The use of rhetorical strategies in Wild by Cheryl Strayed’s allows the reader to understand more about Strayed’s thoughts through her adventure. At the young age of 22, she was devastated by her mother’s death of lung cancer at 45.
Her stepfather faded away from her life, and her siblings became remote. Once Strayed started using heroin, and cheating on her husband, they divorced, and her life became empty, lonely, and unbearable. At the age of 26, four years after her mother’s death, with no prior backpacking experience, she goes on a 1,100-mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, alone. She began in the Mojave desert in California and ended her 94-day journey at the Bridge of the Gods at the Oregon-Washington border. The people she meets and the skills she learns allow her to complete this feat of a hike. This memoir would not have been as descriptive and insightful without the rhetorical devices such as irony, imagery, and the symbols used in the book. The infinitive examples of irony used in her memoir provide a much needed comedic relief to the hardships she endures.
The amount of weight in her backpack brought some other hikers to call it “Monster” (209). All of the gear she bought during endless trips to REI in the months previous to her trip made her feel as if she was a backpacking expert although she had never been hiking in her life. Her backpack is too heavy to carry, and many times she wants to give up and quit, but she went on the hike to change herself, yet she still declares that this one backpack is too hard for her to carry, especially when people continued to ask her if she “was really carrying that the whole way” (88). The irony of the prologue shows how impromptu her decision was to go on this hike when one of her boots begins to be “catapulting into the air when my Strayed enormous pack toppled onto it, then skittering across the gravely trail and flying over the edge” (3).
Another ironic piece of the plot is when she is told by a man she meets that she will not need her ice pick when in the next chapter, she has to hitchhike around a section of the trail that has been frozen over. These small inconsistencies in her plan provide a look into how unpredictable her life had been leading up to the hike. The irony in Wild uncovers some of the true meanings and feelings Strayed experiences.
The descriptions of the sites, people, and experiences she has allows the reader to further understand how she feels. The visuals she illustrates of her mother are full on sadness and mourning. Cheryl can see “her naked back, the small curve of fresh beneath her waist” (8). The imagery of Barbara’s (her mother’s) back gives an impression of hope that she is healthy and this disease is just a nightmare and is not really happening. Once she starts her hike, she comes across a trail register, She finds “a notebook and pen inside.” She reads all of “the names and notes from the hikers,” who are also hiking around the same time and area as she is. Most of them are “men traveling in pairs, not one of them a woman alone.” (51).
This gives her the idea that she could be the only female on the trail. She becomes upset because she doesn’t want to be the only woman, but she goes along after a short hesitation. The words she uses to describe her food, including the graphic word “mush,” show how desperate she is to complete the hike (25). The disgusting food gives the impression that Cheryl forces herself to eat in order to stay healthy and have some substances in her. Lastly, the descriptions such as,”those boots had blistered my feet and rubbed them raw; they’d caused my nails to blacken and detach themselves excruciatingly from four of my toes” allow the reader to fully understand the hardships her body had to undergo for her mind to be stable (120). Strayed provides the imagery needed when writing a book about the outdoors which keep the readers intrigued and interested through her intricate details about what she saw. The symbolism and motifs she included in her memoir show more of her inner thoughts. The excess amount of weight in her bag could symbolize that there has been too much guilt and sadness held in her over the past four years, and when she decifers through what she needs and what she doesn’t, she is taking a step towards having only what she needs, and her hesitation to do so symbolizes her fear of letting go of her horrific past life.
When her boot falls off the trail, she realizes that they were just an “inanimate object … that I Strayed could rely upon, a thing that got me through” (6). The drugs she used in her old life symbolize and are personified into her dependence on people and death. Water is personified into her life and salvation. On the trail, water is scarce and hard for her to find.
The fox she finds in the snow, she says to it “Fox”; the fox walks away and she calls back to it, then she shouts “MOM! MOM! MOM!” (144). This fox isn’t just an animal to Strayed, it is something that represents what she has lost, and she felt as if there was a presence of her mother in the forest with her. The overall rhetorical devices she utilized in the process of writing her memoir allow the reader to completely grasp what was going on in her mind. Without them, the memoir would just be an emotionless group of words telling how a woman hiked 1,100 miles. The illustrations Strayed creates with her philosophical diction and honest tone relay positive messages to the reader that this will end well for Cheryl’s body and mind. Cheryl Strayed provided this book with the ideal amount of rhetorical devices that gave the readers a leeway into her thoughts and feeling about the hardships she had to endure to overcome some distress she faced in her life.