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The Lovely Bones | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


How does Alice Sebold use the concept of liminality or the space between in The Lovely Bones?

The concept of liminality figures prominently in The Lovely Bones. Liminality is understood as space between. The word itself comes from the Greek word limens, which can be translated to "threshold." Susie Salmon is on a few different thresholds. In her heaven, which can be read as a purgatorial space, she is on the threshold of both life and the ever after represented by the real Heaven. Her family is on the threshold of moving into a new life where their family unit will be built again from the broken bones left in the wake of Susie's death. The very construct of liminality suggests that there is something on the other side—that Susie will be settled into the other heaven and that the family will come out the other side of this tragedy in a new place.

How does Alice Sebold prepare the reader to accept Susie Salmon's entrance into Ruth's body in Chapter 22 of The Lovely Bones?

Having one character come back from the dead to inhabit the body of another character and have sex with someone while inhabiting that body is a dramatic moment that an author has an obligation to prepare her readers for. In order for the reader to accept what could be read as a rape, especially in a story that deals with rape, Alice Sebold has to do a lot of groundwork so that the reader sees this moment as beautiful rather than exploitative. One first important step toward preparing the reader for this is Ruth's sighting of Susie Salmon's ghost in the faculty parking lot in Chapter 3. Ruth's poetry that meditates on Susie in Chapter 10 also works to give the reader insight into the psychology of Ruth's character. In the chapter titled "Snapshots," Susie reveals that Ruth is "convinced that she had a second sight," the ability to glimpse the lives of women who had lost their lives at the hands of men. In fact, she patrols the city in an attempt to make connections with the dead. This obsession with the dead is another element of the story and Ruth's character that Sebold creates to help the reader accept Susie's entrance into Ruth's body. Additionally, the reader knows that Ruth and Ray Singh, despite Ruth's lesbianism, have had sexual contact before Susie enters her body. Finally, in Chapter 21, when Ruth sees Susie beside the sinkhole, she asks "Don't you want anything?" This question serves as Ruth's invitation for Susie to enter her body and have sex with Ray. Despite all of this preparation, many readers might still find it difficult to read the scene where Susie uses Ruth's body for her own satisfaction as "a beautiful moment" that grants Susie's wish and heals Ray and Ruth.

In Chapter 18 of The Lovely Bones, why does Mr. Salmon get so upset when Buckley Salmon uses Susie Salmon's clothes for his tomato stakes?

In Chapter 18, Mr. Salmon notices that Buckley Salmon has retrieved some of Susie Salmon's clothes from the box stored in the basement marked "save." Buckley is using Susie's clothes to build stakes for his tomato plants. Mr. Salmon insists that Buckley not use Susie's clothes in this way. Buckley, who perhaps did so in an act of defiance, doesn't understand Mr. Salmon's position. He thinks that Mr. Salmon just needs to get over Susie's death and be with his living family members. Mr. Salmon, however, thinks of Susie's clothes as one part of her that remains on Earth. Like the photo of Susie pressed between the pages of a volume of Indian poetry in the Singh house, the clothes preserved in a box in the basement are a remnant of Susie's life that Mr. Salmon wants to hold onto.

In the chapter titled "Snapshots" of The Lovely Bones, why can't Mr. Salmon help Buckley Salmon build the fort?

In the chapter titled "Snapshots," Susie Salmon tells the reader that Buckley Salmon builds a fort for her, because "[i]t was something the two of us had said we would always do together." Mr. Salmon is unable to help Buckley build this fort, which is really a monument to Susie and the memory of the relationship she had with Buckley. Beside the activity of building reminding Mr. Salmon of "building the tent with the disappeared Mr. Harvey," there might be another reason why Mr. Salmon cannot participate in the fort building. Buckley builds the fort as part of a healing process where he lets go of Susie but honors her memory through this building of something they were meant to do together. Mr. Salmon, on the other hand, is not ready or capable of rebuilding his life because he cannot let go of his grief.

What is the significance of Len Fenerman's returning Susie Salmon's Pennsylvania keystone charm to Mr. Salmon in Chapter 21 of The Lovely Bones?

In Chapter 21, Len Fenerman removes the Pennsylvania keystone charm from evidence and brings it to Mr. Salmon, who is in the hospital once again. As Mrs. Salmon reminds everyone, the charm was a gift from Mr. Salmon to Susie Salmon. Mr. Salmon says that he is "very glad to have the charm." This return of the charm, something Mr. Harvey stole, is symbolic of the return of Susie, whom Mr. Harvey also stole. Though she is still gone forever, the family knows what happened to her. The charm is the concrete representation of something that Mr. Salmon can put his hands on, something that makes real the truth of what happened to her.

Why is the meaning of the title of The Lovely Bones not revealed until Chapter 23 of the novel?

In some way, the Salmon family unit is the protagonist of this story, and they must, as a complete unit, find resolution to the conflict caused by Susie Salmon's death. Before Susie's death, the family moved like a complete body; and just like a body, when one bone is disturbed, so are all the others. While Susie was alive, the family was complete, working in concert with one another. But Susie's murder and dismemberment dismembered the family, whose grief was too immense to handle. The denouement of the novel finds the bones of the family body reassembled in a new way that cannot be freed from her tragic death, but nonetheless reflect a healed family unit that has taken a new form.

What is the significance of the mousetrap competition in Chapter 10 of The Lovely Bones?

In Chapter 10, Lindsey and Samuel Heckler participate in a mousetrap competition. Before the competition is even announced, some of the kids begin to build coffins for the mice they will trap. However, when the competition is announced, it is different from all the years past when the new assistant principal decides to shake things up. She creates a flier that reads, "CAN YOU GET AWAY WITH MURDER? HOW TO COMMIT THE PERFECT MURDER." While this in and of itself is a cruel angle to take on what is presumably an engineering competition, it underscores how Lindsay, no matter where she goes, cannot be rid of the horrible reality of her sister's death. While other kids go wild over the notion, she is reminded of how her sister's murderer has, to this point, gotten away with murder.

Why does Alice Sebold give Mr. Harvey a tragic backstory in Chapter 15 of The Lovely Bones?

In The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold gives Mr. Harvey a devastating backstory in Chapter 15. She explains that his mother was a thief. She makes young Mr. Harvey her accomplice, during grave robbings and what was possibly a murder committed in self-defense when three men came to attack her as they slept in a van. Mr. Harvey's father, too, was not a kind man, and Mr. Harvey comes to the conclusion that "the two worst things to be" are a child or a woman. Sebold offers this background to give the reader some insight into the origin of Mr. Harvey's disturbing mental illness. She insists on showing the humanity of all her characters, no matter how flawed. She shows how Mr. Harvey's disturbed childhood stays with him through his profession as a dollhouse builder. In his craft, he attempts to capture some idyllic life that he himself never had, and that he repeatedly steals from young women.

What is the significance of the name that Lindsey and Samuel Heckler give to their daughter in the chapter "Bones" in The Lovely Bones?

In the chapter called "Bones," at the end of the novel, Lindsey and Samuel Heckler name their daughter Abigail Suzanne. The new baby is named after both Lindsey's mother and her departed sister. Susie Salmon, from her post in heaven, is delighted by the birth of the baby, who she plans to refer to as Little Susie. There are a couple of symbolic meanings for the baby's name. The first is that Lindsey forgives her mother for leaving them. She is healed from that pain. The second is that part of Susie will always persist on the earth, whether through the baby who is named after her or through her story as told in The Lovely Bones.

What conclusions can be drawn from the death of Mr. Harvey in the chapter titled "Bones" in The Lovely Bones?

In the chapter titled "Bones," Susie Salmon and her grandfather survey earth from their position in the grand, comforting heaven where she assures the reader everyone will end up. She sees Mr. Harvey stalking a young woman who could be his next victim. When he approaches her where she is smoking a cigarette, he stands beneath large icicles that have formed on the roof's edge above. Before he can pursue the young woman, a large icicle falls on Mr. Harvey's head, killing him: "It would be weeks before the snow in the ravine melted enough to uncover him," Susie explains. Although not stated directly, there is the implication that, just as Susie does the work of helping Buckley's garden grow so extraordinarily in a single year, she causes the icicle to fall. The timing suggests that Mr. Harvey must remain alive until the process of healing for the Salmon family is complete as well as the process of healing for all such victims and their families that the completion of the novel provides.

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