The Lovely Bones | Study Guide

Alice Sebold

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The Lovely Bones | Chapter 1 | Summary



Chapter 1 opens with an unusual revelation: "My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973." After a few words of self-introduction, Susie moves immediately to her murder. She's walking home from school on December 6 and decides to take a shortcut through a cornfield. She's so absorbed in the snowflakes that she's startled when a neighbor named Mr. Harvey speaks to her from out of the dark. After a few sentences of awkward conversation, he tells her he's made "a little hiding place" right where they're standing. She follows Mr. Harvey into the dugout he's made. Partially from politeness, partially from curiosity, Susie enters the dugout.

The atmosphere turns threatening almost immediately. Mr. Harvey blocks the door and tells Susie to take off her clothes: "I want to check that you're still a virgin." Susie tries to fight him off, but he's too strong. He stuffs her winter hat into her mouth and rapes her. When he's done, he grabs a knife, brandishes it in Susie's face, takes the hat out of her mouth, and orders her to say she loves him.

"Gently, I did. The end came anyway," Susie says.


Opening with a narrator who is a dead 14-year-old girl, Alice Sebold employs a matter-of-fact tone to present the horrific violence. From the instant Susie's inside the dugout until the end of the chapter, there's not a single exclamation point. The terrible action is described in language that's understated and filled with homey details. When Susie describes trying to fight Mr. Harvey, she mentions that fitness was not important in those days. "Girls were supposed to be soft, and only the girls we suspected were butch could climb the ropes at school." It's a startling time to mention something about junior high gym class, but the whole chapter is filled with these touches. Susie describes begging Mr. Harvey to stop, adding that the plea was "like insisting that a key works when it doesn't."

The chapter moves implacably toward its end, but along the way Susie continually interjects touches about her life. Knowing what's going to happen, the reader, clings to these moments almost hopefully; they're little respites from the horror. Occasionally, the action cuts to Susie's first few days in heaven, which seem startling in their ordinariness. The first time readers see Susie in the afterlife, she's talking about Mr. Harvey ("The man has no shame") as she fits her limbs together: a simple but ghastly hint that her body was dismembered after the murder.

Sebold could have picked any date for this chapter, but December 6 is St. Nicholas's Day. One of the saint's miracles is said to be restoring to life three little boys who had been butchered.

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