44 pages 1 hour read

Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Gift From The Sea

Nonfiction | Autobiography / Memoir | Adult | Published in 1955

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Gift from the Sea is a 1955 work of inspirational nonfiction literature by American author Anne Morrow Lindbergh. While vacationing on Captiva Island, Florida, Lindbergh explores the questions of how to find a new, more natural rhythm of life and how to gain a deeper relationship with herself and others. To gain inspiration for this, she discusses various shells that she finds on the beach. The first two shells she finds symbolize the importance of simple living and solitude for gaining understanding and inner peace. She then looks at a series of shells that symbolize different stages of life and relationships. These represent, in turn, the initial pure, ecstatic stage of a relationship and its transition to a more practical relationship based on common plans and goals. Finally, Lindbergh discusses the “argonauta,” a shell that symbolizes an ideal relationship based on mutual self-realization.

This guide uses the following edition of the text: Gift from the Sea. London: Penguin. 2015. This edition includes a 2015 introduction by the author’s daughter, Reeve Lindbergh, and the author’s postscript.

Summary

Gift from the Sea has two introductions and eight titled chapters. This guide contains eight analysis sections, one for each chapter. Analysis of the introductions is included with Chapter 1. The first chapter and the introductions outline the purpose of Gift from the Sea. Lindbergh wrote the book to help herself and her readers develop a different rhythm of life and a deeper relationship to themselves and others. Being by the beach can facilitate this process by disrupting the ordinary demands and habits of thought of conventional life. In Chapter 2, Lindbergh finds a whelk shell and contrasts its simplicity with the complicated nature of her own life. This is a consequence of her being a wife and a mother with myriad responsibilities and distractions, including looking after her home, her husband, and her children and helping her community. Consequently, Lindbergh tries to practice simplicity of living by the beach. In this way, she hopes to find the way to regain harmony in her life.

In Chapter 3, Lindbergh finds a snail shell that resembles an island and the moon. This leads her to reflect on the importance of solitude, from which people too often try to flee. However, periods of solitude are essential for reconnecting with oneself and replenishing one's creative energies. This is often especially the case for women, whose traditional roles as mothers and wives dissipate vital energy while leaving little space for them to recover it. In Chapter 4, Lindbergh discusses a “double-sunrise” shell given to her by a stranger. This shell symbolizes the initial, pure stage of a relationship in which two individuals are absorbed in each other’s company and indifferent to the outside world. Such a stage cannot last. Lindbergh suggests that the practicalities of life and societal demands inevitably dilute the purity of the initial relationship. This also occurs because partners come to see each other less as individuals and more in terms of their roles as providers or parents.

In Chapter 5, Lindbergh discusses an oyster shell that she found. For her, it symbolizes the middle stages of a marriage. In this period, a couple establishes its way in the world and builds a home in which to raise children. Through this shared struggle, powerful bonds are formed in a relationship. However, the children eventually grow up and leave home, leaving the couple to confront the question of what to do next. In Chapter 6, Lindbergh talks about the rare “argonauta” shell that she saw in a specialist’s collection. The argonauta symbolizes a new type of relationship that is possible after the onset of middle age and the “oyster bed” stage. It is based not on possession or dependence but on mutually encouraging self-realization. Lindbergh provides a glimpse of this type of relationship by describing a day she spent by the beach with her sister, where they enjoyed time together and apart and lived by the same subtle rhythm.

In Chapter 7, Lindbergh reflects on her time by the beach on Captiva Island, where she is staying. She explains that, at first, she collected shells indiscriminately and greedily. She then learned, though, to discriminate and select only a few of the most interesting ones. This process serves as a metaphor for the importance of simplicity and space in providing a context for beauty and meaning. Unfortunately, she must return to the cluttered and complicated world of the suburbs. Thus, Lindbergh says, she will take a few shells back with her to remind herself of the importance of simple living. In Chapter 8 and the postscript, Lindbergh considers whether her pursuit of inner peace conflicts with the ethical demands that the world places on people. She argues that it does not, as developing one’s inner self means that one is better equipped to understand and address broader ethical and political issues. She also suggests that a new generation of women who are more questioning than their forebears is uniquely positioned to take on this challenge.

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