Study Guide for Bleachers by John Grisham - BookNotes

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The first and most important theme is that of forgiveness. Eddie Rake slapped Neely for losing the first half of the championship game in 1987 which prompted Neely to knock his coach out. Neely himself had drifted through the last 15 years of his life, bitter about his knee injury and his wife leaving him. Now, Neely must not only forgive his coach for all that he had done to him, but he must also forgive himself for his own bitterness, his weakness in being unable to give up football, and his cruelty to others like Cameron. Through the vigil for Eddie Rake, he also sits a vigil for who he used to be. He leaves his town better able to live with who heís become, and the town he leaves is better able to live with the rift created by the death of one of Eddie Rakeís players.

What Makes True Greatness?

The second theme is what makes true greatness? Eddie Rake was a flawed human just as we all are. He made mistakes that eventually led to his losing his job and from some of his players feeling bitter toward him. However, at his death vigil and funeral, the reader is allowed to see that he was a truly great man. He loved his players even though he couldnít show it. He loved his family even though he dominated them. He wanted to win for all the right reasons even though he didnít know how to lose. Whatís more, he believed in justice and sincerely cared for people in need. His greatness came about in the way he influenced all those whose lives he touched. Even while they hated his tactics, those young football players could never get his voice out of their heads when they were about to do something wrong and couldnít bear the shame when they misbehaved anyway. He helped mold their characters for the better and ached for them and with them when they fell short. As a result, he passed on to the next generation through them a true way to live life properly. What he taught will be passed on to the children of his players and perhaps even farther and thatís what makes a man truly great.

Life Isn't Always Fair

Another important theme is that life isnít always fair. This is a lesson Neely has a hard time learning. He spends 15 years of his life feeling bitter, because he suffers a career-ending knee injury that prevents him from ever playing professional football and because his wife leaves him after suffering two miscarriages (even though he drove a former girlfriend to an abortion clinic to destroy his first child). He is also bitter about what Coach Rake had done to him in the locker room during the championship game of 1987. He has never been able to forgive the man until he returns to his old hometown for the first time in 15 years to sit a death vigil for the man. It is only when he goes home again that Neely learns that life isnít always fair, but that a man of true character finds a way to overcome the bitterness and live a life that brings him happiness.

Misplaced Priorities

A final theme concerns the idea of misplaced priorities. There is a sense that for these young men the pressure of being a championship football team exacts terrible consequences. The worst of these is the belief that they are nothing if they cannot play football, and some go through life never coming to terms with high school graduation. For a town like Messina, there is the loss that other students have to face if they are not football players. Their sports and academics never receive the funding that the football team does, and itís terrible to imagine how their potential might have been fulfilled if they had been given the same opportunities. This is a lesson that the author subtlely alludes to, but nonetheless makes the reader think about. Where do we put our funds that will do the most good for the most students, and how do we deal with citizens who only want to see a winning team so that they have bragging rights over other towns? It is a conundrum that much of America faces, especially in small towns where the funding is the smallest.


The mood is often somber, bitter, and filled with regret. However, it is also uplifting as so many people come to realize the great influence Eddie Rake had on their lives. It is also uplifting, because the reader realizes that when a man can apologize as both Eddie and Neely do to those they have hurt, then nothing but good can come of it in so many ways.

John Grisham - BIOGRAPHY

Born February 8, 1955 in Jonesboro, Arkansas. John Grisham had wanted to be a professional baseball player. When he realized he didnít have enough talent to be a pro, he switched gears and majored in accounting at Ole Miss (Mississippi State University) where he also graduated from the school of law (1981) .

Grishamís real career began as a lawyer in Southaven, Mississippi. In between his courthouse dates and serving in the Mississippi House of Reprentatives (1983-1990), he took time to begin writing his first novel. It was titled A Time to Kill (1987) and was the result of a case he overheard at the courthouse of a twelve year old girl who had been raped. He imagined a story where the girlís father decides to kill her attackers. This was followed by The Firm (1991) and The Pelican Brief (1992) , two novels that firmly established him as one of Americaís premier writers. He has written a novel a year ever since, many of which became major motion pictures.

Today, he splits his time with his wife (Renee) and two children (Ty and Shea) at his Victorian farm home in Mississippi and a farm in Virginia. He also devotes his time to charitable causes like Rebuild the Coast Fund and being Commissioner of the local Little League.


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