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The Lovely Bones | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


In The Lovely Bones, what inner conflict continues to affect Susie Salmon, even in the afterlife?

In The Lovely Bones, Susie Salmon is in constant competition with her younger sister, Lindsay. In Chapter 12, Susie explains that the competition between her and Lindsey started when they were young. When her mother tucked them into bed, Susie would wonder "who got the better kiss, the longer time after the bath with Mom." Another point of competition is that Lindsey went to a program for gifted students, whereas Susie, despite clearly being quite intelligent, did not. This competition between the two continues even after Susie dies. In fact, in Chapter 14 Susie acknowledges this when she says, "Competition always, even between the living and the dead." Although Susie is happy for Lindsey as she experiences the exciting aspects of youth and coming womanhood, Susie is still jealous of the fact that Lindsey gets to experience these things and she doesn't.

What is the function of the allusion to the Persephone myth in Chapter 12 of The Lovely Bones?

The daughter of Zeus and the harvest goddess Demeter, Persephone is tricked into marrying Hades and thus unwillingly becomes queen of the underworld. To satisfy the grieving Demeter, a plan is struck that Persephone will spend half the year—fall and winter—in the Underworld with Hades and half the year—spring and summer—with her mother. The discussion of the myth of Persephone in Chapter 12 serves multiple functions. Most basically, the fact that Mrs. Salmon is aware of the Greek classics reveals her as a literary woman. This is not necessarily an aspect of Mrs. Salmon that has been revealed before this point in the novel. Another reading is that Len Fenerman can be viewed as Hades, who draws Persephone into the underworld, or in this case, into marital transgression. A final and significant parallel is that Mrs. Salmon is forever caught between two worlds, as Persephone is caught between the Underworld and Olympus. When Susie Salmon is alive and the girls are young, Mrs. Salmon is caught between her life of motherhood and the life she had wanted to pursue as an academic; after Susie's death, she is caught between the life she had with her husband before the tragedy and the life she is destined to enter into when she leaves Mr. Salmon.

In The Lovely Bones, why does Alice Sebold present Susie Salmon's account of her mother's lost dreams right after the scene where Mrs. Salmon kisses Len Fenerman in Chapter 12?

In Chapter 12, Mrs. Salmon kisses Len Fenerman at the hospital where her husband is laid up. The scene does not surprise the reader, because Alice Sebold has expertly foreshadowed this moment. Nevertheless, the reader might have questions as to what motivates Mrs. Salmon to have an affair. Susie Salmon's account of her mother's lost dreams is offered just after the kissing scene as a way to further explore the motivation behind Mrs. Salmon's marital transgression. The quiet disappointment that Mrs. Salmon seems to have suffered helps readers sympathize with Mrs. Salmon and potentially forgive her for betraying her husband in his time of need.

In The Lovely Bones, how are the books on Mrs. Salmon's bedside table used to signal shifts in the character's life?

Before Buckley Salmon is born, Mrs. Salmon had intentions of returning to school to pursue further studies once Susie Salmon and Lindsey were old enough. In Chapter 12, Susie notes that had she paid attention, she could have noticed that the "catalogues for local colleges, encyclopedias of mythology and novels by James, Eliot and Dickens" had been swapped out for "the works of Dr. Spock," who wrote books on parenting for the better part of the 20th century. This swapping of books signals a shift in Mrs. Salmon's life; because of the unplanned pregnancy, she may never fulfill her personal dreams of returning to her studies.

In The Lovely Bones, how does Susie Salmon's death change the way Mrs. Salmon thinks about motherhood?

Mrs. Salmon's ideas about her role as a mother and motherhood in general evolve in the wake of Susie Salmon's murder. It would seem that Susie's death is occasion for Mrs. Salmon to reflect on her life—on the fact that she became a mother when she wanted to do something else. Mrs. Salmon knows she must continue to care for her children who are alive, but she has a great deal of difficulty doing so. For example, in Chapter 13 the reader learns that when Buckley Salmon seeks out her attention, "she often made a barter of it. She would focus on him for a few minutes, and then she would allow herself to drift." Of course, Mrs. Salmon feels guilt about her attitudes toward motherhood and her feelings and actions toward her children. In Chapter 19, it is revealed that Mrs. Salmon believes motherhood is a calling, not a duty for each woman. She has also suffered tremendously under this belief: "she had been punished in the most horrible and unimaginable way for never having wanted" Buckley. By the end of the novel, Mrs. Salmon's beliefs about motherhood have perhaps not so much been transformed as finally articulated.

How are Mr. Salmon's medical problems a metaphor for his emotional condition in The Lovely Bones?

In Chapter 12, Mr. Salmon breaks his knee. This is symbolic of his emotional break in the wake of Susie Salmon's death. He needs time to heal and be nursed back to health. Mrs. Salmon, though involved in an affair, is there to help Mr. Salmon heal. After Mrs. Salmon leaves Mr. Salmon, Mr. Salmon suffers his first heart attack; this time, Mrs. Salmon is not there to help him heal. Literally and figuratively, Mr. Salmon's heart is broken because his wife is gone. When he suffers his second heart attack in Chapter 18, Mrs. Salmon returns to help him. Though his heart is broken here, he is not left alone to heal.

How does Alice Sebold build tension in the scene in Chapter 15 of The Lovely Bones when Lindsey breaks into Mr. Harvey's house?

There are many elements that contribute to the tension that builds while Lindsey is inside Mr. Harvey's house in Chapter 15. First, the narrative point of view allows the reader to witness Lindsey's every move, while also having access to her interior life or thoughts and feelings. The effect is that the reader experiences something that approximates what Lindsey herself is experiencing while in the house. The scene also creates dramatic irony in two ways to heighten the tension. The first is that while both Susie Salmon and the reader know where Lindsey needs to look to find the evidence she needs, Lindsey herself does not. The second is that the reader knows that Mr. Harvey's car is pulling up, while Lindsey doesn't. These two disconnects between what the reader knows and what the characters know create dramatic irony, which, in turn, creates tension.

In The Lovely Bones, why does Susie Salmon tell the story of her family?

Alice Sebold has been quoted as saying that she wrote The Lovely Bones in part to tell the story of girls who had gone missing and otherwise had no story. She also tells the story as a therapeutic way to come to terms with violent and unimaginable things that happened in her own life. Susie Salmon, as the character who tells the story Sebold sets out to share, is, in many ways, like Sebold. She tells the story of The Lovely Bones as a way to make peace with what happened to her. In Chapter 14 she says, "Each time I told my story, I lost a bit, the smallest drop of pain." In her effort to lose her pain, Susie also ensures that the story of her family is told. Just as the stories of young women who disappeared had never been told, neither had the stories of the families who lost these young women. Sebold and Susie work together to preserve these stories

What is the purpose of the allusion to Virginia Woolf's suicide in the chapter titled "Snapshots" of The Lovely Bones?

As Mrs. Salmon stands on rocks at the ocean's edge in the "Snapshots" chapter of The Lovely Bones, she recalls some readings from college, including Kate Chopin's The Awakening, a novel about a woman in pursuit of a larger, more meaningful life during a time when women were not thought to need such things. Mrs. Salmon also thinks about Virginia Woolf's suicide. Much like Chopin, Woolf was a woman who found herself at odds with societal expectations. She was a powerful intellect, like Mrs. Salmon. Mrs. Salmon recalls romanticizing Woolf, who committed suicide by filling her pockets with heavy rocks and walking into a river to drown. At the water's edge, Mrs. Salmon may briefly contemplate suicide herself—walking "into the waves" and "whoosh ... start over again." At the very least, she romanticizes the idea again here.

In Chapter 16 of The Lovely Bones, what do Mrs. Salmon's thoughts reveal about her competing notions regarding the meaning of life?

In Chapter 16, while Mrs. Salmon climbs on rocks on the Pacific shore in California, she contemplates the meaning or nature of life. She wonders if there is such a thing as catharsis, or the possibility of being washed clean of one life to start over again. And then she wonders if "life was more like the horrible game in gym that has you running from one side of an enclosed space to the other." The idea of catharsis reflects a bit of Christian philosophy, while the gym scenario sounds more like the myth of Sisyphus, who is punished for deceit by having to roll a boulder up a hill only to have it roll back down for eternity. The answer, it would seem, comes when Mrs. Salmon sees a baby crawling unaccompanied toward a stuffed lamb on the beach. These images call to mind Jesus, also known as the Lamb of God, suggesting that catharsis and redemption are possible in life, and for Mrs. Salmon.

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