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The Lovely Bones | Discussion Questions 21 - 30

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What does Ruana Singh mean when she says Mr. Salmon has "come to find something soft" in Chapter 6 of The Lovely Bones?

In Chapter 6, Mr. Salmon goes to the Singh house after his concern about Mr. Harvey's role in Susie Salmon's murder is dismissed by the police. He explains to Ruana Singh that he is there to speak to Ray Singh, because he is "investigating all leads," though Ray has already been eliminated as a person of interest. Ruana objects to Mr. Salmon's questioning Ray to protect her son. Nevertheless, she still shows considerable compassion toward Mr. Salmon and reveals her powerful intuition when she says that "You want to find something soft, something warm in all this." This illustrates that Ruana understands that Mr. Salmon doesn't really believe that Ray did it; rather, he wants to question a young man who knew Susie Salmon and who is innocent. The "something soft, something warm" that Ruana mentions is the goodness in humanity where Mr. Salmon can rest his grief; he comes to find this in Ray, but unexpectedly finds it in Ruana Singh.

Why is Len Fenerman sympathetic to Mr. Harvey, and how does this sympathy impact the investigation into Susie Salmon's death in The Lovely Bones?

In Chapter 5, Mr. Harvey tells Len Fenerman that his wife, Leah, died. Of course, Leah Fox is a victim of Mr. Harvey's, but Len does not know this. Because Len's wife also died young, the belief that Mr. Harvey is a widower establishes an affinity between the two men. Although Mr. Harvey is very clever and capable of putting on an innocent act—one he has perfected so well over the years that he has managed to never be caught—Len is more inclined to rule out Mr. Harvey as a suspect because they have this painful history in common. This detail helps Alice Sebold amplify the tension already created by dramatic irony; not only does the reader know the truth about Mr. Harvey when Len doesn't, they also know that Len is blinded to Harvey's lies because of their shared suffering.

How does the short story about Mrs. Utemeyer in Chapter 9 support the larger story of The Lovely Bones?

In Chapter 9, Grandma Lynn gets "sloshed" and gives Mrs. Salmon and Lindsey makeovers the night before Susie Salmon's memorial service. Between the makeup scene and the memorial scene, Alice Sebold interjects a small anecdote about a neighborhood woman named Mrs. Utemeyer. She says that "Mrs. Bethel Utemeyer was the only dead person my sister and I ever saw." Mrs. Utemeyer is described in such a way that gives the reader the impression that she suffers from some kind of advanced dementia. She is an old woman, and in the natural order of things, she dies before her daughter and granddaughter. This natural order underscores how unnatural the memorial service to come is—there is no body, and not only has the mother outlived the daughter, so has the grandmother.

In what ways is The Lovely Bones a coming-of-age story?

At its most basic, a coming-of-age story follows an adolescent protagonist from childhood to adulthood. This movement is signaled by a renewed understanding of the world and the people in the adolescent's life. In other words, the protagonist, who is initially very egocentric and sees the world only from his or her perspective, begins to see things from other people's perspectives. The fact that Susie Salmon is dead makes The Lovely Bones an unusual coming-of-age story, but even in heaven, Susie grows from adolescence into the maturity of adulthood, learning to understand her family and their struggles as an adult might.

How does Alice Sebold experiment with traditional categories of narration in The Lovely Bones?

In The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold blurs the traditional boundary between first-person and third-person narration. While Susie Salmon tells her story in the first-person, she is also very much a third-person observer who is removed from the action. Her position in heaven as an observer of the lives being led below in the wake of her death affords her some visibility traditionally preserved for third-person narrators. Sebold even grants Susie some level of omniscience when Susie purports to know what her family and other characters are feeling and thinking. Sebold gives Susie access to the interior lives of other characters, making her, in some ways, an omniscient narrator. Because Susie's character is telling the story from heaven, Sebold is free to experiment with narrative techniques. By collapsing many of the traditional boundaries between narrative points of view, the author effectively creates a new narrative point of view for her deceased narrator.

At the memorial service held for Susie Salmon in Chapter 9 of The Lovely Bones, why does Ruth think about the word subjugation?

At Susie Salmon's memorial service, Ruth sees Lindsey holding Samuel Heckler's hand and wearing the makeup that Grandma Lynn put on her the night before. This image causes Ruth to remember a vocabulary word from school: subjugation. Subjugation is defined as "the action of bringing someone or something under domination or control." As the emerging voice of feminism, Ruth's character understands Lindsey's application of makeup as an act of subjugation. By complying with social rules and expectations regarding gender, Lindsey has allowed herself to be brought under control. By wearing makeup, Lindsey is like Grandma Lynn who reflects more traditional notions of womanhood, insisting that a woman must be slight and properly made up. Just like Margaret Sanger, who is discussed in Chapter 12, Lindsey is judged by her looks.

What is the symbolism behind Ray Singh's act of pressing Susie Salmon's class picture between the pages of a book of Indian poetry in Chapter 9 of The Lovely Bones?

In Chapter 9, the reader learns that Ray Singh has pressed Susie Salmon's class picture between the pages of a large volume of Indian poetry. "Fragile flowers that were slowly turning to dust" are also pressed between these pages. This signifies Susie's status as a fragile flower—someone who remains only in memory—who, if not preserved between the pages of this poetry volume, might disappear altogether. It also illustrates Ray's feelings about Susie: he views her as something beautiful and fragile that is worth preserving. Even still, just as the flower will slowly turn to dust—disintegrating between the pages of the book, so will the memory of Susie. No matter how hard one tries to preserve the memory of the dead, it will pass along with those who remembered her.

What parallel exists between the character Ruth in The Lovely Bones and Alice Sebold, the author?

In Chapter 10 of The Lovely Bones, Susie Salmon tells the reader about Ruth's poetry. She says that when Ruth is "imagining me, she felt better, less alone, more connected to something out there." Furthermore, Susie says that as a poet, Ruth's "words had the power to resurrect me." Alice Sebold, who is known to have suffered some of the tragedy that befalls Susie Salmon, writes The Lovely Bones to resurrect Susie's story, which can be read as the story of all young girls who went missing in the 1970s. The novel takes the focus off the public interest in serial killers such as Mr. Harvey and places it on the often forgotten victims, linking their stories in a powerful way.

In Chapter 11 of The Lovely Bones, how is Mrs. Salmon's relationship with Len Fenerman foreshadowed?

There are many instances where Alice Sebold foreshadows what will happen between Mrs. Salmon and Len Fenerman in the second half of the novel. For example, Mr. Salmon notices that Mrs. Salmon had the habit of "leaning heavily on the police" and had come into the habit of saying things like, "Len says that doesn't mean anything," to rebut one of Mr. Salmon's ideas about what might have happened to Susie Salmon. Len, too, notices something about Mrs. Salmon's reaction to him in Chapter 11. Susie explains that Len "was certainly sure my mother had seemed less frantic when he had visited the house." From this, the reader knows that Mrs. Salmon is placing her faith in Len in a way she cannot bring herself to have faith in her husband. There is some comfort to be found in Len and the authority of the police—no matter how misguided they are—and Mrs. Salmon will come to express her need for that certainty through a physical relationship with Len in the chapters that follow.

Why does Mrs. Salmon become involved with Len Fenerman in The Lovely Bones?

Beginning in Chapter 11, it is clear that Mrs. Salmon is going to enter into a relationship with Len Fenerman that has little to do with the man himself and a great deal to do with Mrs. Salmon's grieving process. In Chapter 13, she acknowledges that she is not in love with Len, but "being with him was the fastest way she knew to forget." This line signals that Mrs. Salmon is looking for an escape from the reality of her life—her dead daughter, her disintegrating marriage, and her long-gone dreams of returning to school and being something other than a mother. Being with Len allows her to escape her real life and enter into a space where the normal rules don't apply.

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