Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Journey of Home in Eat Pray Love

Upon rereading Eat Pray Love, I once again found Elizabeth Gilbert’s writing to be extremely witty, funny, and relatable. What I found interesting about this, as I further considered the book, is that I think that her story is not just inherently easy for others to relate to (although I think that the quest for self-fulfillment and happiness tends to be one we all understand) but that she utilizes humor in order to further demonstrate the accessibility of her journey. From the very first page, she brings the reader into her story and reminds us of our shared humanity by allowing us to laugh along with her. She writes, “I have decided to spend this entire year in celibacy. To which the savvy observer might inquire: ‘Then why did you come to Italy?’ To which I can only reply—especially when looking across the table at handsome Giovanni—‘Excellent question’” (7). Gilbert is not the girl with all the answers, and she certainly isn’t afraid to poke fun at herself about it. But even while we laugh, doesn’t that also force us, as readers, to consider whether we have all the answers either, even concerning our own lives? And if we really consider that question, don’t we find the answer to be a resounding ‘no!’?

Eat Pray Love, then, is not a book of answers so much as a book of questions, and in that way it echoes life’s journey in an interesting way. There is heartbreak, there is confusion, there is depression, and there is also (wait for it) change. Life is change, the journey and not the destination and, therefore, the questions more than the answers. We are always seeking, exploring, and changing ourselves, for better or for worse. Gilbert structures her novel to show her search for pleasure, devotion to God, and a balance between the two, but one gets the sense that even though she has gained happiness and a sense of peace by the book’s conclusion, this is still just one part of the journey and Gilbert will still be constantly moving toward the attainment and maintenance of that inner peace. She even shares, at the novels beginning, the idea for the structure of the book. The 108 chapters echo the 108 beads on an Indian prayer necklace, which is prayed continuously. Gilbert doesn't explicitly state the connection that I see between the continuous praying of the necklace and her book. The 108th bead is not truly the end but is only the end of one cycle and the beginning of another. I certainly don’t mean to say that it seems as if Gilbert’s life will turn in any way back towards the depression and heartbreak through which she suffers at the story’s start. But the idea of the prayer beads seems to be an indication of the continuity of life and life’s constant journey towards home. There is no end on the journey for self-fulfillment and happiness. As Gilbert points out, “Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it” (260). I don’t think that this is a bad thing at all, since the journey can be just as fun as the destination, and, in this case, the journey really is the destination. In journeying toward happiness and making the effort to fulfill her soul, Gilbert is at home. Happiness and home are both found in the journey.

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