Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

While spending a week alone on the island of Captiva, Florida, Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote Gift from the Sea, a collection of eight short essays inspired by the ebb and tide of the ocean. Each meditative piece focuses on a particular seashell, which Lindbergh uses to symbolize various perspectives on modern life. Gift from the Sea was on the best-seller list for more than six months, and it is still shared among women of all ages.

To become aware of inner rhythms, one must let today’s tides erase yesterday’s scribblings. With a mind free of responsibilities and time schedules, one is ready to receive the gift from the sea. Lindbergh uses these thoughts to introduce her collection of meditative essays. During her walks along the beach, she finds various shells; each unique design symbolizes different aspects of life, love, relationships, and identity.

The first shell is a channeled whelk, which is simple and bare. She realizes that her life is not simple since she has a husband, five children, and a home which require her attention. Her background, education, and conscience also contribute to the roles that she believes she must carry out in life. In satisfying external forces, she feels that she has lost a personal core, an individuality that lets her be herself. She wants to give to the world as a woman, an artist, and a citizen. Only when she has found her own means of giving will she feel an inward harmony that will be translated into an outward harmony. With a simple, unitary purpose that gives her direction, she will not feel fragmented by the multiplicity of life. She concentrates on removing the distractions that are inherent in her life and on replacing those tensions with a balanced core of inner peace.

The next shell is the moon shell whose spiral forms a solitary eye. To Lindbergh, this symbolizes that all people are alone. She claims, however, that people have forgotten how to be alone because they clutter their lives with constant music, chatter, and companionships. She encourages individuals to relearn how to be by themselves. When alone, people can get to know themselves, and in knowing themselves as individuals, they will be more willing to...

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Gift from the Sea Context

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Anne Morrow Lindbergh did not set out to write a book for women; she was writing meditations to resolve conflicts in her own life. Her friends persuaded her to put the essays into a book because all women could relate to her experiences. Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea was published eight years before The Feminine Mystique (1963), the groundbreaking feminist work by Betty Friedan.

Gift from the Sea is a unique piece of women’s writing because Lindbergh does not ask women to abandon home life in order to pursue careers. As her several collections of diaries and letters reveal, especially the book The Flower and the Nettle: Diaries and Letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 1936-1939 (1976), Lindbergh devoted her life to her children and to her husband. Nevertheless, she also searched for time alone each day to write. Her lifelong practice of writing in every spare moment led her to Captiva and to write the meditations for Gift from the Sea.

Lindbergh did not encourage women to go out into the business world to seek meaning for their lives or to feel productive in society. Instead, Lindbergh encouraged them to find strength and meaning by turning inward, by nurturing their spirituality, and by expressing themselves creatively. Competing with men was not the answer that she offered; rather, simplifying life and nurturing the spirit would allow women to be the hub of a wheel around which the world turned....

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Gift from the Sea Literary Precedents

The theme of female individualism in Gift from the Sea finds some precedent in the fiction of D. H. Lawrence. Ursula's sense of awakening in The Rainbow (1915) acknowledges Lawrence's recognition of women's growing desire for independence and need for personal awareness. In Women in Love (1920), he alludes to ideal relationships that stress the importance of individuality and the autonomy of both sexes as is true of the "pure" relationship Lindbergh describes. While Lawrence's style tends to be somewhat cynical and critical, Lindbergh's social consciousness is more temperate.

Lindbergh's themes and her literary style also owe much to the work of Virginia Woolf whose exploration of literary techniques and attention to women's issues continues to influence generations of women writers. Gift from the Sea may itself be counted as a precursor of the "quest for identity" genre of feminist fiction further developed by writers such as Erica Jong, Susan Isaacs, and Doris Lessing.

Gift from the Sea Bibliography

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Herrmann, Dorothy. Anne Morrow Lindbergh: A Gift for Life. New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1992. Lindbergh as wife, mother, and twentieth century American author. Bibliographical references and index.

Hertog, Susan. Anne Morrow Lindbergh: Her Life. New York: Nan A. Talese, 1999. Covers her marriage and her life as an American author, woman pilot, and spouse of the famous pilot Charles Lindbergh. Bibliographical references and index.

Lindbergh, Anne Morrow. Dearly Beloved: A Theme and Variations. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1962. This book, like Gift from the Sea, was written during a dissatisfied period in Lindbergh’s marriage. Using fiction rather then the nonfiction of Gift from the Sea, Lindbergh explores various conflicts in marriage, particularly the inadequacy of communication. Nevertheless, she firmly supports marriage for its sense of community.

Lindbergh, Anne Morrow. The Flower and the Nettle: Diaries and Letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 1936-1939. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976. A collection of diary entries and letters that are valuable in understanding Lindbergh’s view of women’s roles.

Lindbergh, Anne Morrow. War Within and Without: Diaries and Letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 1939-1944. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980. This final volume of Lindbergh’s diary entries and letters covers the years of World War II. Anne discusses the Lindberghs’ response to the accusations that Charles was a “traitor.” She comments on the American attitude that raises individuals to hero status and then knocks them down by contempt and ostracism. She also reveals her personal struggles as she reconciles her devotion for her husband and their differing views about war.

Lindbergh, Reeve. No More Words: A Journal of My Mother, Anne Morrow Lindbergh. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001. Covers Lindbergh’s last years, her career as an author, and her family relationships: aging parents, parents and children, parents and adult children, mothers and daughters.

Saint-Exupéry, Antoine de. Wind, Sand, and Stars. Translated by Lewis Galantière. New York: Reynal and Hitchcock, 1939. This work was greatly admired by Lindbergh, who wrote a glowing review of it for the Saturday Review of Literature. Saint-Exupéry is often quoted in Lindbergh’s writing because he was an aviator like herself and a writer who shared her perspective on the need for inner spirituality.

Vaughan, David Kirk. Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Boston: Twayne, 1988. Criticism and interpretation of her works. Biographical information, bibliography, and index.