The Lovely Bones | Study Guide

Alice Sebold

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The Lovely Bones | Chapter 12 | Summary



Mr. Salmon is taken to the hospital, his kneecap shattered. He will never walk normally again.

At the Salmons' house, Mrs. Salmon, Lindsey, and Buckley Salmon are woken by police sirens. Lindsey panics when she can't find her father anywhere—but Mrs. Salmon, oddly, begins making tea. "He'll come home in good time," she says. "We're staying out of this." Lindsey is appalled by this reaction, realizing the degree to which her mother has withdrawn from the family. She takes Buckley up to bed with her.

When the police call with the news, Mrs. Salmon rushes to the hospital. Lindsey can't bear being stuck at home. She arranges for a friend's mother to babysit Buckley, then gets a ride to the hospital with Sam's older brother, Hal Heckler.

Mrs. Salmon is not in Mr. Salmon's hospital room when Lindsey arrives; she and Len are outside on a service balcony, first smoking and then kissing. Watching them, Susie has a flashback to her early childhood, when her mother would bathe Susie and Lindsey before tucking them in for naps. Her mother seemed magically happy and creative back then, but Susie remembers the way she changed when she unexpectedly got pregnant again. The third pregnancy put an end to Mrs. Salmon's ambition of returning to the outside world, and she began to feel trapped. Susie realizes that Mrs. Salmon's "greed to get out, to smash, destroy," is leading her toward Len.

When Mrs. Salmon gets back to the room, she sees Lindsey holding Mr. Salmon's hand. She sees that her daughter and husband have formed into a new unit, and she's glad.


Mrs. Salmon is angry at her husband. When the sirens start up, she tells Lindsey to look for Mr. Salmon rather than getting him herself. When Lindsey breathlessly reports that Mr. Salmon isn't there, Mrs. Salmon swears. When Lindsey wonders if Mr. Salmon is hurt, her mother snaps, "We are not discussing this further." No wonder Lindsey is dumbfounded; it's as though the wife-and-mother part of Mrs. Salmon has vanished. Even Buckley senses that his mother is different. He automatically goes to Lindsey for comfort.

Because the reader already knows that Mr. Salmon is hurt, Mrs. Salmon's behavior seems incredibly callous. Recall, though, that Mrs. Salmon herself has no idea Mr. Salmon has been beaten up. She thinks that the police have caught him playing amateur detective again, and she can't bear to watch them dealing with him now.

Mrs. Salmon becomes even angrier when she realizes that Buckley is holding onto Lindsey. Mother and daughter are already battling about how to respond to Mr. Salmon's disappearance, and now Buckley seems to be taking sides with Lindsey—even to be treating her like a mother. That's why Mrs. Salmon explodes about Buckley's sucking his thumb. Naturally, her rage makes Buckley cling to Lindsey even harder.

Sadly, Lindsey has been abruptly thrust into a dual role. She's both an unwilling parent to Buckley Salmon and a fearful child, symbolically motherless and unable to reach her father. Lindsey realizes that it should be her mother's role to be with Mr. Salmon. "Didn't the wife belong most at the husband's side?" But for the past hour, Lindsey's been acting more responsibly and maturely than Mrs. Salmon.

Chapter 12 shows how a tragedy can warp a social structure. At the end of the chapter, Mrs. Salmon is comforted to see that Lindsey and Mr. Salmon have "become a piece." Normally, a mother would be distressed by this sight, but nothing is normal for the Salmons now.

A side note: Chapter 12 also reveals that Hal Heckler is as just perfect as his younger brother—preternaturally sensitive and tactful beyond his years.

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