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

The Lovely Bones

by Alice Sebold

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Essential Quotes by Character: Susie Salmon

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Essential Passage 1: Chapter 1

My name is Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973. In newspaper photos of missing girls from the seventies, most looked like me: white girls with mousy brown hair. This was before kids of all races and genders started appearing on milk cartons or in the daily mail. It was still back when people believed things like that didn’t happen.

In the opening paragraph of the novel, Susie Salmon introduces herself. She reveals that she was murdered at the age of fourteen in the early 1970s, a time of relative innocence. She is a typical white girl with nondescript brown hair—nothing out of the ordinary. Susie's disappearance and murder occurred before the mass advertisement of missing children whose pictures and physical descriptions, dates of birth and abduction, and other essential details appeared on the sides of milk cartons and flyers delivered in the mail. In Susie's era, such matters were left to police without involving the entire community through the media. It was a time of pretended innocence. Many people ignored the possibility of such evil. The world was generally considered a safe place for children. As Susie will attest, however, it was far from safe.

Essential Passage 2: Chapter 6

I grew to love Ruth on those mornings, feeling that in some way we could never explain on our opposite sides of the Inbetween, we were born to keep each other company. Odd girls who had found each other in the strangest way—in the shiver she had felt when I passed.

As Susie leaves her body, bound for heaven, she accidentally brushes against Ruth, a girl from her school but not one of her friends. Ruth had been something of an outsider, living on the margins. Yet as soon as Susie touches her, Ruth becomes fascinated. To Ruth, Susie had simply been “the girl from school who was murdered” and someone with whom she had formed a vague acquaintanceship. She writes poetry about Susie and draws pictures of scenes and images representative of Susie. She haunts the cornfield where Susie was murdered. From heaven, Susie begins to focus on Ruth and on her life at school and at home. She begins to live her life from Ruth’s point of view, especially later in Ruth’s relationship with Ray Singh, Susie’s almost-boyfriend before her death. It is Susie who draws Ruth out of her home life and helps the girl find companionship with Ray. Their relationship will help Ruth make some sense of the strange connection she feels with Susie.

Essential Passage 3: “Bones”

And in a small house five miles away was a man who held my mud-encrusted charm bracelet out to his wife.

“Look what I found at the old industrial park,” he said. “A construction guy said they were bulldozing the whole lot. They’re afraid of more sinkholes like that one that swallowed the cars.”

His wife poured him some water from the sink as he fingered the tiny bike and the ballet shoe, the flower basket and the thimble. He held out the muddy bracelet as she set down his glass.

“This little girl’s grown up by now,” she said.


Not quite.

I wish you all a long and happy life.

Life has moved on without Susie. Her parents are back together, having come to terms with her loss. Buckley has grown up, forgiving his mother for having left them for eight years. Lindsey and Samuel are married with a daughter whom they have named Abigail Suzanne, after Lindsey’s mother and murdered sister. Susie remains in heaven and still occasionally checks in on her family. They continue to think of her and miss her. But life goes on, even in heaven. A man finds Susie’s charm bracelet that she had been wearing when she was murdered. He shows it to his wife who muses that the owner of the bracelet has grown up. She does not know that the owner of the bracelet had died long ago. Susie, however, says that she is almost grown up, but not quite. In farewell, she wishes all, family and readers, a long and happy life, something that she was denied.

Analysis of Essential Passages
Susie Salmon, the first-person narrator of The Lovely Bones, opens with a blunt introduction of herself as a murder victim. She was fourteen at the time of her death and will perpetually be that age in heaven. Raped and murder in 1973, Susie represents what seems a long line of abducted children from that time to the present. She is innocence lost through theft. Symbolic of the American culture of violence that began to rise around this time, the Salmons are a typical American family who must rebuild themselves to fit in this new world.
Throughout the story, Susie reveals the life she lived—that of a normal young teenager of the time. Her crushes, her dreams, her failures are woven throughout the lives of her family members as they try to adjust to a life where the murder of a loved one is possible. Each person must come to grips with tragedy; not one of them does it well.

Susie herself is adjusting to life after death. She learns the ins and outs of heaven while still being able to view the goings-on of earth, which she watches with great interest. Through a classmate, Ruth, Susie especially continues to participate in life and love. As her spirit was rushing to heaven from the scene of her murder, Susie brushed the cheek of Ruth, which forms a supernatural connection between the two, something that Ruth does not fully understand at first but eventually comes to accept and make part of her world. Ruth becomes the embodiment of Susie, even making love to the boy whom Susie loved while on earth. Yet Ruth is not Susie, and both must come to grips with that.

Throughout the years, Susie observes her family seemingly disintegrating. Her mother leaves her father after an affair with the police officer investigating Susie’s death. Yet even that does not hold her mother after the loss of her daughter, and she eventually goes to California. However, Susie does not seem to spend a lot of time observing her mother. It is instead her father that she watches, as he never gives up the effort to find justice for his daughter. It is only at the reunion of her parents that Susie once again sees her family as a whole. Throughout the separation, Susie has been unable to bring about any kind of change in her family. She is trapped in a heaven that prevents her from influencing the ones she loves, though at times she almost breaks through, revealing her reflection in broken glass.

At last, Mr. Harvey (her murderer) dies after being struck by a falling icicle as he stalks a young girl, his intended victim. His death is not the result of an earthly justice but of a heavenly one. He dies alone, buried in the cold, alone, as so many of his victims did. His life has been rendered unimportant and inconsequential, while her life is revealed as the stabilizing force of her family.

As Susie begins to accept her new home in heaven, her family begins to move on. However, as Susie realizes, it is not life as it was before. It is a life in which great tragedy can occur. Loved ones can be taken away, despite the best of efforts to keep them safe. As Susie’s charm bracelet, a symbol of the different facets of her personality, is found, she comes to understand that life on earth continues without her, as her life continues without her family.

Essential Quotes by Theme: Loss

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Essential Passage 1: Chapter 7

...Lindsey and I loved the grave rubbings, particularly the one under which Nate and Buckley sat that afternoon.

Lindsey and I would lie down on the floor underneath it. I would pretend to be the knight that was pictured, and Holiday was the faithful dog curled up at his feet. Lindsey would be the wife he’d left behind. It always dissolved into giggles no matter how solemn the start. Lindsey would tell the dead knight that a wife had to move on, that she couldn’t be trapped for the rest of her life by a man who was frozen in time. I would act stormy and mad, but it never lasted. Eventually she would describe her new lover: the fat butcher who gave her prime cuts of meat, the agile blacksmith who made her hooks. “You are dead, knight,” she would say. “Time to move on.”

Buckley has his friend Nate come over to play. He says that his sister Susie is gone, but now she has returned. Susie, watching this, knows how hard she has tried to avoid missing Buckley too much, lest she appear as a reflection in a mirror and bits of glass, as she did with her father. She knows that this would completely confuse her little brother. Buckley and Nate play beneath the one remaining grave rubbing that is hanging on the wall. Once a pastime of Mr. and Mrs. Salmon, the grave rubbings have mostly been consigned to the basement. However, this one, made on their trip to England, remains. It shows the image of a dead knight. Lindsey and Susie make up a story about it. Lindsey explains that the knight’s wife has dealt with her loss and has decided to take a new lover. She explains to her husband that, since he is dead, her life has now moved on.

Essential Passage 2: Chapter 8

So it was his father’s old sketchbooks that Mr. Harvey looked at when the not still dreams came back. He would steep himself in the images of other places and other worlds, trying to love what he did not. And then he would begin to dream dreams of his mother the last time he had seen her, running through a field on the side of the road. She had been dressed in white. White capri pants and a tight white boat-neck shirt, and his father and she had fought for the last time in the hot car outside of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. He had forced her out of the car. George Harvey sat still as stone in the back seat—eyes wide, no more afraid than a stone, watching it all as he did everything by then—in slow-mo. She had run without stopping, her white body thin and fragile and disappearing, while her son clung on to the amber necklace she had torn from her neck to hand him. His father had watched the road. “She’s gone now, son,” he said. “She won’t be coming back.”

Mr. Harvey reflects back on his childhood. His father was a builder, from whom Mr. Harvey acquired his interest in architecture. His construction of dollhouses reflects the memories he has of his father. Yet it was his mother to whom he had been especially close, until she left. Mr. Harvey remembers the last time he saw his mother, on a trip in New Mexico. She had been dressed in white, and she and his father had had an argument “for the last time.” Huddled in the back seat, Mr. Harvey watches, quiet and unmoving. His father forced his mother out of the car, and she had run away into the distance. Before she left, she tore off her amber necklace, giving it to her son as a memento of her, should he never see her again. Mr. Harvey’s father states simply that she has gone and she will not be coming back. Mr. Harvey has lost his mother, and life moves on.

Essential Passage 3: Chapter 23

As I watched my family sip champagne, I thought about how their lives trailed backward and forward from my death and then, I saw, as Samuel took the daring step of kissing Lindsey in a room full of family, became borne aloft away from it.

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. The events that my death wrought were merely the bones of a body that would become whole at some unpredictable time in the future. The price of what I came to see as this miraculous body had been my life.

After an argument with Buckley, Mr. Salmon suffers a heart attack and is rushed to the hospital. Mrs. Salmon flies home from California, where she has lived for most of the eight years since she left her family, working in a winery. As she watches her husband in the hospital, she realizes that she still loves him and that she needs to come back home to her family. Though awkward, her return home begins slowly to bring healing. Samuel and Lindsey are getting married and are ready to start a life of their own. As Susie watches the celebration of the healing of her family, she reflects that these are the “lovely bones,” meaning the events in her family’s life since her death. The old family is gone; a new family has grown up. Eventually these “lovely bones” will flesh out to bring a new reality and a new world—a world without Susie, but still a life of love.

Analysis of Essential Passages
The Lovely Bones is a novel about loss and gain. It tells the story of a family who has lost a member to horrible tragedy, but it is also a story about a person who has lost earth and been given heaven in exchange. Both the family and its murdered member must construct a new life that makes room for that loss. In an unusual twist, it also deals with loss in the life of the person responsible for the tragedy.

The chain of loss begins with George Harvey, the rapist and murderer of Susie Salmon. His troubled childhood is the foundation of all that is to come. His uneasy relationship with his father, who is abusive to his mother, sets the stage for his own abusive behavior. When his father kicks his mother out of the car in the middle of New Mexico, the loss is portrayed as matter-of-fact: “She’s gone. She won’t be coming back.” This portrayal of the loss of a loved one makes Mr. Harvey indifferent to the pain of the families of his victims. His sense of loss is only on himself, in looking to the young girls he murders as filling the void in his life caused by the loss of his mother.

As Susie relates incidents from her life before her death, she begins to reveal a foreshadowing of learning to deal with loss. The fascination of her parents in grave rubbings presages the coming of death. It is the rubbing of the tomb of the knight, which serves as the foundation of a childhood came, that parallels the need of the Salmon family to “move on” after Susie’s death. Moving on is difficult, though, especially for Susie’s father. He is her knight and he cannot accept the fact of death. The knight’s wife, like her mother, finds someone else. She tries to fill the void in her life caused by death of her daughter.

As the family tries to bear weight of the loss, Susie deals with her loss of the life experiences. Living through Ruth, she feels a love for Ray which she was not able do when she was alive. Eventually that loss becomes a part of her new life in heaven. She observes her family’s construction of their new life. The events over the years since her death form the “lovely bones” of this new life. Surprisingly, Susie discovers that her new life can be fully as good as it was before the loss. It will merely be different.

In heaven, Susie comes to accept the fact that she will always be “almost grown up.” The pain of the loss of her life on earth has eased, but never completely healed. That scar is simply part of her new life, just as the scar caused by Susie’s loss by her family has become a part of who they are.

The “lovely bones” of the title thus become a symbol of a life adjusted to loss. When one has lost someone, the old life is gone and can never be re-created. It is an entirely new life that must grow. Finally, Susie settles in for “a long and happy life.”

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