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The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit
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The Stranger in the Woods > Solitary Confinement

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message 1: by SCPL (last edited Aug 16, 2018 10:24AM) (new) - added it

SCPL (st_catharines_public_library) | 542 comments Mod
Hello everyone!

I hope you’ve all had a chance to start reading the book. I’m looking forward to hearing everyone’s thoughts!

This post is all about being alone and loneliness. In prisons, solitary confinement for more than 15 days is considered to be a cruel and inhuman punishment. Finkel points out that after 10 days in solitary confinement, “many prisoners display clear signs of mental harm, and one study showed that a third will eventually develop active psychosis” (p. 136).

Yet Knight chose solitary confinement not for 10 or 15 days but for 27 years! How was he able to not only survive but thrive in his chosen environment?

Are certain people better suited to being alone and handling loneliness? Knight claims that he was never once bored while alone in the woods.

Why do you think Knight chose to leave society for a life of isolation in the woods of Maine?

Knight’s decision to stop living at his campsite wasn’t really his decision at all. He was caught stealing food from the Pine Tree summer camp. If he wasn’t caught stealing food, do you think Knight would have lived the remainder of his life in the woods?

More broadly, Finkel delves into a very interesting discussion on what it means to be alone. Our society is set up to almost avoid loneliness and being alone at all costs – we are connected more than ever through technology and social media. However, even with people all around us, even with our closest friends and family, we can still be viewed as being alone. I’m not really talking about the idea of feeling alone in a crowd. I’m more referring to everyone’s inner monologue that is ours alone and nobody can truly know us like we know ourselves. Not to get too grim, but even when surrounded by loved ones, “we journey into death completely alone” (p. 189). Finkel provides a powerful quote from Rainer Maria Rilke that “ultimately, and precisely in the deepest and most important matters, we are unspeakably alone” (p. 190).

With this view in mind, was Knight’s decision to leave society really all that strange or unusual?


Heidi Madden | 118 comments I think the biggest difference between Knight and people in solitary confinement is that he CHOSE to be alone and he had the option to go back and rejoin society whenever he wanted to. He just chose not to. Daily. For 27 freaking years. And yes, if he hadn’t been caught he probably would still be out there.

Why did he chose it? Only he really knows. Maybe he has some sort of diagnosable condition. Maybe not. I think initially it was just a way to get away from it all but then it turned into a game and then into just the way he lived. I get the feeling he chose daily to avoid human contact but that turned into 27 years of avoiding it. I doubt he intended to live his entire life in the woods, it seems like it just happened. One day after the other which actually is how most of us live our lives anyway.

I completely agree that our society is set up for us to avoid loneliness or being alone at all costs. I am a very social person but I also need my alone time. Many, many, many people can’t fathom how I can be happy as a single person that lives alone but the thing is I actually have a way busier social life than people who DO live with other people. It’s kind of weird. I like to think I just have more quality interactions with people I chose to be with than people who just happen to inhabit the same space as people they are married or related to.

I really like this quote: "We are born alone and die alone. In between we have all kinds of relationships, but still there are places in life to which we must go absolutely alone. Your friend can drive you to the dentist, sit in the waiting room, even buy you a milkshake afterward, but you have to sit in the chair all alone." - Judy Ford

Knight just chose to be more completely alone than most of us do.

message 3: by SCPL (new) - added it

SCPL (st_catharines_public_library) | 542 comments Mod
Yes, the distinction between voluntary and involuntary solitary confinement cannot be understated.

I agree that Knight would have preferred to live and die in the woods rather than be discovered and return to society.

That's a good point about the decision to leave society snowballing from a week, to a month, to a year, etc. He clearly didn't put much planning or forethought into his decision. In the book we are told that he went on a road trip, drove back to Maine, and then simply parked his car, put the keys in the console, and walked into the woods...for 27 years!

I am definitely more of an introvert. Even as a child, I was more than content to be alone in my own little world using my imagination. I enjoy being around people but I can find it draining. I'm the type of person who needs quiet time to myself to re-charge but not indefinitely!

That's a great quote. Your friends and family can be there with you, support you as best they can, but ultimately, we each have to walk through life alone with our decisions and experiences. Some people may find this idea frightening but others may find it humbling. It almost makes me feel more connected to others even though it's a quote about how we're all really alone. Like we are united in being alone as a universal truth.


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