Wild by Cheryl Strayed Reading Group Guide
Dive into the first pick for Oprah's Book Club 2.0 with 17 in-depth questions about Cheryl Strayed's astonishing memoir.
Oprah.com | Jun 01, 2012
When Cheryl discovers the guidebook to the Pacific Crest Trail, she says that the trip "was an idea, vague and outlandish, full of promise and mystery." Later, her soon-to-be ex-husband suggests she wants to do the hike "to be alone." What do you think her reasons were for committing to this journey?
In the beginning of the book, Cheryl's prayers are literally curse words—curses for her mother's dying, curses against her mother for failing. How does her spiritual life change during the course of the book?
Cheryl's pack, also known as Monster, is one of those real-life objects that also makes a perfect literary metaphor: Cheryl has too much carry on her back and in her mind. Are there other objects she takes with her or acquires along the way that take on deeper meanings? How so?
"The thing about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail...was how few choices I had and how often I had to do the thing I least wanted to do," writes Cheryl. "How there was no escape or denial." In what ways have her choices helped and/or hurt her up to this point?
"Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves," Cheryl writes her first day on the trail. She is speaking about her fear of rattlesnakes and mountain lions and serial killers. To defeat that fear, she tells herself a new story, the story that she is brave and safe. What do you think about this approach, which she herself calls "mind control"? What are some of her other ways of overcoming fear?
At one point, Cheryl tells herself, "I was not meant to be this way, to live this way, to fail so darkly." It’s a moment of self-criticism and despair. And yet, some belief in herself exists in that statement. How do the things Cheryl believes about herself throughout the memoir, even during her lowest moments, help or hurt her on the PCT?
Walking on the trail during the first few weeks, Cheryl writes, "My mind was a crystal vase that contained only one desire. My body was its opposite: a bag of broken glass." Through the book she talks about the blisters, the dehydration, the exhaustion, and the hunger. How—and why—did this physical suffering help her cope with her emotional pain?
Once deep in the wilderness, Cheryl feels something she describes as "radical aloneness." What does she mean by this, and how did her surroundings and situation amplify this feeling?
Think about the things—both physical and mental—Cheryl discards along the trail. What are they? How do they change her when they get left behind?
Cheryl writes that her old approach to meeting people, especially men, was to present the "least true version of me." How does she change this approach on the PCT?
What does the death of Lady mean for Cheryl? What did that horse represent to her and to her mother—and to the rest of their family?
Why might Cheryl have identified the fox she sees on the trail as her mother?
Why is it so crucial that, after extolling her mother throughout the book, Cheryl lists her mother’s faults and failures?
The geographical terrain Cheryl crosses plays such a large part in the memoir. Crater Lake for example, is described as powerful, as if it "would always be here, absorbing every color of visible light but blue." How do her descriptions of the physical landscape create a spiritual or emotional landscape for her readers?
Cheryl’s fellow hikers play a large role in her experience on PCT. How do you think they contribute to her grieving and healing process? In what ways, beyond providing practical aid, did they enable her to finish her hike?
In which moments do you feel that Cheryl has stopped resisting the loss of her mother’s death? Where has she found some release?
Wild is a journey book. It moves around in time, but it starts in one place and ends in another. At the very end, the story jumps forward to describe what Cheryl doesn’t know yet, what she will find out beyond the wilderness, then concludes with her saying, "It was enough to trust that what I’d done was true." What kind of understanding has she come to by the last line of the book, "How wild it was, to let it be"?