Strayed confesses that her divorce was a result of her infidelity. She was still affected by her mother's death and her family falling apart. She states, "I was trying to heal...To cure me of myself." The initial feeling the reader may feel towards Strayed is bitterness because of her infidelity. However, her journey on the PCT and how it affected her, the reader’s bitterness dissolves into sympathy.

Strayed’s memoir reflects a time in her life when life fell apart on her and how the PCT eventually helped her: “Thank you, I thought over and over again. Thank you. Not just for the long walk, but for everything I could feel finally gathered up inside of me; for everything the trail had taught me and everything I couldn’t yet know.” Her journey may seem like ‘Enlightenment,’ but I found it to be an honest memoir about the imperfections of human beings and life—sometimes we need to get lost to be found.