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Eat, Pray, Love | Themes


The Power of Language

It's fair to say that nothing may be more important to Elizabeth Gilbert than words and language. She makes her living as a wordsmith, and she collects words like precious jewels. Despite Gilbert's light, accessible tone in Eat, Pray, Love, readers are alerted to pay close attention to every word. Gilbert admires people who can speak several languages, and when she commits to learning Italian, she commits to it with all of her heart as well as her mind because she finds the language so beautiful.

Gilbert knows that words are powerful. Words can hurt and words can heal. A single word can express a huge idea; it can capture the essence of a person or a city. One short word (eat, pray, and love, respectively) aptly summarizes each of the three legs of Gilbert's year-long trip. Names are equally important. For example, in Bali where everyone has one of four first names, nicknames chosen for people are significant. Mario from Bali chooses that name because he loves all things Italian. Tutti's name turns out to have profound significance: it means "everybody."

In Rome Gilbert's friend Giulio tells her about the Italian notion that every individual or place has a word that defines their essence. For example, Rome's word is "sex." Gilbert realizes she is not yet far enough along on her journey of self-knowledge to pick a word to define her. She identifies a favorite Italian word, though: it is "Attraversiamo"—let's cross over— which Italians say when they want to cross the street. Later, when she is at the Indian ashram, Gilbert finally settles on a Sanskrit word she feels defines her: antevasin ("border-dweller"). In Bali, Ketut Liyer tells her that her four brothers (or spiritual guardians) know her as Lagoh Prano ("Happy Body").

Paradoxically, it might be Gilbert's high regard for language and words that leads her to want to seek silence when she is at the Indian ashram. She does not want to be glib with her words, and when she thinks she has inadvertently created "a cocktail-party-like vibe" around her, she decides to choose silence. Although silence is not her destiny at the ashram, she has already had an experience with it on her first trip to the Balinese island of Gili Meno. She believes her 10-day silence at the ashram opens up enough space inside of her to allow her to do difficult inner work.


At its essence, Gilbert's memoir is a story of healing. She begins her journey a broken wreck of a person, physically malnourished and emotionally broken, and she slowly, steadily grows stronger over her year-long sojourn. It's by design that the final leg of her trip is to spend time with Ketut Liyer, a traditional Balinese healer, whom she hopes can help her sustain her newly found physical and spiritual health.

Gilbert's healing begins almost immediately after she embarks on her trip. She needs medicine to help her battle her depression and regain stability, but after just days in Italy, she can stop taking it. She is already gaining inner strength and balance through abandoning herself to the pleasure and beauty her stay in Italy offers. At the end of her time in Italy, she catches a glimpse of herself in a mirror and sees a healthy, glowing person smiling back. Even her shopping trip to get a larger pair of jeans to fit her now-heavier body is a joyful marker of her progress toward healing. Then, in India, she experiences more than physical healing. She experiences inner peace as a result of working diligently to overcome her difficulties with concentration and motivation, and she finally has a transcendent experience of God around and in her.

In Bali, Ketut Liyer sees the difference in Gilbert when he finally realizes she is the woman he met two years earlier: "Last time, you very sad-looking woman. Now—so happy! Like different person!" When Liyer and Wayan practice their traditional healing arts, they treat the whole person, knowing health is physical, spiritual, and emotional. Gilbert, too, focuses on each of these three aspects of healing throughout her experiences in Italy, in India, and in Bali.


With the words "I want a spiritual teacher," Gilbert opens herself to a different existence. She takes the step—going to the Indian ashram—she believes will allow her to become whole. Through the discipline of yoga and meditation, she opens her mind to the voice of God, which she ultimately comes to identify as all-encompassing love. She sees spirituality as the core of a healthy lifestyle, and she believes it must be consciously nurtured every day, just like good physical health.

In various chapters of her memoir, Gilbert educates the reader about the history and characteristics of yoga and the practices of meditation and chanting. She also offers her views about the nature of religion, prayer, and God. She does not push her particular brand of spirituality on readers, but she does hope everyone can come to know and trust some sort of a higher being. She points out over and over again that there are no coincidences in life—perhaps her way of strongly suggesting that there is a higher power watching over us. She spares no details in describing her spiritual quest, both the difficulties and rewards of it, possibly hoping people will see the struggle as worth it.

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