The central theme which runs through all of A Walk in the Woods is the difference between two quite separate worlds: the civilized world of home and the wild world of the untamed wilderness. Bryson is constantly amazed at the ease with which one passes into the latter and the difficulty of returning to the former. America, he points out, is still full of vast woods in which an individual can be lost or killed. When Bryson leaves the tame confines of civilization, he experiences the psychological states which are part of life in the wild. These states become the important themes of his story.
Fear is the first psychological reaction to the woods considered by Bryson. He observes early in his narrative that "woods are spooky. Quite apart from the thought that they may harbor wild beasts and armed, genetically challenged fellows named Zeke and Festus, there is something innately sinister about them, some ineffable thing that makes you sense an atmosphere of pregnant doom."
Putting aside Bryson's derision toward the working poor who live near the trail, he has a point about the danger of hiking alone in the woods. Throughout the story he tells tales of bear attacks and hikers who succumbed to hypothermia. Both, he asserts, are real risks even to day hikers. The former, though a rather rare occurrence, is one hikers are generally somewhat powerless to protect themselves from. As a result, Bryson notes, one becomes a constantly coiled spring in the wilderness, always attuned to the...
(The entire section is 615 words.)