After finishing A Doll’s House by Henry Ibsen, in my Junior year high school English class, the teacher asked us about possible scenarios for the protagonist beyond the end of the play. The play ends with the protagonist, Nora, leaving her husband to “make sense of herself and everyone around her.” Instead of excitement about Nora’s new freedom, many of my classmates and I felt disturbed by the fact that she was also leaving her children behind. I conveniently remembered a story where a woman also leaves her present life behind to “find herself,” Eat, Pray Love. I offered the idea of an extended trip with self-exploratory intentions to the class as an alternative to Nora leaving her children behind forever. I phrased this offer as “Well, what if she tried the whole Eat, Pray, Love thing?” I asked this question seriously and didn’t expect the chuckles that several of my classmates responded with. The idea of a modern and extravagantly privileged solution to the protagonist’s woes did sound absurd, but after some discussion, my classmates approved of this idea as a solid medium between Nora staying in an unhappy marriage or completely abandoning her family. Then a classmate had the nerve to ask “What if she comes back just as unhappy as she was before?” Just by someone suggesting an all-too-possible outcome, my brilliant idea was thwarted.
If I had more time to answer that question, I would have said that securing a book deal about the trip would offer a fail-proof plan: Either explore vibrant places and discover profound truths about oneself or write a terrible book that wouldn’t sell. Gilbert’s novel is successful and humorous for a number of reasons. On her trip, she develops an independent sense of self from someone who is always in a relationship through delicious food, spirituality, and a deep connection another. The descriptions of the places and the people she encounters are bright and moving. She creates a picture that I would want to put myself in at most points of the journey. Ultimately, humor is what gives the novel its spark. She has a series of running jokes between us and her, which add to the intimacy of reading the novel, such as her obsession with the Italian language and quips about being divorced. It may be a self-fulfilling journey, but it’s a fairly enjoyable one.