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

The Lovely Bones

by Alice Sebold

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Selected Quotes: Preface, Chapters 1-5

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Preface 1. "'Don't worry, Susie; he has a nice life. He's trapped in a perfect world.'"

Susie's father says this to her about the penguin when she worries about him. It turns out that she is right; small creatures, like herself, do get hurt when their world is turned upside down.

Chapter 1 1. "My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973."

This line communicates several things, both literally and by implications. On the literal level, it tells readers who the narrator is, and how premature her death was. On the symbolic level, salmon are fish who swim upstream to spawn. Susie's entire story is going to be "upstream" and "against the current" of normal events.

2. "I knew he was going to kill me. I did not realize then that I was an animal already dying."

This line gives readers a hint of the pure tragedy of Susie's existence. Before she went with Mr. Harvey into the cornfield, she was not just alive, she was human. At a certain point, though, she was reduced to a dying animal, a horrific fate.

Chapter 2 1. "When I first entered heaven I thought everyone saw what I saw."

On the most basic level, this statement guides readers, cueing them that this is heaven and acknowledging that the story is being told from the afterlife, but indicating that Susie's—and the reader's—expectations of what heaven was going to be like are wrong. On a more ambitious level, it sums up the idea that each person's heaven, like each person's happiness, will be a little different.

2. "These were my dreams on earth."

What shapes heaven? Heaven takes on specialized individual layouts and populations according to the dreams the dead had dreamt on earth. Heaven is a place where people are reassured, where their desires are all okay, and, most importantly, where the desires people had felt on earth get a final chance to work out. In many ways, the story told in The Lovely Bones is one in which all the characters form an extension of this sort of heaven: Susie sees her sister married, her parents happy, her murderer dead, etc.

Chapter 3 1. "On my way out of Earth, I touched a girl named Ruth. She went to my school but we'd never been close. She was standing in my path that night when my soul shrieked out of Earth. I could not help but graze her. Once released from life, having lost it in such violence, I couldn't calculate my steps. I didn't have time for contemplation. In violence, it is the getting away that you concentrate on."

This is an prime example of the effects of violence. It causes such pain that even the soul leaving the body can't control itself. Pain overwhelms calculation. However, it also brings people closer together, or it can. Susie and Ruth had not been close in life, but they are joined through Susie's pain.

2. "The truth was very different from what we learned in school. The truth was that the line between the living and the dead could be, it seemed, murky and blurred."

Susie's thoughts here are at once something to be wished, as a great good, and a terrible fear. On one hand, it means that those we've loved aren't ever really gone, and indeed, there are many instances in the novel of the dead watching over the living, lingering over love. On the other hand, it means that there is no clean break, and that people...

(This entire section contains 992 words.)

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can be haunted, as Mr. Harvey is by his past.

Chapter 4 1. "In my heaven geranium petals swirled in eddies up to my waist. On Earth nothing happened."

This is one of the times when there is a great division between life and afterlife, and one of the ways that heaven is still painful. Susie wants desperately to contact her father, and in her heaven, the petals respond to her wishes. Down on Earth, matter is more stubborn, and the tragedy is that it doesn't automatically do what people want, no matter how intensely important it is.

2. "'We've just built a tent,' Mr. Harvey said. 'The neighbors saw us. We're friends now.'"

Mr. Harvey builds and draws models of places where people live. He builds dollhouses, and draws architectural constructs from around the world. The tent he is setting up here is a mat tent, and Mr. Harvey thinks of how a "virgin bride" would be brought to the husband by a member of the Imezzureg. Harvey dreams of these alien places to live because he cannot fully live in his own; no virgin brides come to him. Instead, he rapes virgins, and kills them. Mr. Harvey knows on some level that building such a tent should be a sign of community, and hopes to use it to keep Mr. Salmon from investigating him further. It is as if they are now on the same side, horrific as that sounds.

Chapter 5 1. "But then only movement could save him, and he moved and he moved and he moved, no movement being enough to make up for it. The guilt on him, the hand of God pressing down on him, saying, You were not there when your daughter needed you."

This passage sums up the literally weight of guilt. Jack Salmon feels judged, by himself, by the expectations society places upon him, and even by God. He feels the need to move, and he can't. This will become even more clear as a metaphor in Chapters 11 and 12; when he tries to resolve the issue through violence, Mr. Salmon is crippled, and can never move freely again.

2. "She kissed him; it was glorious. I was almost alive again."

Susie's thoughts here sum up both her pure heart (how happy she is for her sister), and how important love is in The Lovely Bones: for the dead, it is almost like being alive again.

Selected Quotes: Chapters 6-10

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Chapter 6 Quotes: 1. "'When I was sure,' she said, 'I would find a quiet way, and I would kill him.'"

As an outsider in the community, Ruana Singh can speak what others cannot. Here she sums exactly what Mr. Salmon wants to.

2. "If the case was open—in his mind if not in the official files of the police—it was blank. There was nothing on the back of mine. There was nothing on his wife's."

Here Susie's thoughts trace the character of Len Fenerman, and how he preservers the memory of the dead by keeping their case files alive (blank). It is a way of giving them respect. It also relates to the theme of stories; their stories are not finished, and so can't be written yet.

Chapter 7 1. "Lindsay would tell the dead knight that a wife had to move on, that she couldn't be tapped for the rest of her life by a man who was frozen in time."

This is one of many instances in The Lovely Bones when a small domestic detail accumulates tremendous significance. The Salmons had learned to do grave rubbings on their honeymoon, so the family literally had death at its origins. The children tell a story about this knight in the rubbing, but it eventually becomes true about their father. With Susie's death, he is trapped in time, and his wife moves on, emotionally and literally.

2. "Had my brother really seen me somehow, or was he merely a little boy telling beautiful lies?"

This question haunts Susie. Is she really contacting the living at any point in the book? Or is their need to see her again conjuring up phantoms?

Chapter 8 1. "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 to him. His father had watched the road. 'She's gone now, son,' he said. 'She won't be coming back.'"

Amber is a gem that was made by living sap placed under great pressure. Often insects or other formerly living things like leaves are trapped inside for many years. Mr. Harvey's memory of his mother works like this: in these precious memories are preserved moments of intense pain that he'd felt when he was himself part of a living family.

Chapter 9 1. "I was the girl he had chosen to kiss. He wanted, somehow, to set me free. He didn't want to burn my photo or toss it away, but he didn't want to look at me anymore, either."

Here Susie watches Ray struggle with several issues. He wants to keep Susie alive in his memory, because they did share something special and he wanted her. On the other hand, he wants to move on, and not to be stuck like the knight in the Salmon family story.

Chapter 10 1. "Lonely, I thought, on Earth as it is in heaven."

Susie makes this observation about Artie, one of the kids at the summer gifted symposium. He's lonely in part because he is obsessed with death. Susie, of course, is lonely because she is dead.

2. "At fourteen my sister sailed away from me into a place I'd never been. In the walls of my sex there was horror and blood, in the walls of hers there were windows."

Lindsey's first experience of sex contrasts with Susie's first experience to show how great the distance is between what should be the case (Lindsey's experience), and what sometimes is the case (Susie's experience). The "walls" refer to how Susie's experience contains her, putting her literally in the grave, while Lindsey's experience gives her a vision of a larger world, as a window does.

Selected Quotes: Chapters 11-16

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Chapter 11 1. "What I think was hardest for me to realize was that he had tried each time to stop himself. He had killed animals, taking lesser lives to keep from killing a child."

This is one of the most surprising and emotionally brave moments in The Lovely Bones. Susie's thoughts don't apologize for Mr. Harvey's actions, or make his killing okay in any way. However, they do show an unexpected side: how hard he tries not to kill. This allows a reader to pity him without liking or approving of him.

Chapter 12 1. "My mother was, in her need, irresistible."

Susie's thoughts about her mother are childlike in many ways. She speaks of her mother in absolute terms. In truth, no one is irresistible, but Mrs. Salmon might seem that way because of the intensity of her need.

2. "He pushed her back into the stucco surface of the wall as they kissed, and my mother held onto him as if on the other side of his kiss there could be a new life."

A kiss can lead to a new life, in the sense that it can lead to sex, which can lead to pregnancy. Symbolically, though, Mrs. Salmon is trying to tap that energy for herself, so that she can live that new life, rather than giving birth to it.

Chapter 13 1. "They had never been close. They both knew it, but it wasn't something they acknowledged very much."

Susie's observation here refers to her mother and her mother's mother (Grandma Lynn). It is a good example of her honesty, and the novel's honesty about families. It also shows Grandma Lynn trying to do her duty despite the emotional closeness being gone.

2. "She dreamed of the country of India, where she had never been. There were orange traffic cones and beautiful lapis lazuli insects with mandibles of gold. A young girl was being led through the streets. She was taken to a pyre where she was wound in a sheet and placed up on a platform built from sticks. The bright fire that consumed her brought my mother into that deep, light dreamlike bliss. The girl was being burned a live, but, first, there had been her body, clean and whole."

Mrs. Salmon's dream points out one of the specific pains of Susie's death. Without a whole (and clean) body to bury, there is no way to say a clean goodbye.

Chapter 14 1. "He fashioned a wife out of whichever victim he'd recently been taking pleasure in in his memory, and to flesh her out there was always his mother."

This observation about Mr. Harvey's method of constructing cover stories indicates how he functions mentally; his mother is always blended with the women he killed in his mind. This indicates how he loved them (in his own sick way), but also how he hated his mother.

2. "Each time I told my story, I lost a bit, the smallest drop of pain. It was the day that I knew I wanted to tell the story of my family. Because horror on Earth is real and it is every day. It is like a flower or like the sun; it cannot be contained."

This is one of the most direct statements about the power of stories in the novel. Telling a painful story diminishes the pain. Therefore, painful stories must be told, and retold.

Chapter 15 1. "He had a moment of clarity about how life should be lived: not as a child or as a woman. They were the two worst things to be."

Mr. Harvey's youthful insight lays the foundation for his future sickness. He has seen vulnerability, and it becomes so hateful to him that he kills it, again and again, to prove he has no part in it.

2. "Mr. Harvey left his house for the final time while my mother was granted her most temporal wish. To find a doorway out of her ruined heart, in merciful adultery."

Mrs. Salmon's "doorway" is like her daughter Lindsey's window. For both of them, sex becomes a way to escape from the pain of the present into a different world. However, labeling it a "temporal" wish indicates it is both urgent and time-bound (of this earth). It is not a heavenly desire.

Chapter 16 1. "Our house looked the same as every other one on the block, but it was not the same. Murder had a blood red door on the other side of which was everything unimaginable to everyone."

Susie's symbolic observation resonates with the Biblical killing of the first born, but inverts it: when the Jews were held in Egypt, one of the curses sent was an angel of death. If a door was marked with blood, he would pass it by. If not, he would kill the first born, which was Susie. This sums up one of the terrible tragedies of The Lovely Bones: this is a world in which "curses" happen, but unlike the Biblical curse, there is no way to avoid them. Things like Mr. Harvey just happen, and they stain a house (family) forever.

2. "'You look invincible,' my mother said one night. I loved those times, when we seemed to feel the same thing. I turned to her, wrapped in my thin gown, and said: 'I am.'"

This is deeply ironic. Anyone reading this knows that Susie is not invincible—she was killed, and killed easily. But it is what every parent wishes for his or her children.

Selected Quotes: Snapshots, Chapters 17-20

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Snapshots 1. "I had rescued the moment by using my camera and in that way had found a way to stop time and hold it. No one could take that image away from me because I owned it."

Taking pictures is one of the many ways time is stopped in The Lovely Bones. It is tragic because one can't stop time, and it is ironic because Mr. Harvey also tries to freeze time and hold on to it, with his memories of women.

2. "I would lay these photographs down in my mind, those gathered from my constant watching, and I could trace how one thing—my death—connected these images to a single source."

Susie's observation spells out the theme of many effects rippling outward from a single causal event.

Chapter 17 1. "'Samuel Heckler,' my sister said, 'fixer of broken things.'"

While Lindsey is being somewhat ironic here, turning Samuel's role in her life into a title, she should also be taken quite literally. In this world, the only way to "fix" people who have been broken is to love them.

2. "The room was silent for a moment. What Samuel had said was true, of course, but it also pointed too clearly to a certain fact—that Lindsay and Buckley had come to live their lives in direct proportion to what effect it would have on a fragile father."

One of the challenges in this novel, and in the lives all people live alongside people that they care about, is how to speak the truth without speaking it too nakedly, and hurting those involved.

Chapter 18 1. "She had an expression of someone who was constantly on the lookout for something or someone who hadn't yet arrived."

This description of Ruth indicates her ongoing focus on another world than this one. It also foreshadows something that will happen soon thereafter in the novel: the person/thing who hasn't yet arrived at this time is Susie, who will inhabit Ruth's body.

2. "His feet had grown unbelievably cold in the damp grass. His chest felt hollow, bugs flying around an excavated cavity. There was an echo in there, and it drummed into his ears. Let go."

While this description vividly captures what Mr. Salmon was feeling at the moment of his heart attack, it also refers symbolically to Susie's death: his heart was broken long ago in another "excavated cavity."

Chapter 19 1. She held on to two sides of an hourglass and wondered how this could be possible. The time she'd had alone had been gravitationally circumscribed by when her attachments would pull her back. And they had pulled now—double-fisted. A marriage. A heart attack."

Both of these events pull on Abigail Salmon's heart. They anchor her, and define her, and time is what runs between them. She'd tried to escape from these anchors for awhile, but one thing The Lovely Bones makes clear is that people cannot escape the fates established for them.

2. "But though she was, by definition, a mother, she had at some point ceased to be one too. She couldn't claim that right and privilege after missing more than half a decade of their lives. She now knew that being a mother was a calling, something plenty of young girls dreamed of being. But my mother had never had that dream, and she had been punished in the most horrible and unimaginable way for never having wanted me."

Here is another of the terrible truths that families can't always voice: some mothers don't want to be mothers. Abigail Salmon believes that because she lacks this dream—isn't what she should be—her daughter was killed.

Chapter 20 1. "I was the dead knight gone to heaven with my faithful dog and she was the live wire of a wife. 'How can I be expected to be trapped for the rest of my life by a man frozen in time?'"

Susie thinks this about herself, explicitly linking that childhood story to her own fate. However, while she thinks this while watching her father, this question applies even more fully to another man: Mr. Harvey.

2. "It had been in the flash of her soccer shirt that his life had begun to spin out of control."

Here again readers see small individual events having tremendous implications. The sight of Lindsey Salmon's shirt is the place where Mr. Harvey's life starts to fall apart.

Selected Quotes: Chapters 21-23, Bones

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Chapter 21 1. "'Apparently,' he said, 'the earth's throat burps.'"

A burp happens when something that has been put into the digestive process returns briefly to the outer world, in a way that makes a surprising noise. While this statement is being made about the sinkhole, it also refers to all the details of Susie's existence after death: the world "burps" her back up briefly.

2. "And I thought of the mix of air that was our front yard, which was daylight, a queasy mother and a cop—it was a convergence of luck that had kept my sister safe so far. Every day was a question mark."

In the same way that many results flow from a single cause, so this observation indicates that many causes come together for a single effect: keeping Lindsey Salmon safe. It also indicates how fragile and precious this safety is.

Chapter 22 1. "Ray's eyes bid me forward while the watching streamed out of me and gave way to a pitiful desire. To be alive again on this Earth. Not to watch from above but to be—the sweetest thing—beside."

Here Susie sums up the poignant bittersweet quality of this miracle. With all that she knows in heaven, it is still much better to be alive. She gets a second chance to be alive, but it is painfully brief.

2. "I was still as I came to realize that the marvelous weight weighing me down was the weight of the human body."

Susie's observation here is a balance to the weight that pressed down upon her father just after she was killed. He was weighed down by guilt and unable to move. She is weighed down by a body, which gives her access to love.

Chapter 23 1. "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."

Susie's observation here explains the meaning of the title. This book is not about the horrible bones like the elbow that was found indicating her death. Instead, it is about "the lovely bones"—the invisible structures of emotion that connect and support those who love her.

2. "She would always feel me and think of me. I could see that, but there was no longer anything I could do. Ruth had been a girl haunted and now would be a woman haunted. First by accident and now by choice. All of it, the story of my life and death, was hers if she chose to tell it, even to one person at a time."

Here Susie forecasts Ruth's future life. It is another version of Susie's life, in that the story of the most important thing in Ruth's life must be told again. However, the difference is crucial: now it is by choice, rather than by accident. It is a life she takes up, as a kind of heroic quest.

Bones 1. "I would like to tell you that it is beautiful here, that I am, and you will be, forever safe. But this heaven is not about safety just as, in graciousness, it isn't about gritty reality. We have fun."

Susie's observation sums up the nature of her heaven, which she is coming to know more and more fully over time. As her pain throughout the novel has shown, it isn't all sweetness and light. However, it is a place of completion, where the dead can escape the pain of "gritty reality."

2. "And my sister, my Lindsey, left me in her memories, where I was meant to be."

This is almost the end of the novel, and this sequence spells out the way things should be. In the normal course of things, when things work as they should, people who died remain as beloved memories. In the unnatural course of things, which Mr. Harvey forced the Salmons to live, the dead haunt us, and their presence distorts us.


Essential Quotes