Palos Verdes Peninsula High School

The academic adventure: Comparing ‘Wild’ and ‘Heart of Darkness’

Reading is a universally magical experience, and my favorite facet of that adventure is comparing seemingly dissimilar books. Pairing up unlikely duos of fiction and fact, drama and satire, I feel like a masterful prose pastry chef. Mixing and matching works of literature, I savor seeing how their messages, tones, or syntax coincide.

My latest recipe is particularly appealing considering I matched two of my required summer reading books: “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed (AP Language) and “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad (AP Lit). The former is a female perspective memoir set in modern day U.S.; the latter is a dense piece of fiction taking place in late 19th century Europe and Africa. While the exterior of these books would disagree, the content and heart behind each work shares an overriding tone. Adventure, acceptance, and a stronger sense of self dominate both Strayed and Conrad’s stories.

Wild’s touchingly personal spin on Strayed’s arduous journey across the Pacific Crest Trail makes for an enjoyable read. The tagline for the book, and now major motion picture, is, “from lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail.” An original and inspiring motto, Strayed’s non-fiction masterpiece is just that. “Wild” focuses on Strayed’s life before and after her adventure. It does an excellent job of developing her key relationships in tandem with her self-growth. Whether she bonds with a significant other, family member, her own self confidence, or a seemingly minute childhood pet, “Wild” thoughtfully articulates how experiences change the physical and emotional profile of an individual.

Conrad’s powerful fictional prose in “Heart of Darkness” follows the tale of a group of men riding down the Thames River. Marlow, the protagonist of the novel, uses this opportunity to share his experience on the African Congo, highlighting the colossal horrors and self-questioning of the journey. Through his quest, he learns a great deal about the interworking of society and himself. He is challenged by the reality of power—how we gain, abuse, steal and ultimately lose it. While the Congo trip is physically altering, it is truly the mindset of Marlow that suffers and metamorphoses the most.

If “Heart of Darkness” had a tagline, it would not be dissimilar to that of “Wild”. Simply, if “Wild” is “from lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trial,” “Heart of Darkness” is “from found to lost on the African Congo.” While Cheryl hikes the PCT in efforts to find peace, Marlow’s journey breaks down his serenity and strength. Nonetheless, both works are extreme tales of adventure, both in the literal and mental sense. The almost insurmountable routes of the PCT and African Congo make for equally unbelievable changes in character. The next time you’re feeling venturesome, I highly recommend delving into these stories. Fiction and fact, insidious and inspiring, you might be surprised at the perplexity with which these pieces simultaneously attract and repeal each other. May it encourage you to investigate your own dynamic literary duos.