Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Christian themes are found throughout Lindbergh’s meditations. She leads us to the first—that of patience and faith—by setting up the beach atmosphere. One arrives at the beach not able to work, to read, to write, or to think—at least at first. The tired body takes center stage, and one is captivated by the primeval spell of the sea. One sleeps. Then slowly the mind comes back to life—but a beach life, not a city life. One never knows what will surface in the conscious mind, but one must not seek or dig for it. The sea does not reward greed or impatience or lack of belief. The sea will offer its rewards when one has learned patience and faith.

The second prevalent Christian theme deals with the inward journey to peace and serenity. The answers we seek are within, are always found within. However, one must learn how to travel inward—not to look for the answers on the outside.

The third theme—that of fear and love—appears in the chapter on the argonauta. The intricate and instinctive dance between two people moving together in a light, easy rhythm must be free of cling or clutch or heavy hand. Why is this dance so difficult to achieve? What makes us cling to the last moment or clutch for the next? Fear. Fear destroys the grace of the dance. How can we exorcise fear? With its opposite—love. When there is love in one’s heart, there is no room for doubt or hesitation. This absence of fear makes possible the dance and gives it life and rhythm.

Social Concerns / Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Lindbergh identifies women's need for self-realization and the balancing act demanded of women caught between reality and romantic illusions about their role in society. She focuses on the problems of fragmentation caused by the increasing choices both women and men face as the result of the social changes realized by the ideals of feminism. Warning of a certain destructiveness and instability in competitive American society, Lindbergh observes that the overwhelming distractions and pressures women find in their new roles place multiple demands on their time and energy. Gift from the Sea recognizes these problems and pressures, but also offers readers an optimistic direction with possible solutions for overcoming this Zerissenheit or "tearing apartness." Woven into the narrative are themes of marriage, friendship, coming of age, individualism, and spiritual fulfillment.

The narrative, presented as a series of reflections, is inspired by the narrator's week-long retreat at the beach. During the course of the retreat the narrator gathers seashells that lead her to contemplate various stages and patterns in women's lives. Each of the shells suggests qualities that offer women the means to attain the sense of personal awareness essential to their search for self-fulfillment. The first step in the quest for self-fulfillment is to gain self-knowledge. The process of gaining self-knowledge, or coming of age, involves a period of complete immersion in creative activity or in solitary contemplation; it is a process of learning "to stand alone." Lindbergh asserts that self-knowledge will permit women the possibility of more satisfying relationships and the sense of balance they desire in their lives. Once a woman has accomplished an awareness of her own creative identity and individuality, she will then be able to communicate, and enjoy the emotional growth a relationship based on the union of two wholes will allow. This "pure" relationship finds expression in the Double Sunrise Shell, "two flawless halves bound together with a single hinge."

Lindbergh stresses the need for moments of contemplation and solitude, particularly during the "full house" stage, recognizing the demands on those women who wish to fulfill roles as both wife and mother. It is her assertion that the confidence gained through self-awareness will enable her to fulfill these roles without losing herself to them. Lindbergh views life as a process of continual growth. She welcomes the later and middle stages of life as an opportunity to shed the ambitions and possessions of youth. It is this stage, symbolized by the Argonauta, that celebrates the possibility of achieving spiritual fulfillment and a sense of "wholeness." Although rare, the Argonauta accomplishes the balance of the physical, intellectual, social, and spiritual self.

Lindbergh's insight provides a sensitive expression of the complex social issues facing contemporary American women. Her philosophy suggests that patience, faith and an openness to change will prepare the way for self-awareness. By reevaluating female and male roles without abandoning aesthetic, emotional and spiritual values, Lindbergh realizes a greater individuality and equality for both sexes. By redefining feminism from a humanistic perspective, Lindbergh makes it more accessible.