The Lovely Bones | Study Guide

Alice Sebold

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The Lovely Bones | Chapter 4 | Summary

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Summary

The first half of this chapter shows the gruesome way Mr. Harvey disposes of Susie Salmon's dismembered body. He's had a lot of practice cleaning up after killing someone. Even so, he makes mistakes. He leaves Susie's elbow bone behind, he uses a cloth sack for her body instead of a plastic one, and he can't eradicate Susie's blood on the floor of his garage. As Susie says, the blood is "the beginning of [her] secret signals to the world."

This is also the beginning of Susie's quest to catch Mr. Harvey. She'll decide what to do with him when she's tracked him down.

Mr. Harvey puts Susie's body into an old safe and drives the safe to a sinkhole on the Flanagans' property, where he pays to have it buried. On the way there, he whistles along with the Christmas carols on the radio and congratulates himself on getting better and better at his kills. On the way home, he stops at a construction lot and throws her charm bracelet away. He keeps the Pennsylvania keystone charm as a souvenir.

Two days before Christmas—inspired by a book about African Bedouin tribes—Mr. Harvey decides to build a ceremonial tent in his backyard. He's working on it when Mr. Salmon "ambles" into the yard, still "buzzing" from having seen Susie's reflection in the shards of the glass ships he smashed. Mr. Harvey asks if Mr. Salmon would like to help build the tent, and the two men set to work as Susie watches from heaven.

Susie is desperate to get across the message that Mr. Harvey is her murderer. She focuses hard, and Mr. Salmon suddenly sees her face everywhere. When Mr. Harvey's hand brushes his own, Mr. Salmon is suddenly sure that he's the killer. "You know something," he says, but Mr. Harvey just retreats into the tent.

Analysis

As this chapter opens, Mr. Harvey is collapsing the dugout where he killed Susie Salmon. As it ends, he's just retreated inside the Bedouin wedding tent he and Mr. Salmon built together. He has put himself through a form of ritual cleansing: in addition to cleaning up after Susie's remains, he has "scoured" his body in a hot bath. On his way to burying the safe holding Susie's body, he treats himself to apple pie. "Better and better he was getting now."

Mr. Harvey thinks of the murder as a grotesque form of marriage. Having murdered Susie, he is now married to her, and he wants to enact the wedding ceremony. While the two men are working on the tent, Mr. Harvey goes into the house to "check on" the murder weapon—a carving knife that he keeps by his bed. Seeing Susie's blood on the knife, he remembers that in one Bedouin tribe, a tent for newlyweds is covered with a beautiful sheet. He brings some white bedsheets outside with him to "beautify" his own tent.

There are many references to weddings in Chapter 4, and they're horrifying. Mr. Harvey remembers splitting Susie's "glorious white flesh that had never seen the sun" and her "delicious death moan," which for Mr. Harvey is as exciting as a moan made during sex. Seeing the bloody knife inspires him to cover the tent with white cotton sheets; this conjures up the image of blood-stained sheets on a bride's wedding night.

Mr. Harvey claims his brides by killing them. Inside the finished tent, he imagines an anonymous virgin bride being "brought" to her tribal husband on a camel. She's being carried, as he carried Susie. Like Susie—and like pregnant Mary in the Christmas story—she is a virgin who is being "delivered."

The snow that's falling, "soft and blameless," is covering up the horrors that have taken place in Mr. Harvey's house. But snow melts, and—like the blood on his garage floor—those horrors can't be erased.

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