This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Eat Pray Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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What are the Eat Pray Love themes present in the story? How does Elizabeth Gilbert explore these themes in her book?
There are many Eat Pray Love themes that Elizabeth explores on her journey. The book Eat Pray Love is all about discovering yourself and your community, as well as your spirituality.
Read more about all the Eat Pray Love themes and what they mean.
Eat Pray Love Themes
There are several Eat Pray Love themes that are explored in detail. As Elizabeth goes on her journey, she explores self-love, community, and gratitude.
One of the Eat Pray Love themes is finding community. Even on her travels, Gilbert managed to find community wherever she went. Gilbert wasn’t a great traveler like others she’d seen along her journeys. Those people knew how to blend in and emit a casual authority. Gilbert could do neither. She was tall, blonde, and pale, and when she was lost, she looked lost. But one thing she did well was make friends wherever she went.
Sometimes these friendships were happenstance—a train companion or a run-in at a restaurant. But often, Gilbert orchestrated friendships by way of acquaintances of people she knew from home. Before she left for Rome, she asked her friends for a few names of people she might look up.
Two of those people were a married couple named Maria and Giulio. Maria was American, and Giulio was from Southern Italy. The couple had Gilbert over for dinner several times, and the husband met with her separately to work on his English.
Another friend she met in this way was Luca Spaghetti. Luca and Gilbert became quick friends. He spoke English and enjoyed food as much as she did. He was a tax accountant, which she thought was a strange job for him considering his easy-going manner. Likewise, Luca didn’t understand her desire to study spirituality in India. He said it didn’t match her appetite for pleasure and Italian food.
Gilbert made other friends through different means, as well. She grew close with her language partner, Giovanni. Their conversations centered mostly on politics and philosophy, and they knew little about each other’s personal lives. But they enjoyed each other’s company.
Gilbert also made a close friend from her language course, a Swedish woman named Sofie. Sofie had also left her life behind for 4 months for the simple purpose of studying Italian in Rome.
Another one of the Eat Pray Love themes is finding gratitude. Gilbert came close to understanding her word at a dinner party on Thanksgiving. The American holiday that year fell on Luca Spaghetti’s birthday, and he wanted to celebrate his 33rd year around the sun with a Thanksgiving turkey. Gilbert decided to help him with his wish.
The party was held at a large home in the Roman countryside owned by Luca’s friends. The guests included several of Luca’s friends and two of Gilbert’s. Around the table that night, there were three languages represented: Italian, English, and Swedish. But to Gilbert’s surprise, the barriers didn’t hinder their ability to connect and feel like they belonged.
Late in the evening, after many bottles of wine, they decided to practice the American tradition of stating what they were thankful for. Each person took their turn, becoming emotional and weeping when they spoke openly about gratitude for their lives. When it was Gilbert’s turn, she didn’t know what to say.
What she did know was that she was grateful her word was no longer “depression.” Just a few months before, she was so entangled in the grips of despair, she wouldn’t have been able to enjoy a lovely evening like this. She still couldn’t articulate what her word was yet, but she knew it had something to do with the way the people in her life were changing her. She said how grateful she was for old friends and new friends, and how lucky she felt to know such wonderful people. It was the truth in that moment, and that was enough.
Learning to Let Go
While reflecting on her conversation with Richard, Gilbert remembered a moment when she was 9 years old. She had a true existential crisis about turning 10. Something about transitioning from single digits to double digits exposed the reality of mortality to her young mind. She was taken by the realization that time moved too fast, and soon, she and everyone she knew would be dead.
Nothing had happened to spawn that realization. No one had died or said anything about death to her. She just felt panicked and helpless about aging and what that meant for her life. She believed that moment was what caused her to seek adventure in life. To try to have as many loves as possible. To visit as many places as possible. To eat as much pasta as possible. To take complete control over her life so that no moment was wasted.
If she could have lived eight lives at once, she would have so she could experience everything there was in the world. But trying to live eight lives as one person spun her life into a frenzy. The only way this pace of life could end was in destruction. For her, that destruction came in the form of crying out for help on a bathroom floor at 30 years old.
Gilbert realized she couldn’t take any of her past actions back. The only thing she could do now was try to find peace and contentment in life. That was why she’d come to the Ashram. She’d been chasing time her whole life and struggling because she could never catch it. Time was always a step ahead of her. But she started to understand that the purpose of life was not to catch time. Her mission was to sit, be patient, and let life unfold as it would. The only place she needed to put the energy used to micromanage life was in her pursuit of God.
The next morning, Gilbert sat in meditation and took in the usual thoughts. What she found alarmed her. The intruding thoughts she believed were so powerful and oppressive were really not that interesting. They ping-ponged between longing for love and remaining in control. These mundane thoughts held her back from finding God, so she asked for a different lens by which to see her thoughts. Rather than seeing them as failures, could she not see them as human?
At first, she tried not to judge her thoughts. But her mind wouldn’t relent. She kept thinking about all of her mistakes and how she was no good at meditating. Then, from some deep unknown place inside, a different voice arose. It roared like a lion in the jungle. It bared its teeth and stood tall, showing how much more powerful her love was than all the hate. Gilbert’s mind settled, and she heard nothing but a powerful, grounding silence. For the first time since arriving, she felt she could talk to God. This is one of the most important Eat Pray Love themes, and one Elizabeth works on in each country she visits.
No More Fear
The next night, Gilbert went to Felipe’s for dinner. They relaxed afterwards and talked for hours. Then, Felipe moved close and said there’d been enough talking. He again asked her to come to his bed. This time, Gilbert didn’t argue. In this way, love is one of the most surprising Eat Pray Love themes, since Gilbert didn’t expect to find romance.
Before making love, Felipe said he didn’t want anything from her except to shower her with affection for as long as he could. Gilbert nodded, suddenly unable to speak. She had no more words to persuade either of them away from this moment. She’d been alone for a long time. It was time to feel something else.
Gilbert’s memory of that night is a bit hazy. What she remembers most is the mosquito net around the bed. She imagined that it was a parachute carrying her safely through the air after jumping out of her private jet of solitude. She felt like she was free-floating between her past and future, and she landed safely in the arms of her Brazilian lover.
Felipe was sorry to learn that Gilbert had to leave early the next morning. She’d promised to go on a road trip with Yudhi, a sort of American-style cross-country journey. Of course, the small island of Bali didn’t afford such adventures, but they would do their best.
Gilbert felt a pang of regret that she had to leave Felipe’s inviting bed, but she was also slightly relieved. She needed to step back and look at what had occurred. She’d broken her vow of celibacy, and she wanted time to adjust her perspective on life. A week away was the perfect thing.
She and Yudhi stuck to the coastal roads and bounced from beach to beach. They ate junk food and spoke American. This was a nice break for Gilbert. She’d been speaking a lot of English, but she missed the vernacular and nuance of American English. They spent hours on the beach, forgetting for a minute where they were. They drove, listened to American music, and ate pizza wherever they found it. In the evenings, they wandered into towns and became immersed in whatever local ceremony was occurring.
Gilbert called Felipe daily from the road. He told her he was falling in love with her, something he hadn’t felt for almost 30 years. Gilbert was apprehensive. She wasn’t ready for love yet. But he assured her, his love came with no strings. He was prepared to be destroyed by her. He only wanted to enjoy her while she was still there.
This heady place of romance filled her head along the road trip. But she came back down to earth when she and Yudhi talked about New York. They spent the last day on a beach talking about the city and their memories there. Yudhi’s longing was so intense, it made Gilbert homesick for the first time. She had to remind herself that she could go back whenever she wanted, something Yudhi was not free to do.
Gilbert didn’t leave Felipe’s for almost a month after her trip. She’d never experienced love and affection like that before. She’d never felt so free during the act of lovemaking. Their bodies fit perfectly together, like magnets. He whispered intimate statements in her ears, which helped her pick up a little Portuguese.
Gilbert enjoyed this new sense of timeless drifting, which was so different from her usual organized mind. Still, she made time to meditate every morning. She was in such a state of calm and contentment, she was able to slip into meditation within seconds. She no longer could remember why she thought life was such a struggle.
She also finally went back to visit Ketut after a lengthy absence. Ketut took one look at her and understood what she’d experienced. He was happy for her but warned her not to get pregnant.
She also visited Wayan again. Wayan was happy for her friend. The beginning of a love story was so exciting. She said part of a balanced existence required losing yourself to love every now and then. She also warned Gilbert not to get pregnant. Gilbert assured her it was impossible. Felipe had had a vasectomy.
To change the conversation, Gilbert asked Wayan about the new house. When Gilbert had finally told Wayan about her fundraiser, Wayan had seemed pained. The shock of the gesture and the sum of money seemed to cause her grief. And when the news finally sunk in, Wayan’s first response was to offer her new home to everyone. She made Gilbert promise that each one of the people who helped her knew they’d be welcomed in her home.
Wayan became caught in fantasizing about her new home. She would have a place for her medical texts, a garden, a real restaurant, and an address that guide books could finally list for tourists. There was a piece of land in a nearby village picked out in her mind, and there was a good school close to it.
That day, Wayan had wondered what she would have done if Gilbert had never come there. Gilbert knew she was always going to be there. Their story was all already written by God. But this fateful gesture became tainted when Wayan told Gilbert she hadn’t bought the land yet. The one she wanted was too expensive, but she wasn’t worried. There was no rush.
When Gilbert told Felipe about the land, he told her to be careful. In Bali, sometimes the truth is not as truthful as it seems. It had already been a month, and the money she’d raised was just sitting in Wayan’s account. He said to make sure the money was spent before she left.
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Here's what you'll find in our full Eat Pray Love summary :
- Why Elizabeth Gilbert needed to divorce her husband
- How she was able to find joy again in Italy
- How Gilbert was able to find balance with Felipe