The Lovely Bones | Study Guide

Alice Sebold

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The Lovely Bones | Chapter 8 | Summary

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Summary

This fragmentary chapter gives readers a look at Mr. Harvey's history and the way he thinks. For three months after murdering Susie Salmon, Mr. Harvey dreams about buildings. He dreams of thatched huts on stilts collapsing under the force of rushing water "from below"; of wooden churches in Norway whose staves have been carved by Viking boat-builders; and of The Church of the Transfiguration in the Vologda region of Russia. The third dream is his favorite, and he dreams it on the night he kills Susie "and on the nights following until the others came back." "The others" are his nightmares about women and children.

Susie can see into Mr. Harvey's head; she can also see his past. She sees him as a baby, watching his father sort pieces of colored glass that he's scavenged from the desert. As the baby looks at the glass, he glances from time to time at the amber necklace his mother is wearing. Mr. Harvey likes to study his father's old sketchbooks whenever the nightmares come back. "He would steep himself in the images of other places and other worlds, trying to love what he did not."

Looking through the sketchbooks gives Mr. Harvey a different nightmare: a reliving of the day his father forces his mother out of the family car. During the struggle, his mother hands the boy her torn-off amber pendant before running off into a field. The child Mr. Harvey has watched all this from the backseat, "no more afraid than a stone, watching it all ... in slo-mo." His father tells him his mother won't be coming back.

Analysis

Glimpses into Mr. Harvey's past make it sadly clear how he became the monster he is. Something is terribly wrong with both his parents. Perhaps Mr. Harvey has inherited their psychoses; perhaps he was massively abused as a child; perhaps both.

When Mr. Harvey is a baby in his mother's arms, the image he sees are pretty: piles of colored glass and an amber necklace. But a kind of corruption lurks underneath. The senior Mr. Harvey is giving a jeweler's attention not to jewels but to some broken glass he's found in the desert. The amber pendant has a trapped fly in the center.

The senior Mr. Harvey doesn't perceive that it's insane to build shacks in the desert. He lectures his son on how to build things that will last—as if shacks built with scavenged wood could last. The boy obviously knows something's wrong. As his adult dreams show, the buildings with which he identifies are imperiled or wrong in some way.

  • The fragile thatched huts are destroyed by "rushing torrents of water from below." "From below" is a reference to the terror and rage that Mr. Harvey tries to keep under the surface.
  • The Norwegian church has timbers carved by Viking boat-builders. Vikings were known for their violent raids. Not only has the church been made by Vikings, but the figures they carved on the timbers were "dragons and local heroes"—pagan images instead of Christian ones. This building may look like a church, but it's tainted with a sense of primitive menace.
  • Mr. Harvey's favorite dream is about the Church of the Transfiguration, which is located at the edge of a lake. One wall of the structure is built over a water gate—a fortified wall leading directly down to the water. Again, Mr. Harvey is dreaming of a structure under threat of destruction—in this case, by human attackers as well as by water.

He's also dreaming about transfiguration. To be transfigured is to be changed into a new, holy, and beautiful state. On one level, Mr. Harvey yearns to be transfigured from the monster he has become; in that sense, the dream may be an attempt at purifying himself after what he's done. (After he kills Susie Salmon, he takes what sounds like a ritual bath before going to bed—another attempt at washing away the stains on his soul.) He wishes that this dream would protect him from his other, "not still" dreams of murdering women and children. But the "not still" dreams always return.

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