The Lovely Bones | Study Guide

Alice Sebold

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The Lovely Bones | Chapter 16 | Summary

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Summary

On the anniversary of Susie Salmon's death, friends and neighbors gather in the cornfield for an impromptu memorial. Ray Singh and Ruth are there; they've become a sort of couple, though Ray still misses Susie and Ruth is still attracted to girls. The elderly couple whose dog found Susie's elbow come, and so does Ruana Singh. Some of the teachers and staff from Susie's school are there, along with many other people.

Lindsey catches sight of the group and tells her mother that something's going on. Mrs. Salmon just keeps reading. When Lindsey realizes that the gathering is a memorial ceremony for Susie, Mrs. Salmon says, "We've had the memorial. That's done." Lindsey asks if Mrs. Salmon is planning to leave. Mrs. Salmon says no, knowing she's lying.

As Mrs. Salmon hides in the dining room so now one will see her, Lindsey, Buckley, and Mr. Salmon join the other mourners across the street. Samuel Heckler and Ray come forward to bring the family into the group. For months, Mr. Salmon has barely ventured outside the house except for work. Now, he realizes that people he doesn't even recognize loved Susie. He asks a neighbor to sing the Irish ballads Susie loved to hear. Everyone joins in. As Susie says, it's a moment of grace.

Analysis

The people Susie Salmon left behind are starting to heal. It's touching to see how many of them remember Susie on the anniversary of her murder. Knowing Susie has brought them together in new ways.

The friendship between Ray Singh and Ruth is especially interesting. Their classmates think they're a couple, despite all evidence to the contrary. "But if they're not a couple, what else are they? They talk all the time, they like spending time together, and they're beginning to experiment with kissing. There doesn't seem to be much evidence to the contrary.

It's a sign of Alice Sebold's attention to detail that she keeps in mind the elderly owners of the dog who found Susie's elbow. An incident like that would rattle anyone, especially older people! The care Sebold takes with even minor characters is impressive.

But as a character, Mrs. Salmon isn't wearing well. By now, many readers will have lost patience with Mrs. Salmon, who's starting to seem selfish. It's bad enough that she refuses to go to the ceremony; telling Lindsey that she doesn't believe in "lighting candles and doing all that stuff" seems cruel.

Lindsey is resilient enough to ask what Mrs. Salmon would consider a good way to honor Susie's memory. Mrs. Salmon's answer seems completely off the mark. "I want to be more than a mother," she says. But that goal has nothing to do with honoring Susie's memory! It's something Mrs. Salmon wants to do for herself. Susie or no Susie, it's fine that Mrs. Salmon wants to lead a more interesting life. But she's not being honest if she blames Susie's murder for her own need to break out of her conventional role. She's doing the exact opposite of honoring Susie's memory.

Sebold does not seem to be suggesting that Mrs. Salmon is a cruel or selfish person. But this is a portrait of a woman whose suffering has turned her focus entirely inward.

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