In chapter 21 of The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, how is Joe Ellis affected by Susie's death?

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold is a haunting story which is told from the point of view of fourteen-year-old Susie Salmon who was raped and killed by a serial killer who lived just down the street from her. George Harvey, the murderer, is not someone who is under any suspicion for her murder and disappearance for quite a while; before that, the police and public opinion accuse--either formally or informally--other people connected to Susie.

The first of those people is a neighbor boy named Joe Ellis. When some of the pets in Susie's neighborhood are abused and killed, Joe is violently blamed for their deaths, mostly out of fear, of course. As you can imagine, these accusations quickly lead to the boy becoming a scapegoat for Susie's murder. Surely, the reasoning went, if he is capable of killing animals he is capable of killing a human--and he is undoubtedly the one who killed Susie. 

The accusations are not true; Harvey killed the animals just as he killed the girl. Even after he has been dismissed as a suspect in Susie's murder, however, Joe is still a ruined young man because he never recovers from those accusations.

In chapter twenty-one of the novel, we learn what has happened to poor Joe Ellis. Ruth and Ray drive by him, and Ruth kind of fills us in on his present circumstances. Joe Ellis has never been able to keep a job, he lives alone in with his mother, and he keeps completely away from any of the neighbors who treated him so horribly. Even worse, at least to Joe, is the fact that animals somehow recognize that he is a broken man and will no longer love him as only animals can. This ordeal has robbed Joe Ellis even of the love of an animal in which he might once have found comfort.

Though this novel is centered around a protagonist who is dead, Sebold says:

The living deserve attention, too.

This is especially true of poor Joe Ellis, who did not die but it nevertheless another of George Harvey's victims. 

For more insight and analysis on this novel, consider the excellent sNotes sites linked below. 

Read the study guide:
The Lovely Bones

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