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The Vaster Wilds: Summary and Ending Explained

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Note: the following discussion guide contains spoilers, as well as references to critical plot points and the conclusion of The Vaster Wilds by Lauren Groff.

The Vaster Wilds, written by Lauren Groff, and published in 2023, is a historical fiction novel which takes us back to the early 1600s, telling the story of a young servant girl fleeing Jamestown’s harsh winter of hunger and sickness.

Her goal is the French settlements up north, but her journey is full of challenges – from natural dangers to encounters with other people. Along her solo adventure, she reflects on her experiences, dreams, and visions, shaping her own way of thinking about the imperial society she’s leaving and the colonial communities she’s escaping.

The Vaster Wilds by Lauren Groff

The novel discusses developmental disabilities using the language of the 1600s. It dives into the harsh realities of colonialism, exploring the personal and environmental tragedies caused by settlers. The story doesn’t shy away from portraying racist attitudes towards Indigenous people and highlights the human toll of colonialism on these communities.

In this guide we will go through the complete summary and ending explanation for The Vaster Wilds by Lauren Groff. Enjoy! ✨

Summary | Ending Explained | Book Club Questions

The Vaster Wilds Summary

The story starts with a young servant girl escaping from the Jamestown settlement during a harsh winter night due to dire conditions like disease and starvation. She aims to reach the French settlements in Quebec for a better chance at survival.

Despite being determined and resourceful, her lack of knowledge about the land poses challenges. Enduring injuries and hardships, she relies on her perseverance, faith in God, and love for nature.

The journey is marked by constant struggles for food, with her resorting to risky actions like stealing honey from beehives or fishing in frozen rivers. Survival is uncertain, and encounters with bears and wolves fuel her fear of the unknown. Night terrors haunt her, and past traumatic experiences, including abuse and mistreatment, resurface through flashbacks.

As she recalls her life from the poorhouse in England to her time in Jamestown, where she was dehumanized and treated poorly, she shares contrasting memories of companionship with a Dutch glassblower and sailor. However, tragedy struck, and now she imagines them as imaginary companions in her daydreams of colonial success. These fantasies fade as she becomes more aware of her challenging reality.

As the girl’s body finally gives in, it’s not due to wilderness challenges but smallpox brought from England. Struggling with the disease, her strength wanes, and in her feverish state, she loses faith in the God that had sustained her.

Feeling abandoned after numerous pleas for deliverance, she envisions an alternate life where she heals and lives alone in the woods for years. Upon reflection, she realizes that true fulfillment requires both an appreciation of nature’s beauty and human companionship.

Facing death, she embraces it, feeling a new connection to nature in the void where God once resided. After her passing, an oak tree grows through her ribcage.

The Vaster Wilds Ending Explained

So, what happens at the end of The Vaster Wilds?

In the final chapters of The Vaster Wilds, death becomes a prominent theme, taking center stage in the story. Despite the girl’s determined efforts to survive, her journey ultimately leads to this inevitable outcome. Stripped of her motivation for survival, she reflects on her experiences.

Just as she had no control over coming to the colony, she realizes she can’t prevent her imminent death. This inevitability prompts her to contemplate the world she has known. As she lies in the forest, awaiting death, she transcends cultural limitations and develops a philosophical outlook on the true nature of the world.

Despite losing faith through pain and trials, her newfound insight allows her to accept things she struggled to understand before. Her fear of Indigenous people diminishes, and she regrets avoiding their villages, contemplating the potential for a different life among them.

Confronted with the certainty of her impending death, she experiences grief and anger at herself for prioritizing fear of others over fear of the wild. Despite this, she feels relief that she did not infect them with her illness. In the midst of pondering the mysteries of the universe and anticipating her last breath, she finds the courage to face the unknown and accepts her imminent death with calm and grace.

In these final moments, the girl fully embraces an interconnectedness that she had sporadically experienced throughout her journey. While traveling and scavenging for survival, she recognized the impact of her actions on the world, acknowledging the necessity of killing animals for sustenance. She also contemplated ideas of metamorphosis as a way to continue existence after death, considering scenarios like being eaten by a fish or transforming into a tree.

The loss of her faith enables a deeper understanding of these beliefs, integrating them into the space once occupied by God. This exploration of the metaphysical is evident in her dying vision of her “second self.”

Unlike her earlier dreams of escaping reality by finding a husband and achieving wealth, her final dream envisions a life connected to the natural world.

Moving beyond the societal values that limited her, her death becomes the gateway to reentering this community fully. Her flesh and bones merge with the forest, allowing her to become part of the cycle shared by all living beings.

How did you like the ending of the novel? Happy reading! ❤️

Christine Regan

Friday 22nd of March 2024

Meant close contact to humans.

Christine Regan

Friday 22nd of March 2024

How did she get smallpox? From what I read it is closer contact to a human..


Friday 22nd of March 2024

Hey Christine, great question. As far as I know, girl succumbed to smallpox thanks to being in close contact with the colonists that carried it with them. It wasn't anything she encountered in the wilderness.