The Lovely Bones

By Alice Sebold

Death throughout the novel

In the beginning, death is frightening to people who are alive, but no big deal to the dead. To the living, the lead up to death is much more scary than the actual act. In the middle, death is mysterious. Once the grief subsides, the unknowing and questioning fully set in. By the end of the novel, death seems like a natural part of life. As impactful as the loss may have been, the world is able to move on. The change in death's portrayal comes naturally with time. Death fades from its initial shock as time heals the wound.

"You hold onto death tightly, like a rope that will transport you, and you swing on it, hoping only to land away from where you are" (37).

In the heat of the moment, death is scary. The only goal is to escape the horror that just occurred. Nobody knows what life is like after death, everyone goes into the experience blind. The only hope is that there is some sort of afterlife, so people cling to the idea like a rope. There is no other option. After the initial shock, death seems to peaceful. All through the stress and panic on Earth, Susie calmly tells her story. In her afterlife, Susie is granted her simplest dreams. After the initial trauma of death, there is a feeling of peace.
The line between the living and the dead is blurred. There are interactions because the dead often cannot let go of the ones they love. In the novel, Susie cannot accept losing her family or the terms of her death, so she hangs around Earth. The living and the dead exist simultaneously in our world. Until the dead let go of their earthly desires, they can maintain a presence in the world.

Causes for death in the novel

Death in the novel comes as a result of bad luck, fate, or a combination of the two. In a world filled with violence and occupied by some crazy people, death seems inevitable. In the novel for example, the urge Mr. Harvey gets to hurt things seems impossible to contain. This time it just so happened that the victim was Susie. On the other hand, the novel indirectly references the presence of some sort of god, and the idea that all things happen for a reason.

"Each time I told my story, I lost a bit, the smallest drop of pain... Horror on Earth is real and it is every day. It is like a flower or like the sun; it cannot be contained" (186).

In order to let go of Earth and move from her temporary heaven to her final heaven, Susie must accept her circumstances and herself. Susie is just beginning to separate herself from the living world. Susie relives her pain every time she tells her story to others in heaven, but gets closer and closer to her acceptance. She comes to conclusion that the world is, and always will be, filled with violence. The horror stemming from violence goes on to effect more lives than just the victim. A single act committed by one character goes on to temporarily change the lives of a city, and permanently impact the lives of a family.
There are two versions of heaven in the story. One still interacts with Earth, the other does not. All of the deceased first visit the interacting heaven where they are able to watch over their loved ones and interact among each other. Once Susie has matured enough to let go of her family and accept her circumstances, she can leave Earth and move into a more traditional heaven.

Death in the novel vs. in other theme projects

As opposed to the traditional view of death, death is positively portrayed in the novel. This is similar to its representation in Emily Dickinson's poem If I Should Die. Neither work includes the gloomy tone that naturally comes with death. Not included in the poem however, is an element of loneliness. With the larger time span of the novel, Sebold likely included these extra emotions to represent an in between view by combining the positive outlook with the traditional outlook.

These were the lovely bones that had grown around my absence: the connections- sometimes tenuous, sometimes made at great cost, but often magnificent- that happened after I was gone. And I began to see things in a way that let me hold the world without me in it" (320).

While giving meaning to the title, Susie is able to let go her ties on Earth and accept her circumstances after eleven years. By understanding the continued impact of her life on others, Susie is able to live on. Susie's body is now made up of those who she had made connections with. Their bones are now her bones, their bodies are now part of her metaphoric body. Without death, these connections may not have been as extensive, or may not have existed at all. Though dead, Susie is able to continue to leave her mark on the world through those around her.
Even from heaven, the dead are able to communicate with the living. Though the connection is limited, characters in the novel are able to feel feel and even see Susie when she is present. This influence allows the dead to continue to directly play a minor role on Earth. Seemingly beneficial to the dead, these continued communications in the novel make the process of letting go more difficult.

Time period and setting

The novel takes place between 1973 and 1984, years which crimes in the United States had raised to levels more than double that of 1960. This being said, the age serves as the perfect time for a violent crime to take place. With the semi-urban setting in Pennsylvania, Mr. Harvey is able to hide in plain sight as an innocent neighbor, as well as have the ability to dump the body in the countryside.

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I'll See You Again Lyrics Westlife
In the song I'll See You Again by Westlife, the dead go on to heaven. Though loneliness sets in, the separation between the living and the dead is temporary. Just like in the novel, this heaven allows the dead to reunite with their loved ones in a better, more beautiful place.