“Wild” is the US author’s memoir Cheryl Strayed which documents her journey through the Pacific Crest Trail. In Cheryl, in 1995, after the death of her mother, the book documents her personal journey and was published in 2012. This paper attempts, through an examination of events, occurrences and reasoning as reported by the author, to clarify feminist perspective in the novel.
Bobbie died of lung cancer at the age of 22 Cheryl’s mother. In destroying their fragile families, this occurrence played a key role. After the passing of the family’s matriarch the family becomes dysfunctional, Eddie who is Cheryl stepfather, disengages from the family and acts like a stranger to Cheryl. Her siblings Karen and Leif as remain distant. This loss and family turmoil drives Cheryl in an abyss of substance abuse and sexual promiscuity, leading to her ending his marriage to Paul.
It is at the this low moment that Cheryl embarks on a path of self-discovery, she takes up on a journey from Mojave Desert through California, Oregon into Washington a distance of 1,100 miles. On this journey, she encounters multiple scenarios that amplify her feminist perspective as well as reflect on past events that have influenced her present situation. On completion of her journey she is completely transformed from a distraught and troubled self to a more wholesome complete individual, echoing the title, “From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail “.
Barbara (Bobbie), Cheryl’s mother gets married at an early age to an abusive man. She is able to put an end to her abusive relationship and divorces her first husband. This events deprive Barbara freedom of being a role model of portraying independence and pride. Strayed and her siblings grow up with a skewed relationship about marriage. The children grow up with a perception of male dominance and oppression, hence propagating a sense of inferiority among women. However, Bobbie is able to break herself out of the misery of abuse and oppression by divorcing her husband.
After parting with his first husband, she takes on the role of raising her children by herself. She provides for the food, shelter, clothing and education even without a man on her own. This may serve to ridicule her own stance to stick in an abusive relationship. Even after meeting her second husband Eddie she still remains the sole breadwinner of the family. This event serves to show that some of the insecurities that women have about themselves are untrue and should be discouraged. Nonetheless, single parenting is not walk in the park for the mother of three, it is marred with significant hardships and challenges, which he all overcomes. This goes ahead to portray women as strong, powerful humans.
On her journey, Cheryl encounters so many people who are startled that a woman is hiking alone. “so impressed that a woman is doing this hike alone”. (233). However, encouraging and well-meaning this comment is, it reeks off a generational stereotype. Beings impressed by someone achievement only because they are women propagates the notion that some tasks are only meant for men and therefore any woman perfuming them strikes as an oddity. Given that she only encounters only one female hiker, it is evident that hiking through the Pacific Crest Trail is predominantly perceived to be a “a man’s job”.
As if on cue she takes on this difficult challenge. Her narration at the beginning serves to highlight the enormity of her decision, “There was the flip decision to do it, then the second more serious decision to actually do it, and then the long third beginning”. (9) this journey takes a massive physical, emotional and psychological toll on her. The events thereon prove to be a demonstration of confidence, motivation, steel and stamina for women to reinvent and discovers themselves against seemingly insurmountable barriers.
Through the trail Cheryl exposes a subtle scepticism and uneasiness towards men who offer her rides to her next destination. This presents a sobering and startling indicator that men cannot be entirely trusted in instances with significant vulnerabilities. This scepticism is however masked as Cheryl maintains an ambience and cordial relationship with both men and women throughout the trip. Remarkably, she strikes a rapport with the one female hiker she encounters. She however notes that in their ordinary world they could never have been friend given the differences in their personality and characters. This incident serves to show that women can come together and confront their challenges increasing their chances of success.
The issue of women objectification is also not lost to the reader. One excerpt in the story clearly depicts this disturbing occurrence. While sitting by a pond, two hunters come along and they speak amicably as she helps them with their water. After parting ways with the two, one of them pretends to have left only to hid in a nearby thicket and ogle at her as she undresses. He later appears from the bush and purports to compliment her body.
“‘I’m talking about liking your pants,’ the man said with a touch of irritation. ‘They look good on you. They show off your hips and legs.’ (…) ‘I’m complimenting you! Can’t a guy give a girl a compliment anymore? You should be flattered.’” Strayed p. 287 (2012).
Clearly this excerpts permeates pervasion and outright objectification of women bodies. The hiker does not even know Cheryl but goes ahead to express unsolicited compliments.
Throughout the trail, Cheryl comes across a lot of people who are extremely kind to her. She is treated like a toddler lost in the streets. In one instance she is invited to by a male for dinner and to take a shower. While these might appear like ordinary gestures of kindness, the man utters world that expose the gestures’ underbelly. He says, “It’s one thing to be a woman crazy enough to do what you’re doing. Another thing be a man letting his own wife go off and do this.” Proving that the invitation was only courtesy of her gender thus demonstrating infantilization and objectification. This various scenario serves to show that women are mostly appreciated not for their intelligence, character or personality but for their sexuality. Cheryl is however able to shrug off every objectification and sojourn further, shedding off her insecurities and gaining insightful perspective.
On completion of a journey Cheryl encapsulate courage, bravery, freedom and independence. All this happens despite the unwelcome burden of disrespectful and domineering patriarchal stereotypes. Strayed is very clear:
“I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me.” Strayed, (2012)
This excerpt encapsulates an admirable feminine spirit, Cheryl grasps from her journey. Instead of succumbing to repressive stereotypes, she sheds off her initial fear and soars over all the obstacles that hampered her in the past. This memoir stirs other young feminists to pursue their literal and metaphorical expeditions to advancement by overcoming domination, oppression, and objectification. She is truly a stronger, wild and free woman.
Finally, from the explication above it is evident that Cheryl Strayed adopts a feminist perspective in her tone and narration of her memoirs, wild. Her glowing assessment of her triumphant sojourn serves to encapsulate the embodiment of feminism and self-discovery.
Strayed Cheryl. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. Knopf, 2012.
Kachka, Boris. Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections and Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club.
The Slate Book Review. N.p., Aug. 2013.