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The Lovely Bones | Discussion Questions 1 - 10

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What is the purpose of the description of Susie Salmon's and Mr. Salmon's snow globe conversation in the epigraph of Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones?

When a short quotation or adage is included as an epigraph in the beginning of a text, the reader can assume that it will carry significance throughout the text. Oftentimes, the epigraph suggests something of the way the reader should interpret certain events. In The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold introduces the snow globe and sets it up as a symbol that will encapsulate personal security and the fragility of life and loneliness. Though the snow globe is only mentioned once after the epigraph, other references to snow are important. For example, it is snowing when Susie Salmon is taken by Mr. Harvey. This setting illustrates the fragility of Susie's life. As the reader gets to know Susie and her story, Mr. Salmon's advice to not worry about the penguin inside the snow globe because "he has a nice life. He's trapped in a perfect world" becomes valuable advice for the reader, who rightfully worries about Susie's being trapped and lonely. Remembering the epigraph might help the reader find comfort in the idea that while Susie meets a tragic end and observes the conflict her murder brings to her family, she becomes the penguin inside the snow globe and is forever safe inside her own perfect heaven.

In The Lovely Bones, how does Alice Sebold characterize Susie Salmon in the opening page of Chapter 1?

The fact that Alice Sebold kills her main character, Susie Salmon, in the first chapter of her book means that she has to be swift and efficient in characterizing the protagonist. It is important that the reader has some sense of connection to Susie before she is killed so that they feel the tragedy of her death at Mr. Harvey's hands. From the novel's epigraph, the reader already knows through indirect characterization that Susie is a thoughtful and compassionate person who has enough narrative imagination to worry about the experience of a man trapped inside a snow globe. In the opening line of Chapter 1, Susie Introduces herself as Susie Salmon, "like the fish." Her decision to explain her name in this juvenile way communicates through indirect characterization just how young this character is. Sebold also directly characterizes Susie as a one of those "white girls with mousy brown hair" who turned up on milk cartons in the 1970s: no matter how unique Susie is—and she has become impressively unique by Sebold in the space of just two paragraphs—what happened to her is not unique.

What tragic flaw does Susie Salmon display in Chapter 1 of Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones?

Although Susie Salmon can never be blamed for what happened to her at Mr. Harvey's hand, there is one personality characteristic of Susie's that Mr. Harvey capitalizes on to trap Susie: her curiosity. Upon approaching the dugout, Susie explains that she "was no longer cold or weirded out by the look [Mr. Harvey] had given me. It was like I was in science class: I was curious." The fact that Susie complies with Mr. Harvey's request to "Come see" out of a sense of curiosity (that is so strong it eclipses her intuition about Mr. Harvey) makes curiosity Susie's tragic flaw.

What is verbally ironic about Mr. Harvey's admonishment that Susie Salmon "should be more observant" in Chapter 1 of Alice Sebold's novel The Lovely Bones?

In Chapter 1 of The Lovely Bones, Mr. Harvey says, "You should be more observant, Susie" to Susie Salmon. This statement is verbally ironic in a couple of ways. The first is that Susie proves herself to be extremely observant throughout the entire novel, and she even delivers some powerful observations about the way that Mr. Harvey looks at her right before he says she should be more observant. Another way his statement is verbally ironic is that Mr. Harvey would not be able to trick Susie the way that he does if she was, in this instance, more observant. By saying the opposite of what he means (a kind of verbal irony), Mr. Harvey also reveals a cruel and condescending nature.

In The Lovely Bones, how is Mrs. Salmon characterized in Chapter 1 through Susie Salmon's thoughts of her as Susie is raped by Mr. Harvey?

In Chapter 1, as Susie Salmon narrates the events of Mr. Harvey's raping her, she also thinks of her mother, and how she would be worried, but more so angry at Susie for being late. Susie gives small details about Mrs. Salmon, such as Mrs. Salmon's delight over the fact that her new oven has a clock on it, and she "can time things to the minute." Not only does the presence of the clock suggest each passing minute between the time when her mother would realize she was late and the time she would realize Susie would never be home, it also reveals that Mrs. Salmon is living a fairly mundane suburban life where the advent of a clock on her oven is exciting. Susie also describes Mrs. Salmon as a woman who, in the face of objection from her husband, Mr. Salmon, would duck "into the kitchen and [take] a nip of sherry for herself." This signals both a power imbalance in the marriage (the husband has the last word) and a level of dissatisfaction in the marriage on Mrs. Salmon's part. In Susie's thinking about these things, the reader sees Susie taking on the role of the worried mother, perhaps for the first time, even as she faces the terrible reality of what Mr. Harvey is doing to her.

What is implied by Susie Salmon's statement that she "wasn't supposed to like" Ray Singh in Chapter 1 of The Lovely Bones?

In Chapter 1 as Susie Salmon narrates the events of Mr. Harvey's raping her, she also introduces the reader to Ray Singh. She says, "His name was Ray and he was Indian. He had an accent and was dark. I wasn't supposed to like him." There are a few possible interpretations of Susie's assertion that she is not supposed to like Ray. One is that he is uncool, as suggested by Clarissa's description of his "freak-a-delic" and "large eyes, with their half-closed lids." Given that the reader understands that Susie perceives Clarissa to be more sophisticated than her, it's possible that Susie isn't supposed to like Ray because of some social stratification at the school. Another interpretation is that in the late 1970s, people were generally not receptive to culturally mixed relationships.

What is the effect of Susie Salmon's plea, "please don't," in Chapter 1 of The Lovely Bones?

In Chapter 1, Mr. Harvey rapes and kills Susie Salmon. Throughout the terrifying and sickening event, Susie repeatedly says, "please" and "don't," sometimes in a combined utterance as "Please don't." This detail reveals the polite and gentle aspects of Susie's personality. When reading this passage, one does not get the sense that Susie is screaming or wailing. Instead, she is sadly and desperately attempting to reason with Mr. Harvey. This passage also underscores the tragedy of the situation; Susie's complete inability to resist is juxtaposed with her dying hope that he will stop hurting her.

In what way does Alice Sebold make Mr. Harvey pitiful or sympathetic in the scene in Chapter 1 of The Lovely Bones where he rapes and kills Susie Salmon?

In Chapter 1, Mr. Harvey asks Susie Salmon to tell him that she loves him. This request indirectly characterizes Harvey as a man who is deeply disturbed and living with extreme emotional damage. Although his actions are evil, Alice Sebold elegantly renders the depth of Mr. Harvey's mental illness through this one request. In doing so, Sebold creates the opportunity for the reader to experience a small amount of compassion for the sick man. At the very least, it offers some insight into what motivates Mr. Harvey to commit these evil deeds. This is one of the many ways that Sebold resists stereotypes or character tropes and ensures that each character is round, complex, and fully human.

What is the effect of Susie Salmon's discussion of her "dreams on Earth" in Chapter 2 of The Lovely Bones?

In Chapter 2, Susie Salmon reflects on what it would have been like had she gone to high school. She dreams of wearing her "hair feathered or up in a bun," and she likes to think about herself as "having reached a sort of queenly status" as the protector "of misfit kids in the cafeteria." Yet, she does admit to having privately ridiculed Phoebe Hart in the past by making boob jokes. The juxtaposition of Susie's desires to grow into a high school "queen" who protects her peers and her admission that she has had cruel thoughts herself further develops Susie as a round, complex, and lifelike character. Susie also demonstrates the capacity for reflection and growth through her desire to transform from a shy girl who has private thoughts about her peers into a great protector. Susie is at once admirable and flawed.

What notions of the afterlife does Alice Sebold develop in The Lovely Bones?

Susie Salmon's description of the afterlife evolves over the course of the novel. At first, the landscape is limited, and it is clear that the heaven is unique to its occupant. Beginning in Chapter 2, Susie always says "my heaven" not just "heaven." This suggests that the afterlife has multiple heaven spaces, each of which is tailored to the person occupying it, complete with a guide or "intake" specialist—in Susie's case, this person is Franny. As the novel goes on, it seems that Susie's heaven is more of a transitional space that could be likened to purgatory. Susie is in this heaven only until she has healed and reached closure, something she works toward over time, and finally attains 10 years after her death when Lindsay and Samuel Heckler have their baby girl, Abigail Suzanne. At this point, Susie moves onto the Heaven, which has its own properties, some in common with Susie's own heaven and some different. Perhaps most importantly, it is in this heaven that Susie is able to reunite with her grandfather, and it is assumed that Grandma Lynn will be along in time.

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