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

The Lovely Bones

by Alice Sebold

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What is the overall theme of The Lovely Bones, and what message is the author conveying?

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The overall theme or message of The Lovely Bones is that life must go on, even in the aftermath of tragedy. The prevalent themes of the novel are grief and letting go.

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I would argue that there are two overall themes in Alice Sebold’s thought-provoking novel: grief and letting go.

The most memorable scene of grief in this novel is arguably the moment when Susie’s father smashes the collection of ships in bottles that he and Susie had worked on. It is easy to understand why he cannot be around them anymore, and it is Buckley who finds and comforts his father after he has seen the reflection of his “first mate” in the shards of glass.

The theme of letting go is beautifully encapsulated in Susie’s character, who chooses to stay close to her family and friends for many years after her death, watching over their everyday lives as they grieve for her. At the end of the novel, Susie is finally ready to let go and accept her new form of existence.

The message of this novel is that even in the face of tragedy, life must go on. Despite being devastated about her sister’s murder, Lindsey enters a new phase of her life by entering into a relationship with Samuel, which lasts through all the years that the novel covers and leads to the creation of new life.

Life goes on in both positive and negative ways, as is shown when Susie’s mother starts her affair with Len Fenerman, the detective in charge of Susie’s case. Although she later ends up back with Jack, this is part of the journey that she must take.

Even for Mr. Harvey, life must go on, as he leaves town soon after Lindsey breaks into his house. Thankfully, he ultimately receives his comeuppance, and justice is arguably done for Susie and all his other victims.

Buckley, who must grow up in the shadow of his sister’s murder, moves on by growing up and imploring his dad to focus on him instead of on Susie’s memory and her murder.

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Alice Sebold's novel The Lovely Bones has several themes that include love, loss, grief, unity, and death. Yet, out of all of those themes the one that begins and closes the story is the theme of mortality.

Mortality is inevitable and makes us small when we compared how vast and immense life seems, and how ironically easy it can vanish in one second. It shows us the fragility of life, and makes us question the purpose of all around us. Yet, we cannot dwell on it and, as we continue to breath, we must continue to live.

In the novel Susie, a young woman, speaks from the afterlife, hoping to cope with her death, and with the loss of those who once were around her. Similarly, her family continues to live trying to cope with the horrible crime, and trying to make amends in whatever way they can.

Mortality becomes ever-present in the Salmon family every since Susie elbow was found, and she was declared dead. It is because now they can see how ephemeral life is that they start making choices for themselves and their own lives individually, and no longer for the family. Dad engages in a battle for justice, while the mother goes away and tries to get to know herself again. Susie's death gave them all a key to look deeper into their lives. Still, it is clear that the murder has touched them in such a way that they can appreciate how finite life really is.

Even the man who committed the crime continues to lead a normal life without remorse. Yet, he too meets his end. He too is mortal and he too will get to pay for his sins.

A moment later, the icicle fell. They heavy coldness of it threw him off balance just enough for him to stumble and pitch forward. I would be weeks before the snow in the ravine melted enough to uncover him

In other words, mortality makes everyone, friend or foe, just as small and helpless in the big scheme of things.

Another reason why mortality ranks as the most influential theme of the novel is because the entire story is told from the perspective of a dead woman looking into the world of the living. The way that she sees the daily dynamics of the living, their reactions, and their struggles contrast greatly with her own reality as someone who exists in a realm that nobody really knows and most fear for whatever reason. The theme of mortality and death is prevalent in the plot, helps it move forward, and it is when Susie accepts her mortality and the fact that she will remain in the afterlife, when the story of Susie finally comes to a cathartic and satisfying (while still very sad) ending.

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Many of the themes within Alice Sebold's novel The Lovely Bones are intertwined. This interconnection of the themes, then, speak to the message of the novel. The themes of the novel are loss and grief (the novel depicts the different stages of both), life and death (both the life and death of Susie (both literal and figurative) and her family (figurative)), and coming of age/rites of passage (denoted by Susie's growing knowledge, her feelings for Ray Singh, and her coming to terms of letting go).

The interconnection of these themes, then, speak to the message of the novel: how to deal with grief. Sebold forces readers to suffer with Susie and her family. For the more engaged reader, one may feel as if they lost Susie. The reader follows Susie and her family along an emotional roller coaster which allows Susie, her family, and the reader to finally let go.

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