Eat, Pray, Love | Study Guide

Elizabeth Gilbert

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Eat, Pray, Love | Symbols

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Floors

In Eat, Pray, Love, floors first symbolize hitting rock bottom on Elizabeth Gilbert's road to her breakdown. Her journey of discovery begins on her suburban home's cold bathroom floor, on which she kneels, sobbing hopelessly, when she realizes that her marriage is over and her current life is not the one she wants. She will land on the floor again, just months later, sobbing beside the bed of her lover, David. She does not find any comfort in her relationship with him, either. In Italy, she gets down on the floor to give thanks for resisting the temptation of sex.

After a frightening dream in the Indian ashram, Gilbert pulls herself together on the floor of her room. Later, when she cleans the floors at the temple of the ashram, she realizes floors are not such horrible places to be. As she spends her mornings on her hands and knees scrubbing the temple floors, Gilbert is also continuing to clean her soul, to ensure that she will never again find herself crumpled, sobbing, and heartbroken on a floor. When she works hard for and eventually achieves those transcendent moments of enlightenment at the ashram, she falls on her knees—not to sob, but to kiss the floor in thanksgiving for the gifts of wholeness she has been given.

Water and Boats

Water is a symbol of life and cleansing in Gilbert's memoir. Whenever she is around water, whether it is flowing from fountains, pounding the shore in waves, falling from the sky as rain, or holding her afloat, she feels comforted. She understands water is the source of all life and regeneration. Although it is gentle, it is also a powerful force that cannot be held back. For the Balinese healer Ketut Liyer, water is holy and forms an important part of his work.

Boats are often linked with Gilbert's experience of water. Boats help people cross water, and they rescue people who are weary of treading water. When she is at the end of her physical or emotional rope in India and needs more strength, Gilbert remembers a line from the 1975 film Jaws: "We're gonna need a bigger boat." At the end of the memoir, a boat takes Gilbert and Felipe to the idyllic Balinese island of Gili Meno, the place where they can cross over into a new life together.

Food

The enjoyment of food symbolizes Gilbert's progress in her journey toward self-knowledge, healing, and spirituality in Eat, Pray, Love. When she first arrives in Italy, she is so depressed and off-balance that she must learn to give herself permission to enjoy unadulterated pleasure in the form of delicious food. She also begins to see food as a form of sustenance and self-nurture. Eventually she understands that food represents the pleasure that is an essential part of a balanced life. Food helps people celebrate life and love. In the Indian ashram, her friend Richard—who becomes a key guide along her spiritual journey in India—gives Gilbert the nickname "Groceries" because of her love of food. Food also opens the door to her relationship with Felipe in Bali. She meets him when she goes to the Brazilian feast he prepares and is lured by her appetite for delicious food.

Questions for Symbols

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