The Lovely Bones | Study Guide

Alice Sebold

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The Lovely Bones | Chapter 3 | Summary



From heaven, Susie recalls the day of her murder, when her escaping soul brushed by her classmate Ruth Connors and reached out to touch Ruth's face. Since then, Ruth has been having disturbing dreams of the event. She becomes obsessed with Susie, even cutting out Susie's old yearbook pictures. Susie wishes she could direct Ruth to one important clue—the charm bracelet that came off her wrist during the attack—but it's no longer in the cornfield.

Susie spends hours in her gazebo, watching events on Earth. She's always liked being an observer, which is one reason she wanted to become a wildlife photographer when she was alive. She recalls getting a camera for her 11th birthday; that morning, she took a photo of her mother that forever stands out: a shot of her mother sitting on the porch and staring out at nothing. "My mother's eyes were oceans, and in them there was nothing but loss." The photo is the only sign Susie has that her mother's inner self is very different from what her children see.

Susie watches as Lindsey visits her old bedroom in the middle of the night. Lindsey pores longingly over Susie's things and finds the picture of their mother. "A deep breath rushed out of her ... She too, like me until the morning of that photograph, had never seen the mother-stranger."

The first time dead Susie is able to connect with any of her family, it's an accident. She's watching her father, Mr. Salmon, in his den, where he's about to clean his collection of ships in bottles. As he lines up the bottles, he talks to Susie aloud: she had often helped him build them. Suddenly, grief-stricken, Mr. Salmon smashes the ships one by one. As he stands looking at the wreckage, Susie's face suddenly appears in every shard of broken glass and then vanishes. Mr. Salmon retreats to Susie's bedroom and collapses in tears, watched from the doorway by four-year-old Buckley.


Chapter 3 is strongly visual. It concerns the permutations of watching and seeing and contains many description of the way things look.

Ruth's dream that is "too real to be a dream" shows that, on some level, she's been able to see Susie Salmon's soul. But she doesn't understand what she's seen until she learns that Susie is dead. Trying to make sense of the experience in the parking lot, she "goes underground"—another link to the murder—and begins collecting pictures of Susie. It's as if she needs to see repeated images to connect her dream of the ghost with her dawning realization that somehow she's involved with Susie's murder.

Susie watches her old school for days. If she were alive, some of the watching would have to be called spying: she witnesses quite a few intimate moments. Pondering what she's seen, Susie recalls the photo she took of her mother in an unguarded moment—the photo that first caused her to see her mother as an individual. When Lindsey finds the photo, she, too, is bowled over by the "mother-stranger." From then on, Lindsey will be trying to spot the inner Mrs. Salmon. And from then on, the reader will suspect that if Mrs. Salmon's inner self is so at odds with her "mom self," something is amiss.

When he smashes the ships in bottles, Mr. Salmon is suddenly able to see Susie reflected in every piece of broken glass. Susie's not sure why, and neither is the reader. It's not as if seeing Susie cheers Mr. Salmon up! Something about the multiple reflected images causes him to break down entirely.

Susie's not sure how or why her face suddenly appears in the broken glass, but watching Mr. Salmon smash the bottles has been shocking to her. "My heart seized up," she says. This was an activity she had loved sharing with Mr. Salmon. The gesture almost seems mocking. But in Chapter 4, readers will learn that seeing Susie's face makes Mr. Salmon flee the house—where he'll encounter Mr. Harvey.

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