How would a historicist look at the book Eat, Pray, Love and how would women in history contradict Liz?

Expert Answers
andraa eNotes educator| Certified Educator


Eat, Pray, Love is a memoir in which Elizabeth Gilbert tells the story of her inner rebirth and self discovery.

At 32, Liz had a career, a house and a husband—basically, almost everything that a modern woman needs to be considered successful.  But we soon find out that this appearance is misleading; she is not satisfied with her life, and she isn’t ready to have children.

“Having a baby is like getting a tattoo on your face. You really need to be certain it's what you want before you commit.” 

The plot of the whole story comes from within, in the form of dissatisfaction. Even if Liz does not know exactly what she wants, she relies very much on intuition. She gets a divorce and decides to travel for one year; she acts with belief in a positive change without shutting down her inner voice.

“I met an old lady once, almost a hundred years old, and she told me, 'There are only two questions that human beings have ever fought over, all through history. How much do you love me? And Who's in charge?” 

The title, Eat, Pray, Love, offers a quick preview of the manner in which Liz understands to heal herself. She firstly cares for her body in Italy, accessing the physical level of healing (eat). Then, in India, she tends for her spirit, healing through praying and meditation (pray). Finally, she finds the greatest power of all, love, while in Indonesia (love).

We live in a society far more permissive than our ancestors, however we still have unwritten rules to follow. Liz challenges society’s expectations with courage and also selfishness. First of all, going against mentalities and being able to act according to one's soul is an obvious act of courage. The only thing she knows is that she is not satisfied with her situation. Although she does not know if she will be successful, she embraces risk. Her actions reveal the need for authenticity and her fear of compromises; she believes that one can truly give and love only when finding inner peace.

“The Bhagavad Gita-that ancient Indian Yogic text-says that it is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else's life with perfection.” 

On the other hand, selfishness, often encouraged by our modern culture and sometimes over-praised as an integrated part of happiness, is at the bottom of her decisions. Having regrets that she leaves her husband doesn’t minimize the action itself. 

“The only thing more unthinkable than leaving was staying; the only thing more impossible than staying was leaving. I didn't want to destroy anything or anybody. I just wanted to slip quietly out the back door, without causing any fuss or consequences, and then not stop running until I reached Greenland.” 

Liz’s story illustrates some contemporaneous issues, such as the fight between conformism and the new wave of spiritual search. Like many others, Liz finds herself torn apart between society’s expectation and inner needs. In the first decades of her life, she did not challenge mentalities and she searched unconsciously for accomplishment through the only available means (career, money, marriage). With maturity arrived awareness.

“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.” 

Language in the book is not complicated and the author gathers in this work many accessible philosophies, building a catchy thread and packing just enough spiritual enlightenment that a busy, modern reader can digest.

“It's still two human beings trying to get along, so it's going to be complicated. And love is always complicated. But humans must try to love each other, darling. We must get our hearts broken sometimes. This is a good sign, having a broken heart. It means we have tried for something.” 

"A soul mates purpose is to shake you up, tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light can get in, make you so desperate and out of control that you have to transform your life, then introduce you to your spiritual master...” 

Even if the story aims at the core of many women, it still remains in opposition with the more traditional spirits. The liberal perspectives can easily challenge the beliefs of those women that are accomplished without struggles of self discovery and without challenging mentalities. However, the story is just the author's perspective, and not a recipe for happiness.

seaofknowledge eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Eat, Pray, Love is about the story of a woman who suffers from depression due to a very difficult divorce. To heal and overcome these issues, she begins a journey which takes her to Italy, India and Bali. In each place, she heals in a different way and takes one more step towards recovery and happiness. She eats great food in Italy, she meditates and finds peace in India and she finds love in Bali.

In regard to your question, I think that a paragraph in chapter 17 of the book gives us a good understanding of how women in history would contradict Liz. In that chapter, Liz says:

The next morning I called my friend Susan as the sun came up, begged her to help me. I don't think a woman in the whole history of my family had ever done that before, had ever sat down in the middle of the road like that and said, in the middle of her life, "I cannot walk another step further --  somebody has to help me." It wouldn't have served those women to have stopped walking. Nobody would have, or could have, helped them.

What the author is saying is that, in the past, women were not able voice their troubles as freely as women today are able to do. In history, there were more stigmas associated with women and how they are expected to behave. Women couldn't divorce as easily; they probably feared expressing depression and anxiety. Even if they did, they might not have been taken seriously or may have been pressured to hang in there and continue their responsibilities toward their family.

Women in Liz's family have been the same way and she's basically the first women to break out of that mold and change her life around. She decides to live on her own terms, and shows courage in accepting her depression; she is not ashamed to ask for help. 

A historian can analyze Liz's story to understand about women, their thoughts and their lives in the past and now. The author of this book is actually describing the changes that we see in women over the generations.