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Self-transformation and self-reflection are critical parts of heroic journeys in literature. Often, heroes fail to succeed, but their experiences provide philosophical insights into the essence of personal reflection journeys. In this paper, I explore “Wild,” a hiking memoir of Cheryl Strayed, as she embarks on a 1,100-mile journey through the Pacific Crest trail “to save herself.”
This paper explores the underlying thoughts behind personal journeys because it undermines the idea that Cheryl Strayed pursues the attainment of goals in her narration, Wild. Instead, this paper shows that Cheryl Strayed focuses on the process that leads to the goal of her journey, even when she cannot attain the goal.
Essentially, this paper demonstrates that quest literature (“Wild”) mainly focuses on transformation, as opposed to evaluating how the hero meets or fails to meet her goal. Therefore, this paper suggests that the end of the road is not important in quest literature; instead, people should focus on how the subject transforms throughout the journey.
Cheryl’s adventure throughout her journey is gripping, not because of its adventurous nature, but because of Cheryl’s ability to relate its details with her journey. Through this journey, Cheryl strives to understand herself and the predicaments in her life.
Faced with the emotional torment of her mother’s death, her stepfather’s demise, her heroin addiction, and her failed marriage, it is difficult to ignore the emotional journey that Cheryl experiences. This journey could easily contrast with her physical experiences with rattlesnakes, black bears, and adverse weather conditions that symbolize the emotional turmoil that she experiences in her emotional journey.
Emphasis on Transformation
Cheryl’s focus on the beauty and loneliness of her journey, through the desert and the mountains, overshadow her quest to reach her destination because the main message in her narration focuses on her experiences, as opposed to how she will reach her destination, or not.
Certainly, Cheryl aims to tell her experiences throughout the journey, as opposed to how she will reach her destination. Indeed, she focuses on describing how she suffered countless bruises, how she repeatedly affirmed to herself that she was fearless, how she overcame the harsh physical conditions of her journey, and how she would accept her grief. For example, she says that whenever she heard a branch break outside her tent, she had to shout that she was fearless.
Cheryl’s relationship with her mother (before her mother’s death) also symbolically shows the emphasis on transformation, as opposed to the end of the journey (her mother’s death). Cheryl does not hesitate to explain how her mother affirmed to her children that she would always be with them (she made most of these affirmations, as she grew sicker).
Cheryl’s thoughts regarding those moments made her stronger in her journey because she understood that her mother was always with her. In fact, throughout her lonely journey, Cheryl’s mother stood out as her only “companion.” Cheryl carefully narrates how her mother’s love proved to be a key mental pillar in her journey because, in her words, it was not the loss of her mother, but rather, the love she had for her mother that was the most important factor in her journey.
Also, concerning her experiences with her family and the disappearance of her stepfather, Cheryl says it was not the rebellion or the abandonment, she had suffered that mattered; instead, the loss of love bothered her.
Her narration clearly shows that the goal (demise of her stepfather and the death of her mother) did not matter in her self-transformative journey because the emotional journey and the loss of attachment she shared with her parents were more saddening for her. Somewhat, Cheryl tries to show that the end is not an important goal in her journey. Instead, the love (or the lack of it) was more important in her transformative journey.
Cheryl’s transformative journey also symbolizes that the end of the road is not important because it does not provide the healing that she desperately needed. Her admission that she lacked all the answers to her problems and questions is also an open acknowledgment that the end is not defined, or important, in her journey. Instead, she focuses on what makes her survive and how it is possible to “find” her inner strength when she has lost the will to live.
Through this analysis, Cheryl bears more emphasis on how she can cope with grief and how she will repair the “hole” in her heart. Here, it is crucial to mention that Cheryl considers these goals as the most important issues in her journey. Strategically, she fails to wonder if she is going to make it to her destination, or if she will live to see another day.
Lastly, in my view, Cheryl’s journey resembles many spiritual journeys that often involve people unplugging themselves from their ordinary lives to live in foreign lands or isolate themselves from modernity. Similar comparisons of personal journeys include the journey made in Elizabeth Gilbert’s film, “eat, pray, love.” Through this comparison, it is plausible to say that Cheryl’s memoir is a spiritual journey that does not aim to communicate with God, but the universe.
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The mere fact that her journey is spiritual shows that the emphasis of her narration is on healing herself, as opposed to reaching a destination (as is common in physical journeys). Therefore, spiritual journeys differ from physical journeys because spiritual journeys do not emphasize on the destination (end of the road). Cheryl’s experience is, therefore, a powerful transformative journey that teaches us the value of “finding ourselves” so that we can continue the journey of life.
Self-transformation is at the center of this analysis. This paper shows that Cheryl’s focus throughout her whole journey centers on how she lives and accepts her circumstance, as opposed to if she will make it through the desert, or reach her destination altogether. Therefore, throughout this analysis, this paper shows that the ultimate focus of quest literature is in the journey and not at the end of the road.
Indeed, through this lens of analysis, we can see how Cheryl, a young woman, transforms herself through solitude and physical difficulties to become a force to reckon with in the world of literature (even as she fails to provide all the answers needed in her journey). Even when she reaches her poetic destination, “Bridge of the Gods,” Cheryl still reminds us that her most important concern is not her arrival at this destination, but her trust that whatever she had done throughout her journey is true (emphasis on the process).