Eat, Pray, Love | Study Guide

Elizabeth Gilbert

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Eat, Pray, Love | Summary

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Book 1: Italy

As Eat, Pray, Love opens, it is the middle of November and Elizabeth Gilbert is in Rome. She is spending the first third of a year abroad in Italy, intent on mastering the Italian language. She has made several friends; one of them is her "Tandem Exchange Partner," young and handsome Giovanni. They meet a few nights a week to practice each other's language, conversing first in Italian and then in English. After several weeks Gilbert has developed a crush on him and wishes he would kiss her. At the same time she knows she must not give in to her attraction to him because she is recovering from a double case of heartbreak and has declared herself celibate for the year. She gives thanks for resisting, praying on her knees. The moment takes her back three years to the time when she first admitted to herself, kneeling on her bathroom floor in New York in the middle of the night and sobbing, "I don't want to be married anymore." Gilbert sees the night as the beginning of "this entire story," her memoir.

She was 31 then, had been married for six years, and was at the point in life where she had always assumed she would want to have a baby. She realized, however, she didn't want to—even though she and her husband had been trying for months. She was unhappy in her marriage, "feeling overwhelmed with duty." On that night, she finally admitted to herself her marriage was over. She started to pray for help, and she now says it was her first time calling upon God. What she heard in response was, "Go back to bed, Liz."

Seven months later Gilbert left her husband. She moved in with her lover, David, with whom she had fallen "desperately" in love not too long after the night on the bathroom floor. Her divorce from her husband was long and difficult, and she became an emotional wreck. As the initial romance wore off, things broke down between her and David and she moved out into her own apartment—living alone for the first time in her life. She and David repeatedly broke up and got back together, but Gilbert was growing as a person. She was figuring out who she was and what she wanted to do. Two of the main things she decided were she wanted to learn Italian and she wanted to regularly practice yoga according to the guidelines of an Indian guru David introduced her to. Gilbert decided she wanted to go to this guru's ashram in India.

Around this time Gilbert accepted a magazine assignment to write an article about yoga vacations in Bali. There Gilbert met a Bali medicine man named Ketut Liyer. In response to her question about how to "have a lasting experience of God," he amazed her with his accurate assessment of her life. When he said she must come back to Bali to live and help him with his English, she decided she would do that. Having made her decision, she began formulating her plans for a year of traveling—to master Italian, go to the Indian ashram, and return to Bali.

By spring of 2003 Gilbert was desperate to get her divorce settled. While on a book publicity tour with her friend Iva, she took Iva's advice to write a petition to God, asking for the divorce to be resolved and for the imaginary support of as many great people from history as possible. On the same day Gilbert's attorney called to announce that her husband had finally signed the divorce papers. In September Gilbert began her year of travel, which brings Eat, Pray, Love back to the time of her stay in Italy.

Gilbert's sojourn in Italy begins with a wonderful meal and "early symptoms of contentment." In the first few days she enjoys traveling through Rome on foot, reading whatever she can in Italian, conversing with people, and beginning classes at the Leonardo da Vinci Academy of Language Studies. Gilbert's depression returns quickly, however, along with her doubts about whether she is truly done with David. She fights off the depression without resorting to prescription drugs again.

By October Gilbert has a circle of friends from all over the world. Her favorite is an Italian tax accountant in his early 30s named Luca Spaghetti. He takes her to the best local restaurants and to soccer games. Eating and speaking Italian are what Gilbert loves about her stay in Italy. Her favorite word is attraversiamo ("let's cross over"), which Italian friends say to each other when they want to cross the street. Although she never sets foot in a museum, she continues to enjoy walking all over Rome and admiring its many fountains, ruins, and varied neighborhoods. Gilbert also enjoys day trips around Italy. With her friend Sofie she goes to Naples and eats the best pizza ever.

In November Gilbert sends an email to David—with whom she hasn't spoken since July—and says it is time for the relationship to finally end for good. When he immediately responds and agrees with her, she dissolves into grief. When she forgets her regular meeting with Giovanni, he calls her and comes to get her, letting her cry herself out until she is able to tell him why she is crying. His response touches her: "I understand, Liz. I have been there."

A few days later Gilbert's older sister Catherine arrives for a visit, and Gilbert finally has the "tourist experience" of Rome. Catherine's visit reminds her of how very different their lives are.

After Catherine leaves Gilbert begins taking longer trips around Italy. One of these trips takes her to Florence, where her Uncle Terry and Aunt Deb are on vacation. From there she goes to the wealthy town of Lucca and visits Bologna.

Gilbert's friend Linda visits her in Venice. They originally met in Bali and now enjoy taking trips together. Gilbert feels the "sinking melancholy" of Venice and congratulates herself on not letting it affect her mental state as she would have in the past.

In a conversation Gilbert has with her Italian friend Giulio, she admits she loves Rome but would not want to live there because it doesn't "belong to her." Giulio says this is because the word defining the city is not the word which defines her. Rome's word is sex. Gilbert does not know the word that defines her but decides it will reveal itself during her year of wandering.

Thanksgiving Day that year is also Luca Spaghetti's birthday. He wants to have a big dinner with a 20-pound turkey, but Gilbert explains it is impractical. They decide to have a big party at the house of Luca's friends Mario and Simona. They eat turkey breast, and Gilbert makes stuffing. Then Gilbert's friend Deborah, visiting her from Philadelphia, suggests they all take part in the American tradition of expressing gratitude.

Gilbert has gained 23 pounds during her stay in Italy and is feeling healthy and happy. She decides on one last trip—through Sicily—for her final week before flying home for Christmas to be with her family and repacking for the next two legs of her year-long travels. In Sicily she enjoys some of the best food of her trip and rejoices in being "much more intact" than when she arrived in Italy four months ago.

Book 2: India

Gilbert arrives in Mumbai, India, on December 30, 2003. It is 1:30 in the morning, and she takes a two-hour taxi ride to the ashram. The first morning prayer is already underway in the temple, and Gilbert joins directly in the singing. She says her mantra (words repeated to maintain concentration during meditation) over and over for the first time in four months, until the sun rises. In the second and third chapters of this book, Gilbert offers background information about yoga, gurus, and the particular ashram where she is staying. On New Year's Eve, she joins the others staying at the ashram in the courtyard. They sing and dance until midnight.

Gilbert's work assignment at the ashram is to scrub the temple floors several hours each day. This work is hard, but she finds the hours of meditation she must do much more difficult. She even asks her roommate if she has any tips to make meditation easier, and she tries to moderate her eating even more—the ashram cuisine is strictly vegetarian—to give her stomach less "to churn through."

Gilbert is delighted when "Richard from Texas" arrives at the ashram, and they become close friends. He nicknames her Groceries because she eats so much and gives her down-to-earth advice throughout their time together, beginning with tips on meditation: "Instead of trying to forcefully take thoughts out of your mind, give your mind something better to play with .... Like pure divine love."

As Gilbert continues to share her struggles and small victories with meditation, she gives more background information about it. The goal of meditation is to free up energy to be used as the person tries to reach the state known as enlightenment. An enlightened person is one who is free from all earthly suffering because he or she is not attached to anything in the world but has become one with the universe.

Gilbert's early days in the ashram continue to be challenging. She has negative thoughts about her ex-husband, obsesses again over David, and experiences nightmares that make her weep. Richard offers her good advice, including pointing out she has control issues and needs to learn to "let go." Gilbert looks back on her childhood and sees she was already beginning to have a control problem by age 10. She also realizes she has lived "life at a maximum pace," which is what ultimately led to her collapse "in exhaustion on a bathroom floor in the suburbs one night." She clearly understands "questions of longing and control" are what keep getting in the way of her meditations, so she begins to think of herself and her mind with more compassion and less frustration. This finally allows her to relax into the meditative practice. To celebrate this success, Gilbert and Richard go into town to have a caffeine-loaded soda and walk around visiting with the villagers.

Another part of ashram life that Gilbert struggles with is the daily, 90-minute chanting of a 182-verse ancient scripture called the Gurugita. She dislikes it so much that she has an adverse physical reaction and feelings of anger and agitation as she chants. Her anger is specifically directed at the now-deceased master of her guru. She refers to him as Swamiji and feels he is "working on her" constantly. She seeks help for this problem from an American monk who teaches at the ashram, even asking if she might "use that time to do other practices." He points out her negative response to the Gurugita indicates it is the practice she most needs to engage in at the ashram, so she continues.

One morning Gilbert awakens later than usual to find her roommate has accidentally locked her in their room. She jumps out the window, injuring her leg on the way down. Then she runs, bleeding, to get to the temple on time. Things change for her when she decides she should dedicate her chanting to someone she loves and chooses her eight-year-old nephew Nick. He is an anxious little boy who has trouble sleeping, so she dedicates the chant to helping him sleep. She loves doing the chant, and it becomes her favorite practice. When she calls her sister the next week, she learns that Nick has suddenly stopped having sleep issues.

Gilbert had planned to stay at the ashram for six weeks and then travel around India, but as the end of her time there approaches, she decides to remain at the ashram for the entire four months of her India visit. As time passes Gilbert finds that her prayers "are becoming more deliberate and specific." She becomes interested in challenging herself to do more and more difficult practices as she continues trying to have "God inside." At Richard's suggestion she focuses particularly on controlling her thoughts and eliminating any unhealthy ones.

Another friend Gilbert makes at the ashram is a 17-year-old girl named Tulsi ,who has a job scrubbing the temple floors. They walk together and talk in the evenings. Tulsi dreads turning 18 because she will be expected to marry. She wants "to roam" and never marry, and she admires Gilbert for being strong enough to leave her husband.

Gilbert makes friends at the ashram, and one day while talking about marriages Gilbert expresses her frustration about not being able to get over her divorce, a friend tells her to meet him after dinner so he can show her something. He takes her to the top of a tower on the rooftop of a building and hands her a folded paper and a flashlight and tells her to stay "until it's finished."

The paper is titled "INSTRUCTIONS FOR FREEDOM." The 10 steps are about letting go, asking for grace, forgiving her ex-husband, and beginning the rest of her life. She follows the instructions fully, enjoying the sunset and watching the stars come out. Then she meditates and is led to invite her ex-husband to join her there. As she feels his presence and his soul, she senses that everything is finally resolved between them.

Gilbert rides to the airport with Richard when he leaves the ashram. His final advice to her is to "find somebody new to love someday." On the way back, she decides she has been talking too much at the ashram and will take a vow of silence for the remainder of her stay. But the next morning she is summoned to the ashram office and given a new job to do: Key Hostess. She is "to be social and bubbly and smiling all the time" as she welcomes visitors coming to the ashram for spring retreats. These people are supposed to be silent the whole time, and Gilbert will be the one person they can talk to—the person who will solve any problems they experience. She loves the job, especially the people. Gilbert also reaches a new height on her road to enlightenment as she meditates with one group of retreat attendees.

As Gilbert's time at the ashram ends, she feels she has achieved her purpose in coming there. She has found what she has been seeking, and it fills her with joy. She has also found the word that defines her: antevasin, a Sanskrit word that means "one who lives at the border." She delights in understanding that she is "a student on the ever-shifting border near the wonderful, scary forest of the new."

Gilbert stays up all night meditating before she leaves India. The second book ends with two poems she has written about her experience. They show how much she has been changed by it.

Book 3: Indonesia

When Gilbert arrives in Bali, she has made no plans about where to stay and is shocked to learn that she is only allowed to remain in the country for one month on a tourist visa. She begins to doubt her presence there is her destiny, as foretold by Ketut Liyer. She can't even remember the name of the village where he lives.

Gilbert travels by taxi to Ubud, which she knows is near Liyer's home, and checks into a hotel. She asks a hotel worker named Mario whether he knows Ketut Liyer. He does, and he drives her on his motorbike to Liyer's home. Liyer does not recognize Gilbert at first; when he reads her palm, he says the same things to her he had said before. It takes him quite a while to remember her, but when he does, he is thrilled.

After providing a lot of background information about Bali and its people, Gilbert returns to her narrative. Mario helps her buy a bicycle, and she begins visiting Liyer every afternoon. She gets to know the details of his life and observes him in his work as a healer. Her days take on a rhythm: morning meditation using her guru's techniques, afternoons with Liyer, and evening meditation using the techniques Liyer teaches her. She reads, rides and walks around Ubud, and simply relaxes. On one of her bike rides she finds a lovely house in a beautiful area for rent, and she secures it and moves in.

Gilbert and Liyer become good friends. He likes to hear about the world from her; he has never been off the island of Bali. She loves watching him work. The only problem associated with Gilbert's time at Liyer's is his wife, who regards her with suspicion. That changes when Gilbert decides she needs to photocopy Liyer's notebooks filled with "Balinese-Sanskrit secrets about healing" because they are so old and worn they are falling to bits. After Gilbert returns with the copies, Liyer's wife is overjoyed at the results and accepts her as a friend.

Gilbert also makes friends with a 27-year-old native musician named Yudhi, who dreams of living in America and being in show business. As a teenager he worked on a cruise ship and ended up in New York City. He married a blonde woman from Connecticut and settled into a happy life. However, after being registered with the Department of Homeland Security after September 11 he was thrown into a detention center and then shipped back to Indonesia. He has not seen his wife since.

When Gilbert gets hit by a bus while riding her bike, she gets a bad cut on her knee that becomes infected. She shows it to Liyer; his surprising response is that she should go to a doctor. So she goes to a storefront she has seen in town called Traditional Balinese Healing Center. That's where she meets a woman named Wayan Nuriyasih, who becomes a very close friend. As she treats Gilbert's knee, Gilbert learns about Wayan's life. She is divorced—a rarity in Bali—and lives with her eight-year-old daughter, Tutti, and two orphan girls she has taken in. After this initial visit, Gilbert begins spending every morning with Wayan. Wayan thinks Gilbert needs to find a new love, but she resists.

One day a Brazilian friend of Wayan named Armenia comes to the shop. She invites Gilbert to a party that night where there will be many expatriates. Gilbert agrees to go. She enjoys dressing up for the first time in months and even finds herself flirting. She is drawn first to the older Brazilian man named Felipe who has prepared the feast. Then she is very attracted to a Welshman named Ian and ends up spending most of her time with him. However, it is Felipe who gives her a ride home.

The next morning, Gilbert is hungover and confused. She goes to see Wayan and forgets her own problems as she learns Wayan is about to be evicted. Tutti dreams of having a home of their own. Gilbert decides to take action: she composes a fundraising email and sends it to her entire contact list, promising to match whatever donations people will give to buy a house for Wayan. Seven days later, Gilbert has collected $18,000, but she doesn't tell Wayan yet.

Meanwhile, Gilbert is seeing Felipe every night. She is developing a crush on him as she gets to know him, but she is avoiding all physical contact.

When Gilbert tells Wayan that she has money for a house, Wayan is filled with gratitude. Gilbert introduces Felipe to her and to Liyer, and both approve of him. Gilbert goes to the beach with him one day, and he proposes that they have an affair. She declines, but the next night, they make love.

Gilbert and Yudhi have planned a "cross-Balinese road trip" and leave the day after she has begun her affair with Felipe. She has a fun trip and calls Felipe when she can. It's obvious they will have a relationship. When she returns to Ubud, she practically moves in with him. She gets a bladder infection and goes to Wayan for treatment. She asks about Wayan's house search, but does not get a satisfactory answer. Felipe cautions her that she needs to be somewhat forceful about getting Wayan to spend the money on a house. He steps in to try to help with the situation, but weeks pass without action.

Since she has not seen Liyer for more than brief visits for quite a while, Gilbert goes to spend a morning with him. He invites her to a "baby ceremony" that afternoon. It is a complex, hours-long ceremony at the end of which a six-month-old baby's feet are allowed to touch the ground for the first time.

Finally Gilbert runs out of patience with Wayan and follows Felipe's advice to "play some kind of game with her, like the games she's playing with you." She goes to Wayan and tells her the people who have given money are extremely angry. She calls her a name that is the ultimate Balinese insult and says she will take the money back if Wayan doesn't act. Four hours later Wayan has bought land where she will build a house.

Before Gilbert leaves Bali, she and Felipe vacation on the tiny island of Gili Meno. It is a blissful time, and Gilbert reflects on how happy she is and how far she has come. As their trip comes to an end, Felipe suggests they could have a life together "somehow divided between America, Australia, Brazil and Bali." Gilbert's reply is "Attraversiamo."

Eat, Pray, Love Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction


1 Elizabeth leaves her husband and moves in with David.

Rising Action

2 Elizabeth becomes very depressed as the affair breaks down.

3 Seeking pleasure, Elizabeth travels to Italy.

4 Elizabeth breaks down when she severs ties with David.

5 In search of peace, Elizabeth travels to India.

6 Elizabeth struggles with many things at the ashram.


7 Elizabeth releases her marriage on an ashram rooftop.

Falling Action

8 In Bali, Elizabeth finds her balance.


9 Elizabeth falls in love with Felipe.

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