At the start of the year-long journey Gilbert memorializes in Eat, Pray, Love, she is physically and emotionally broken. She herself describes her condition as pathetic. The reader watches her heal, grow, and change as the months pass by. In Italy she regains some of her buoyant personality, as evidenced by her new friendships and lust for food. She gradually lets worry seep out of her as she learns to enjoy doing little but giving herself pleasure. When she arrives in India, Gilbert is once again physically healthy and strong. She is ready for a physically demanding job at the ashram, but it takes her months to build up her internal strength to match. Arriving in Bali, Gilbert has both good physical health and inner peace; now she just needs to learn how to maintain those gifts by living a balanced life. When love enters the equation and does not throw her off balance, as it always has before, Gilbert seems assured of a healthier future life.
Ketut Liyer resisted becoming a healer as a young man, but when he saw the value of the calling and understood his predestined role as a medicine man, he fully embraced it. He works hard every day to help the people who come to him with life's burdens. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of all aspects of traditional healing arts, and he sees it as his duty to use his knowledge to make people's lives better. He longs to work as an artist, and he regrets not having seen more of the world, but he is content with his life. He is grateful for Gilbert's companionship and her help in experiencing the outside world.
Although David is not physically present in Gilbert's memoir, he is there in her memories, and he is hugely present in her mind for months of her trip. She obsesses over their relationship and repeatedly engages in "what if" thinking about possibly getting back together with him. She admits she still loves him, but knows her love is not a healthy one. When Gilbert sends an email to David suggesting they break up once and for all, he agrees. His reply is balanced and gentle, yet it distresses her for a long while. Even in India, when she starts to spin out of balance, her thoughts go to David. Gilbert probably loved David deeply, but she was also in love with love.
Richard's rough, gruff exterior contrasts with his solid-gold heart. He has a clear-eyed view of the world, born from plenty of experience, and he is able to give Gilbert practical advice in intense situations. Richard refuses to let Gilbert off the hook when her resolve to become more whole weakens. He bluntly states his opinions about what he observes her doing, and because she trusts him so much, she benefits greatly.
Felipe is a mature, emotionally stable, sophisticated man who has been wounded in love but has not lost his faith in it. In short, as Gilbert puts it, Felipe is a grown-up man. He is the perfect lover for Gilbert as she regains her trust in herself and in her ability to be with a man since he is able to be deeply committed and honest with her. He wants nothing more from her than her "permission to adore" her for as long as she wants it.
Wayan is a complex character, but much of her complexity reflects a uniquely Balinese perspective on life. Although she is not a typical Balinese woman, Wayan still behaves in ways that are mysterious to Gilbert, especially when it comes to her attempts to "get all she can" from Gilbert monetarily. Yet Wayan's heart and capacity for love are huge. Her compassion leads her to take in orphans when she can barely feed herself and her daughter, Tutti. Her gifts of healing are truly amazing—a fact she recognizes and is determined to share with the world.
In many ways, Luca Spaghetti represents the modern Italian man. He is traditional—for example, staying close to his mother, following the soccer team his family has always followed, and understanding the intricacies of Italian government and business. Yet he is also a kind, gentle, modern young man who treats women properly, befriends Gilbert with true compassion, and enjoys learning about the larger world outside of Italy.