It is often difficult to digest pieces of writing based on such large questions and ideas as Elizabeth Gilbert discusses in Eat Pray Love, but somehow she managed to make it all actually quite easy to take on. While her “search for everything” may seem a daunting task to take on and her entry into a conversation about her relationship with God may strike fear into a reader as it can often be an abrasive and offensive avenue to travel down, Gilbert handles all of this with seamless grace and it’s all in her attitude.
Elizabeth Gilbert has a very unique view on life and this view matched with her sense of humor allow for a certain accessibility to her work. All of this can be boiled down to her use of metaphor: comparing huge, overarching questions that people seek answers to for lifetimes, to mundane occurrences. My favorite example of this technique comes in the first fifteen pages of the novel where she discusses her view on God.
Personally, I know if someone were to come up to me and say, “let me tell you what I think about God,” I would immediately feel an urge to leave the situation as soon as possible, and this was no exception with my reading of this book, but of course I kept reading anyways and was cheerfully surprised by the outcome.
At the end of her third bead, Gilbert compares her belief in God to owning a really great dog. Some people could probably get very easily offended with this idea, but the way in which Gilbert explains this metaphor sheds such light on her own personal truth, that it becomes sweet, even funny, rather than abrasive. The sweetness stems from the simplicity of the comparison and her description of the dog and her love for it. The humor comes from this grand concept of God being compared to something so earthly and simple as a dog and it works.
One of the main reasons that this strategy works for Gilbert is because she is very aware of the circumstances under which and within which she is writing. She knows that people may potentially be offended by her talking about her own views of God, but she also sees the sweetness and humor behind her own, personal metaphors that she lives by. Gilbert recognizes the complexities and ambiguities of life and the need for simplicity in order to cope with the harder questions and sometimes we all need to see this too.
My favorite example of this sort of situation has been popping up on the internet a lot lately for some reason and it always has to do with kids. Kids don’t understand the complexities of life yet because their world is still so small and simple and because of this their views tend to be refreshing and slightly comical. Two videos in particular come to mind when I think of this idea: one of which is a little boy, maybe about three years old, being asked the question, “Do you like boys or girls?” and his answer is “I like scorpions!”
The other video struck a few chords with a lot of people I know because it tackles such a common issue that everyone deals with: body image. This group of people interviewed some adults and some kids and asked them all the same question: If you could change one thing about your body, what would it be? I’m sure the adult results are pretty easy to guess, but it’s the kids’ answers that made me chuckle and brought me joy. After a little bit of thought, one girl decided she would like a mermaid tail, another little boy wanted cheetah legs so he could be fast.
Sometimes we need to just step back and simplify; we need to readjust and reawaken ourselves to our reality and the things we put importance on and whether that importance is well-placed or not. These videos of children answering questions that plague the older generations and create such societal and personal issues shed light on just how ridiculous the importance we place on these things might be. This kind of humor, much like Gilbert’s, allows us to reevaluate ourselves and our values without condemning anyone. There is a sort of tension and release play when such a loaded question is asked and then responded to with utter simplicity and boldness: it’s refreshing.