Eat, Pray, Love | Study Guide

Elizabeth Gilbert

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Eat, Pray, Love | Introduction | Summary



In "Introduction, or How This Book Works, or The 109th Bead," Elizabeth Gilbert introduces the readers of Eat, Pray, Love to the prayer beads used by Hindus and Buddhists to help them stay focused during meditation. These strings of beads are known as japa malas. Traditionally, a japa mala has 108 beads, considered a perfect number because it is a three-digit multiple of three and its digits add up to nine, which is also three threes.

Gilbert explains that she has organized her memoir like a japa mala, with 108 small tales divided into three equal books of 36. She is especially pleased with this because she writes her memoir during her 36th year.

She then explains there is one extra bead on a japa mala. This 109th bead is strung so that it dangles outside of the others. When the person praying reaches this bead with his or her fingers (the beads are touched in order every time his or her mantra—words repeated to maintain concentration during meditation—is said), he or she should give thanks to his or her teachers. Gilbert uses this introduction as her 109th bead, offering thanks to all who have helped her on her journey, especially her guru. She explains that she does not call anyone in her memoir she met at the ashram by his or her real name, with the exception of Richard. She asked him if she could use his real name because he was so important to her there, and he agreed.


Gilbert gives the introduction two subtitles, "How This Book Works" or "The 109th Bead." They serve as an early indication of her desire to be clear in her writing. Her style is accessible to a wide range of readers, and she wants to explain herself on what are sometimes difficult and complex issues as clearly as possible to them. This open writing style has helped this book, and nearly all her books, become best sellers.

The introduction also places this work and the year she spends writing it in a specific context. Gilbert is on a spiritual quest, with India literally and figuratively at the center of it. Since she finds balance along the journey, she designs her book to be whole and balanced, too. She says she loves the structure that her organization provides since it reflects her process: "Sincere spiritual investigation is, and always has been, an endeavor of methodical discipline." Her commitment to keeping the names of her fellow spiritual seekers confidential so they aren't reduced to "a character in a book" shows her deep respect for the seriousness of their pursuits.

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