“Don’t you know that the secret to understanding a city and its people is to learn –the word of the street? …Whatever that majority thought might be –that is the word of the city. And if your personal word does not match the word of the city, than you don’t really belong there.”
The idea of words representing people and places is one of the most interesting concepts in the first half of Eat, Pray, Love, a book that I’m really starting to enjoy (although I have to admit that I initially found Liz to be a little whiney). After reading about her Roman “recovery” and her struggles on the Ashram, I think that Liz picked up on her word on her first guess: “My word might be SEEK” (104). Gilbert quickly second guesses herself on this but I believe that Liz’s physical, emotional and spiritual journey is that of a seeker. But what is she seeking? Unlike many of the other works that we’ve read this semester, I don’t think that Liz is looking for a homeland, at least not in the physical sense. Liz seems to be seeking instead to create a new home within herself by discovering her true identity.
At the beginning of the novel we see Liz actually seeking to escape the home that she had created with her husband while they were married. Later in the novel we learn that Liz never took the time to find herself. Instead she threw herself into an endless stream of relationships with men in which she “disappeared into” her lovers. Because she never took the time to consider what she wanted out of life Liz felt the need to flee her marriage when the social and cultural norms of the life she had created threatened her (i.e. the “responsibility” to have children).
During her year abroad, Liz finally had the chance to think about what she wanted out of life, and I don’t think that she was looking for a new place to live. She seems to be thinking along the same lines when she says, “It was more that I wanted to thoroughly explore one aspect of myself set against the backdrop of each country” (29-30). In a conversation with her friend Giulio however she notes that Rome is not “her city.” At this point in the novel she still seems to be thinking of her identity in terms of a place. As Liz contemplates her word, she tries to match her concept of herself with the places she plans to visit: “Over the last months in Italy, my word has largely been PLEASURE, but that word doesn’t match every single part of me, or I wouldn’t be so eager to get myself to Indian” (104).
I think that the act of trying to discover her word and realize her true identity actually defines her, not any physical sense of homeland. Instead, her journey is about actively pursuing what each of the cultures she explores has to offer and using them to discover different aspects of her identity. In Italy she uses the pursuit of pleasure to finally ask and answer the question, “What do I want?” And in India, her struggles with meditation and the Gurugita help her in her search for God and enlightenment. She seeks the “words” of the places she visits, PLEASURE in Italy and DEVOTION in India so far, as a means to creating a home within herself, and this is journey is what defines her as a person.