The Lovely Bones Novel Essay

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In her first novel, The Lovely Bones (2002), Alice Sebold delves into the horror and trauma resulting from by the rape and murder of a young girl. The novel arose from Sebold's own experience with violence—her rape as an eighteen-year-old college freshman. Similar to her 1999 memoir, Lucky, which details her own rape, its psychological aftermath, and the arrest, trial, and conviction of the rapist, The Lovely Bones refuses to sanitize sexual violence. Yet the novel does not sensationalize violence either; instead, it offers the ordinariness of it. Both the setting in suburban Philadelphia, and the time period of the early 1970s, underscore Sebold's belief that no one is immune from violence; it touches everyone. More importantly, the story of Susie Salmon and her family exposes the way in which society marginalizes the victims of violence. The Lovely Bones becomes a study of the effects of violence, in this case rape and murder, not only on the victim, but on her family, friends, and community.

The Lovely Bones does not focus on evil; it does not attempt to make sense of bad people or bad acts. Instead the novel investigates issues of loss and grief, life and death, identity and self, remembrance and forgetting, womanhood and motherhood, coming of age and rites of passage, and heaven and earth. The readers watch with Susie as her father, mother, sister, brother, and grandmother, as well as her middle school friends, her killer, and the lead detective on the case, confront similar issues in their attempts to understand their grief. While the novel raises many questions, it does not, in fact, answer all of them. Sebold examines traditional views, such as those about heaven, sexuality, and the place of women in American society, while simultaneously challenging those views.

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ANSWER KEY

1. c
2. c
3. b
4. c
5. a
6. b
7. c
8. c
9. a
10. c
11. c
12. a
13. b
14. b
15. c

ESSAY TOPICS / BOOK REPORT IDEAS

1. Analyze the character of Susie Salmon by explaining how she must learn to let go of Earth before she can find her wide, wide Heaven. use examples from the story to explain this idea.

2. How does Jack Salmon remain devoted and loving to both Susie and Abigail?

3. Analyze the theme of grief and how it impacts on all the major characters.

4. Analyze the character of Abigail, emphasizing her strengths and weaknesses.

5. Explain with examples and details from the story how Susie’s Heaven differs from Heaven as we have always imagined it.

6. Explain the symbolism behind the title of this novel.

7. What is Susie’s greatest desire now that she is dead? Why? How does heaven bless her in fulfilling her desire and what is the outcome?

8. The best known theme in any literature is the theme of good versus evil. Explain, using examples from the story, how it fits this novel.

9. One symbol that flows throughout the last few chapters of the book is that of ties, cords, and chains. Using examples from the novel, explain the significance of this symbol.

10. Discuss how the author’s own background is reflected in this story. How is feminist viewpoint also reflected here?

COMMENT ON THE STUDY OF LITERATURE

The study of literature is not like the study of math or science, or even history. While those disciplines are based largely upon fact, the study of literature is based upon interpretation and analysis. There are no clear-cut answers in literature, outside of the factual information about an author's life and the basic information about setting and characterization in a piece of literature. The rest is a highly subjective reading of what an author has written; each person brings a different set of values and a different background to the reading. As a result, no two people see the piece of literature in exactly the same light, and few critics agree on everything about a book or an author.

In this study guide, we have tried to give an objective literary analysis based upon the information actually found in the novel, book, or play. In the end, however, it is an individual interpretation, but one that we feel can be readily supported by the information that is presented in the guide. In your course of literature study, you or your professor/teacher may come up with a different interpretation of the mood or the theme or the conflict. Your interpretation, if it can be logically supported with information contained within the piece of literature, is just as correct as ours. So is the interpretation of your teacher or professor.

Literature is simply not a black or white situation; instead, there are many gray areas that are open to varying analyses. Your task is to come up with your own analysis that you can logically defend. Hopefully, this study guide will help you to accomplish that goal.

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