The Lovely Bones | Study Guide

Alice Sebold

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The Lovely Bones | Chapter 18 | Summary

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Summary

Ruth now lives in New York City, where she takes frequent long walks as a form of pilgrimage. Whenever she passes a place where a woman or girl has been killed, she stops for a moment of silence. Later, in her journal, Ruth lists as many of these spots as she can. Susie Salmon tells people in heaven about Ruth's second sight, and she's now a celebrity there. "The story had traveled so quickly that women lined up to know if she had found where they'd been killed." For the souls in heaven, Ruth is doing important work.

In Pennsylvania, Buckley Salmon wakes up early to work in his garden. At one point, he lugs a box of old clothes up from the basement, planning to rip them into strips for staking up his tomato plants. Mr. Salmon recognizes the old clothes as Susie's. He gathers up the pile and turns to bring the clothes back to the house.

Finally, after years of frustration, Buckley snaps. "You have to choose. It's not fair," he tells his father. He wonders why Mr. Salmon's living children don't take priority over his dead one.

Before Mr. Salmon can answer, he collapses with a heart attack and is taken to the hospital. Susie wants her father to die so that he can join her in heaven. Buckley wants him to live. Like Susie, Buckley feels responsible for Mr. Salmon's happiness.

In heaven, Susie sees a man walking toward her; it's her grandfather. They begin dancing as they loved to do when Susie was six. As they spin for hours, Susie realizes that something is shifting on both Earth and in heaven, but she doesn't know what it is.

Finally, she and her grandfather come to a stop. He tells Susie he's going but that she shouldn't worry. "You're so close," he says.

Analysis

Although Ruth's second sight is fascinating to read about. Readers will learn that Alice Sebold is giving Ruth a reason to visit heaven. More immediately, the argument between Buckley Salmon and Mr. Salmon is masterfully handled. What makes emotional sense to Mr. Salmon makes none to Buckley. To Mr. Salmon, Susie Salmon's clothes are like holy relics; to Buckley, they're meaningless pieces of cloth that can be put to better use than sitting in a box in the basement.

Mr. Salmon and Buckley are each right in their own way, but it's easier to sympathize with Buckley when his father silently picks up the clothes and heads away with them. Mr. Salmon seems to believe that taking back the clothes makes so much sense that there's no reason to discuss it. Buckley wants to help his plants grow, while Mr. Salmon just wants the clothes kept undisturbed in their box. Most readers will agree that Buckley has the stronger case.

It doesn't occur to Mr. Salmon or Buckley that they could divide the pile of clothes, but then the clothes aren't really what they're arguing about. Their real topic is that Mr. Salmon's memories of Susie are weighing him and Buckley down. Buckley's too young to realize that it's impossible for Mr. Salmon to choose between him and Susie; Mr. Salmon is too caught up in the past to realize that keeping Susie's clothes is not the way to honor her memory.

Buckley also has the stronger claim when he and Susie silently argue over whether Mr. Salmon should live or die. Susie misses her father; Buckley needs him. It's not clear if Susie has any actual power to pull her father into heaven, but both she and Buckley believe that she does.

When Susie returns to heaven after visiting Mr. Salmon's bedside, she's beginning to realize that Buckley is right. She's not elated but frightened when she thinks Mr. Salmon is walking toward her. She's filled with love when she recognizes her grandfather instead. The "seismic movement" she senses while dancing with her grandfather is her realization that she needs to let go of her father.

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