Home. Such a small word, yet it conjures powerful emotions and memories, associations and desires, love and sometimes hate. A home can be anywhere or anything it seems; a place is most often thought of with “home”, but a person or a feeling and most definitely yourself are all a type of home.
For Okonkwo and most of the characters at the beginning of our literary journey, the land and its culture were the key to their existence. Okonkwo could only perceive himself in terms of his village and the honor-standing he could achieve amongst its populous. For Khan in East, West and others in the midst of our written odyssey, it was people who became their idea of home, be it wife, family, or friends. For Gilbert, our lost woman intent on finding the home within herself, she must be removed from all those comforts so many others depend upon.
In a way, she’s just like a college student. If we were all at home, we would never find a way to become adults. It’s why humans, indeed most animals, move away from their birth parents and find another pack, herd, or family. Wolves roam away. Lions wander. Humans…we go to college (in some ways, just as bestial and barbaric a place). But it’s just a part of growing up.
Maybe Gilbert didn’t get such a period away from home; she got married, sealed inside a sort of false home. This, nothing else, was providing the unfulfilled feeling Gilbert suffered from at the beginning. Only by emptying herself of this emptiness (by filling herself with delicious foods, not a bad way to start if you ask me) did she feel complete enough to move on.
Being deprived of this period of growth- or thrown into it far too early by grief- creates lasting problems in life. Jasmine, for example, loses her whole world, her identity, and only many years later, after failed attempts to become a person defined by those around her, does Jasmine (or one of her other names, if you prefer) find something like a sense of self…even if it’s a self the reader cannot necessarily condone, just as Gilbert does in leaving her husband and former life behind.
This said, each woman displays an incredible sort of courage by defying their home culture time after time; this entire course has been a series of displays, possibly intentional, possibly not, of how much hold a person’s home has upon them. Our concepts of “home” and the rules and laws that come with that “home” are a part of us, nearly unshakable, as we find in Sons for the Return Home.
Where Gilbert differs is in the restraint she shows. She does not go about blindly seeking or flailing wildly; she sets herself a path. India and then Indonesia give her a chance for a sense of self, a road down which to walk, a life in which to really, truly live. She plans, even describes the desire that fuels this: “I want God inside me.” And it is from within, after much searching without, that Gilbert finds home, finds her life “on the border.” She, more than any other character/author we’ve read, seems at peace with herself.
If only we all showed such a tendency; college would probably be a more orderly place with some inner peace thrown in. But maybe it is her years of life that give her such patience. Few of our classmates would be so self-controlled, strange as that description may be when applied to a woman who spends some time basically gorging in Italy.
One thing bothers me, though. Her faith, so hard bought, is almost intrinsic to college students. Mary pointed out an almost perfect quote:
“Faith is walking face-first and full speed into the dark.” (175)
I can find few sentences that better sum up college students. If you think about it, what are we doing? Learning about subjects which we hope will impact our life? We work and strive towards a goal that may never come? We continually make decisions here that make almost no sense: many of us drink into oblivion on a weekly basis. Some lose track of how many people they’ve been incredibly intimate with. Some sign up for internships a world away, in London, never knowing if they’ll even be able to come back (roommates for example), or Ireland, or wherever. What do we do all of these things on? It would seem like foolishness.
But we do them on faith, on faith that it will all work out, that our lives as we know them won’t be disrupted by a drunken mugging, or a nightmarish coupling, or a stranding on the other side of the planet. And so we leap forth from home on the faith that everything will be alright in the end. One could say that faith is a part of home; it is a way of leaving…
…and a way of finding our home, all in one, and, perhaps more importantly, most importantly, learning to love something, somewhere, and someone, all over again.