illustration of Susie in the clouds with her charm bracelet above her head

The Lovely Bones

by Alice Sebold

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What are some sensory experiences described in The Lovely Bones?

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Your question vividly refers to "sensory images," images that focus predominantly on one of the five senses:  sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.  Even before reading what you wrote, I was already very aware of and impressed with Sebold's ability in this arena.  I challenged myself to find one of each sensory image on a single page.

I didn't need to look very far.

In fact, I didn't need to look any further than the rape scene:  haunting images, yes, but also very memorable ones.  First, the words from the text:

"We're having string beans and lamb."

I was the mortar, he was the pestle.

"Your brother has a new finger painting, and I made apple crumb cake."

Mr. Harvey made me lie still underneath him and listen to the beating of his heart and the beating of mine.  How mine skipped like a rabbit, and how his thudded, a hammer against cloth.  We lay there with our bodies touching, and, as I shook, a powerful knowledge took hold.  He had done this thing to me and I had lived.  That was all.  I was still breathing.  I heard his heart.  I smelled his breath.  The dark earth surrounding us smelled like what it was, moist dirt where worms and animals lived their daily lives.  I could have yelled for hours. (14)

All five senses are represented here in these very few lines.  Every single one is a negative image, and rightly so (except for the few images of the family's life at home).  Although some of these images can be dual images, in that they may represent sight/touch/taste, I will use the main sense to represent each one here.

SIGHT:  Ironically, the most common sensory image (sight) is the one found LEAST here.  The most disturbing one is the "mortar" and "pestle" image here to represent the actual act.  However there is also the "finger painting" as well as the sight of the "dark earth" with its "worms" and "animals."

SOUND:  Susie is incredibly conscious of the sounds around her during this scene even using the word "listen" to precede the images themselves:  "beating of his heart," "the beating of mine," "his thudded," "I could have yelled for hours."

SMELL:  Susie's sense of smell focuses on the earth around her which "smelled like what it was, moist dirt . . . " trying to drown out the fact that she "smelled his breath."

TASTE:  One of the most interesting things to me about this excerpt is how Seabold chooses to pair positive taste images with that of the violence of rape.  The positive taste images, of course, are coming from an unknowing Salmon family going about dinner time at the exact moment this is happening to Susie.  So the reader hears about "string beans and lamb" as well as "apple crumb cake."

TOUCH:  One cannot read a rape scene without experiencing at least a few touch images.  Mr. Harvey makes Susie "lie still underneath him" as she notices the "moist" earth around her and takes usual sound images of a beating heart and turns them into touch images as hers "skipped like a rabbit" and his "thudded, a hammer against cloth."

Furthermore, it is a chilling scene, but it is Seabold's sensory images that help it remain so, . . . possibly etched into our memory forever, . . . and certainly a LOT more graphic than the movie could ever be.

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