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Free Study Guide The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

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THE LOVELY BONES - FREE ONLINE STUDY GUIDE

PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS

The novel takes place over a period of eight years after Susie Salmon’s death. However, it is filled with flashback scenes where Susie remembers something in her life and the lives of her family and friends and they are inserted into the story.

There is also a mini-Prologue, which involves Susie’s memory of her father and the penguin snow globe, which causes the reader to focus on the idea of a perfect world. The whole novel then becomes a search for that perfection in the midst of over-whelming grief. There is an interlude called Snapshots between Chapters 16 and 17. This is meant to emphasize the idea that the pictures Susie had taken are snapshots of many lives and the memories they retain. They also help to analyze why the characters make the choices they do.

The last section of the book is entitled Bones, but it is really an epilogue. We see how the Salmon family and their friends finally step away from their grief and release Susie to Heaven. It also gives us an explanation for the title: The Lovely Bones are actually not just Susie’s body; they are also the cement that binds her family together and allows her to find her “wide, wide Heaven.” That’s why they’re lovely.

RISING ACTION

The rising action begins with the scene of Susie’s murder and ends just before she falls to earth and enters Ruth’s body. In between are the eight years the Salmons endure the burden of grief. We see such things as the pain Lindsey feels when the Gifted Symposium uses the Perfect Murder as their culminating project; the time that Mr. Salmon thinks he’s trapped George Harvey in the cornfield and is beaten himself; the first Christmas after Susie’s death when Lindsey receives the broken heart pendant from Samuel; the exploration of George Harvey’s house where Lindsey finds the sketch of the cornfield; Jack Salmon’s heart attack and near death; Abigail’s return home; Samuel and Lindsey finding the old house and becoming engaged; and Susie falling into Ruth’s body so she can have her heart’s desire fulfilled by the Grace of Heaven.

There is really no suspense in the rising action except when Lindsey goes into George Harvey’s house, but it is a culmination of wonderful and also awful moments in the lives of a family who has suffered greatly and deserves peace.

FALLING ACTION

The falling action first involves the wonderful experience between Ray and Susie through the miracle of her entrance into Ruth’s body. It is very uplifting, because it shows how love triumphs in the end. The falling action also involves the aftermath for all of the Salmons and their friends: Jack and Abigail resolve their marriage; Lindsey and Samuel are married and have a little girl; Buckley becomes a fine young man who will come to forgive his mother; Ruth continues what makes her happiest - using her sight to help the dead and the living; Ray becomes a doctor and never forgets the possibilities of Heaven; and Susie lets go of Earth and faces her eternity. She leaves us with her final blessing, “I wish you all a long and happy life.” The reader then can close the book with the sense that he/she has just learned something wonderful and dear.

POINT OF VIEW

The entire point of view is first person. Susie relates everything that happens to every character, including their thoughts as well as their deeds. She is an omniscient character in that she can see and know everything about those who love her, even their past. It’s only when she chooses not to know that her omniscience disappears.

Since everything is filtered through Susie, it might seem as if the reader is denied access to the reality each character might present if he could speak for himself. However, this point of view still allows us to know what the characters are thinking and feeling and we get a wonderful sketch of each one. This may be due to the fact that Susie loves them all or is bound to them all in some enduring way.


GENRE

This book fits within several genres. While in the basic genre of fiction. It can also be described as a Supernatural Thriller. Additionally, the novel can be considered a Bildungsroman (coming-of-age story). Susie manages to mature despite her death cut so short. The changes in Susie during the course of the story, both in her perspective and voice are subtle, but it depicts the elements of a classic Bildungsroman, though not in the traditional way.


THEMES - THEME ANALYSIS

Grief

The theme of grief is the most important theme in the book. The author herself understands what this family experiences. In her book, Lucky, she tells the story of her own rape and near murder. This kind of experience can be so devastating that the victim must grieve what happened to her and how she has changed. We see her own experience in Susie, who not only must follow her family’s progress through grief, but also her own progress. It is a kind of primer or textbook for us all. We, too, could someday face what the author and her characters have endured. The theme also allows the reader to understand these characters better, even George Harvey, the monster.

Love and Acceptance

The theme of love and acceptance weaves throughout the narrative. The farther the Salmons move away from each, the more they begin to realize they need to turn around and move back. This theme emphasizes just how much we need each other when we are at the lowest emotional level to which we can fall. When someone dies in our lives, we believe we will never recover. However, the author uses her characters to teach us that with acceptance comes recovery for us all.

Good versus Evil

The theme of good versus evil is one that has flowed throughout the history of literature. In this case, it involves how the Salmon family deals with the evil which has been perpetrated upon them and on Susie and allows goodness to flow out of it rather than the bitterness which could have stayed with them forever. What George Harvey did is the ultimate evil, but Susie and her family teach the reader that they must not fall into that blackness and never surface again. Susie represents the goodness that comes out to surround her family and protect them. It is a time-honored lesson.

The Feminist Approach to Rape and Murder

The theme of the feminist approach to rape and murder is a subtle thought placed into the mind of the reader, which emphasizes that we must not reduce rape and, sometimes, the murder that results, as an unimportant crime. Len Fenerman, for example, grieves for all the girls and women who have been raped and perhaps murdered and whose murderer has never been caught. But he gives up looking for them and the author’s message echoes the idea that these kinds of violations must never be forgotten.

 

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