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Free Study Guide The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

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PLOT ANALYSIS - THE LOVELY BONES BY ALICE SEBOLD

CHAPTER 17

Summary

As this chapter begins, Lindsey is now 21 years old and Susie, who barely grieves for all the moments she’s missed, instead gets lost in Lindsey’s life. After their graduation from college, Samuel and Lindsey ride home on the motorbike, getting caught in the rain on Route 30. When the rain becomes too heavy, Samuel pulls off to the side of the road and rolls the bike under some trees. They stop under the trees to kiss and wish each other a happy graduation and Susie further reflects that Samuel has always been Lindsey’s “one and only.” Then, they try to find the densest part of the underbrush to ride out the storm when suddenly, through the clearing, they come to an old, abandoned Victoria home. Because it’s at least dry, even though it looks spooky, they head inside. As they explore, Samuel falls totally in love with the house. However, his unthinking comment - “You could wall someone up in here!” - causes Lindsey to think of Susie and even though she doesn’t mention it to Samuel, she is reminded that since the time she broke into Mr. Harvey’s house, she has often felt Susie “with her somehow, in her thoughts and limbs - moving with her like a twin.”

Once they explore the upstairs, Samuel tells Lindsey he wants the house, that it needs him. They make love in a small room in the front of the house that has caught his eye. Meanwhile, at home, Jack Salmon touches the snow globe with the penguin inside (mentioned in the small prologue of the novel), no doubt reminding him of his loss of Susie, and worries that Samuel and Lindsey have not returned home. He had taken Buckley to the graduation ceremony and his son helped him know the proper times to smile and react. It seemed as if his response times were slower now, “as if he moved in a world of crushing inevitability which had robbed him of any hope of accurate perception.” That fall, he had developed the last roll of film that Susie had left in her closet in the box marked “rolls to hold back.” He draws it out now from his desk drawer, just like he often does when his heart aches. All the pictures in the last roll were taken of Susie’s mother and as her father spends time looking at them over and over again, he comes to realize that he is falling in live with Abigail’s face all over again. The last few pictures show the mask, the one she had begun to wear when their marriage was beginning to strain, fall into place, one snapshot at a time. Jack wonders to himself, “Did I do that to you? How did that happen?”

At the old Victorian house, after a moment of love-making closeness, Samuel asks Lindsey to marry him and he’ll make that house gorgeous. When Lindsey quietly says yes, Susie runs around her heaven, screaming over and over again with happiness. Worrying that her father will be frantic about their whereabouts, Lindsey convinces Samuel to run with her the last 8 to 10 miles to her home. As she watches her sister run, Susie is aware of a memory that pops into Lindsey’s head: the time at the public pool when she and Susie had learned to open their eyes underwater and were so proud of themselves and their accomplishment. Susie then realizes that Lindsey is no longer running away from her or even toward her. Instead, the wound has been slowly closing like a scar from being gut-shot.

Once they are dry and sitting before the fire, they tell Jack that they ran home for him. They had all been “living their lives in direct proportion to what effect it would have on a fragile father.” Then, alone with her father, Lindsey and Samuel tell him that they are going to be married. He is very happy, because he had “always been soft in his trust of Samuel.” While they are all drinking champagne to celebrate both their graduations from college and their engagement, Buckley looks over toward their rustic colonial clock and sees Susie. There were strings coming out from all around her, waving in the air toward them. She looks just the same as she did the last time he saw her, but she disappears just as he wants to call out her name.


Susie remarks that over the years, when she grew tired of watching, she would sit in the back of the trains that went in and out of Suburban Station in Philadelphia. As she allowed herself to stop focusing for awhile on her own loved ones, she would hear the voices of those who no longer lived on earth talking to their own families and friends. The dead always continued to watch over at least one person who had loved them or who had been kind to them, but for Susie, the sound of the trains picking up speed would for awhile be preferable to the calling out of names to the living. Then, the sounds of life replace the endless sounds of the dead. So, as she turns away from Earth on the day that Samuel and Lindsey become engaged, she is reminded of only one thing: the times when she would hold the ship in the bottle while her father burned away the strings he had used to raise the mast. And she remembers, then, when, in the tension of that moment, the world in the bottle depended solely on her.

Notes

Susie’s act of getting “lost” in Lindsey’s life over the years is reminiscent of her desire to still be alive. She has not yet lost the feeling of regret at her own death, even though she has taken baby steps over the last eight years on Earth to begin to separate herself. She even shares Lindsey and Samuel’s most private moments, including the day he asks her sister to marry him. Her joy is mostly for Lindsey, but even though she shares it vicariously, for Susie, it is a little joy for herself as well. Of course, it’s a joy that, in her heart, is not really hers to share.

The reader is reacquainted with the snow globe mentioned in the mini-prologue. It forever ties Susie in her father’s mind, but it is especially significant, because her father had told her not to worry about the penguin inside. He lived in a perfect world. So, for both Jack and Susie, alike, the perfect world, where she is alive and grows up too just like Lindsey, is a world that can never come to pass for either one of them.

Even though Abigail does not actively appear in this chapter, she is still a shadow in their lives. In finding the pictures Susie had taken of her, Jack has come to fall in love with his wife all over again. He feels a deep guilt for having somehow failed her, just as he still grieves for not being able to protest Susie.

Lindsey and Samuel’s running home is for a fragile father, who, they know, will worry until they are there, but also for the sheer adrenalin rush they feel at committing themselves to each other for life. Even after they tell him about their engagement, Susie sees a fine wavering line connecting her sister to her father, an “invisible cord that can kill.” It’s a line, among many in this chapter which represents both the family’s bond and its chains. In addition, Susie knows, from the memory of the two of them that Lindsey has as she runs by the public pool, that her sister is almost healed of the loss of her sister. Samuel has stepped into the void as completely as he possibly can and the scar is nearly knit up.

The most poignant moment of the chapter comes when Buckley sees Susie standing by the old colonial clock, strings waving out away from her toward them all. The strings are slowly being cut as her family finally is beginning to let her go and she disappears before Buckley can call her name and bring her back. Susie turns to the sounds of the trains to make her hear the sounds of life rather than death. Her memory at this time of her father relying on her to hold the ship in the bottle steady while he burns the strings harkens to Buckley seeing her with strings waving out around her ghostly face. The family is beginning to rely more and more on each other and not the lives they lived with Susie. It remains to be seen if Susie will allow the strings to burn away as well.

 

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