The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold: Overcoming Loss

[(Essay date 14 June 2009) In the following essay, S.F. will analyze the way characters in The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold mourn over the loss of Susie Salmon (the main character) and how the loss affects each character individually.]

Losing a loved one is a difficult thing to do. People mourn for different amounts of time and they mourn in different ways. The death of a loved one can effect people differently also. It can affect the way a person lives the rest of their life, and their health. If someone close to you dies, it can change the outlook you have on life, and the thoughts you have.

“Inside the snow globe on my father’s desk, there was a penguin wearing a red-and-white-striped scarf. When I was little my father would pull me into his lap and reach for the snow globe. He would turn it over, letting all the snow collect on the top, then quickly invert it. The two of us watched the snow fall gently around the penguin. The penguin was alone in there, I thought, and I worried for him. When I told me father this, he said, “Don’t worry, Susie; he has a nice life. He’s trapped in a perfect world”” (Sebold, 3).

The Salmon family appears to be trapped in world that is not perfect when the book begins with Susie illustrating her death as she watches her family from Heaven after being raped and dismembered by a neighbor, Mr. Harvey, in a frozen cornfield. The death comes as a surprise to the Salmon family when Susie does not return home from school after being killed on her journey. Each character that is introduced by Susie, deals with her death differently.

Susie’s parents, Jack and Abigail, want answers. Although each of them deals with the death differently, they both appear shocked when they are told the new of the horrific event. The loss for them is terrible, and they hope for the return of their daughter. “Nothing is ever certain” (20), Len Fenerman tells Jack when he takes the call to describe the physical features of his daughter. This line is repeated throughout the beginning of the novel as the family searches for answers to the death of their daughter, and sister. It portrays the false reassurance that the detectives give to Susie’s family, hoping to give them a sense of hope. The family faces days of precipitation in the form of hail, snow, and rain which causes for a cleansing of the cornfield making it harder for detectives to find the answers to Susie’s death. It also symbolizes the new awakenings the family has to deal with when Len Fenerman calls and tells the family they have found a body part. When Susie’s parents awaken the morning after hearing about the found body part, “They looked at each other in the small light cast from the lamp left on across the room” (21). The light serves as another false hope that Jack and Abigail have for the return of their daughter. It serves as a purpose as guidance that could possibly lead her home, but it does not.

Jack has a hard time dealing with the loss of his daughter and throughout the novel, it deteriorates him over time. He was close with his daughter and cannot cope with the fact she will never return. He begins to clean his den, putting away all the ships in bottles that he and Susie had created together. Putting away these memories symbolizes Jack cleaning his past. He is cleansing his soul of any memories he has of him and his daughter together. “Then there was the one that had burst into flames in the week before my death. He smashed that one first” (46), Susie says as she watches her father try to cope with her death. Jack is the one character that never overcomes the loss of his daughter. He attempts to cope and overcome the fear and loss by forcing himself to find Susie’s killer. Jack interviews neighbors and studies them carefully to be sure they were not the ones in charge of Susie’s death. When he comes upon Mr. Harvey he becomes suspicious, but after the police question Mr. Harvey due to Jack’s suspicion, he is said to be found innocent. Jack is still not able to cope with the findings by the police because he has a sixth sense about Mr. Harvey being the killer. He also finds himself mistaking others for his own daughter. Jack begins to see Susie in the people who had been close friends with her. Later in the novel as characters grow and age, Jack begins to have health problems. When he has a sudden pang of anger, he has a heart attack. Luckily he lives, to continue life with his family.

Abigail had been suffering with her own problems even before the death of her daughter. However, she tries to cope with the loss of her daughter through the detective, Len Fenerman, of Susie’s case. She turns to him for the answers she believes she needs in order to cope and even for other reasons. She feels nothing but desperately wants to feel alive once again, so Abigail becomes selfish when she begins to have an affair with Len. She not only grieves the loss of her daughter now, but also the collapse of her family from all of these events and the loss of life she never had the opportunity to live. Abigail feels that through her affair she may be able to cope with the loss of her daughter, but she is unable to. Instead, she turns to another alternative. She leaves home to go to California, where she plans to focus on taking care of herself. Abigail does this even after she promises Lindsey (Susie’s younger sister and the middle sibling) she won’t. After eight years and hearing about Jack’s hear attack, Abigail returns home. While away, she recognized her faults and mistakes. She was able to cope with her daughter’s death and let go of Susie in some ways. Abigail was also able to let go of the childish desires she had which caused her to walk away from her family in such an important time.

Lindsey Salmon, Susie’s younger sister, is at first not told about the apparent death of her sister. She is forced to listen upon phone calls and conversations to finally feel that something is being kept from her. She tries to not show emotion when she is told about the absence of her sister. She keeps her feelings to herself and watches as her mother and father fish for answers and try to hide the event from the youngest sibling Buckley. When the principle at school questioned Lindsey on how she was handling the death, Susie watched down as Lindsey replied, “”What?” Lindsey asked. She was being what my father called “petulant,” as in, “Susie, don’t speak to me in that petulant tone”” (31). It appears that she suffers in silence so that she can be strong for everyone else. After her mother shuts her out, lies, and leaves, Lindsey is forced to stay strong and be there for Buckley to lean on. She is living the life that Susie never got to live, so Susie often follows her around which connects Lindsey to her dead sister. Because Lindsey and Susie look alike and were only a year apart, many people see Susie in her. Susie illustrates, “When people look at Lindsey, even my father and mother, they saw me. Even Lindsey was not immune. She avoided mirrors. She took showers in the dark” (59). From this passage, the shower almost appears to cleanse Lindsey from the image of Susie she holds. She wishes to be seen as herself, and not her deceased sister. The blackness of the shower shows that Lindsey is hiding from the past and trying to not see her sister so that she can move on and overcome the loss.

Buckley is the youngest Salmon child. He is four at the time of his sister’s death and his parents try to hide the horrific event from him. He is sent to a friend’s house while his family first learns of the death of their daughter and there he stays for a few days until his family is able to explain to him what has happened. On Christmas, Buckley is called into the living room to play Monopoly with his father, a game he has never been invited to play before. Jack begins to explain Susie’s death by using the Monopoly pieces and explaining which family member is represented by each piece. Jack used the shoe to represent Susie because it was the piece she always used. He lined all the pieces up and explained that they each represented family and friends. “”Susie is dead,” he said now, unable to make it fit in the rules of any game. “Do you know what that means?” Buckley reached over with his hand and covered the shoe. He looked up to see if his answer was right. My father nodded” (69-70). The family believed that Buckley would not understand the death of his sister; however, he was smarter than they thought. He asked many questions to understand the disappearance of his sister. Over time, he not only depended on his father and Lindsey but also watched over them. To cope with the death of his sister, he began talking to her and holds the memories of her in his heart just like everyone else. He builds a fort and a garden for Susie and holds onto the shoe from the Monopoly game for a long time. Buckley is angry with his mother for a while because she left the family, but in the end he is able to accept everything that has happened and let everything go.

Not only must each of the Salmon family members overcome the loss of Susie, she must also overcome the loss of herself. Susie is unable to let her family go, which causes her to follow them through the years. She watches her sister, Lindsey, do everything she would have done if only she had not been murdered. “...I was suddenly privy to everything. She never would have told me any of this stuff” (71), Susie says as she watches Lindsey and her boyfriend from Heaven. She grieves the fact that she is dead and all that she misses out on and she wishes she could break the chains that bind her to the Earth. Susie narrates the lives of people who are living life without her on Earth and slowly says goodbye to each and every one of the people she loves. She wishes the death of her murderer so that other girls and women do not have to go through the same thing she did. Susie tries to send messages to her family on Earth that Mr. Harvey is the person who killed her so that maybe he will finally be punished for her actions. Although Susie will not leave the people she loves, in the end she is able to let go of them just like the other characters are forced to let go of her.

Although he is her killer, Mr. Harvey is also faced with overcoming the loss of Susie. He must bear the fact that he lives in the same neighborhood and that the Salmon family questions his innocence constantly. He has killed girls and women for a long time before killing Susie, and has never been caught for his actions. Mr. Harvey is able to carefully plan out the attack on Susie because of all of his experience. When he passes Abigail while walking down the street and gives his condolences, “Mr. Harvey told her the usual: “I hope they get the bastard. I’m sorry for your loss”” (8). He had a horrible childhood and this shows the sickness of his mind. He begins to feel haunted by the actions he has done after Lindsey sneaks into his house to find evidence that he is the murderer of Susie. Mr. Harvey dies through the will of Susie who needs him to be dead in order to protect other girls and women from having the same thing happen to them.

Overcoming loss is a central theme in The Lovely Bones. Each character handles the loss of Susie differently and shows their emotions in different ways. Death is not an easy thing to handle, and that is portrayed through each of the characters thoughts and actions as they work to overcome the loss of Susie. They continued life even though at times it seemed one of the most difficult things to do. It appeared, though, every character had overcome the loss of Susie, but still held her in their memories. “Samuel walked out to Lindsey then, and there she was in his arms, my sweet butterball babe, born ten years after my fourteen years on Earth: Abigail Suzanne. Little Susie to me. Samuel placed Susie on a blanket near the flowers. And my sister, my Lindsey, left me in her memories, where I was meant to be” (327).

S.F. 2009

The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold: The Affect of A Dreadful Upbringing

[(Essay date 14 June 2009) In this essay, S.F. will analyze how in Alice Sebold’s The Almost Moon, the main character’s horrific event could have a more caring meaning behind it.]

“When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily. Dementia, as it descends, has a way of revealing the core of the person affected by it. My mother’s core was rotten like the brackish water at the bottom of a weeks-old vase of flowers. She had been beautiful when my father met her and still capable of love when I became their late-in-life child, but by the time she gazed up at me that day, none of this mattered” (Sebold, 3), is the foreshadowing of Helen Knightly’s horrific event.

Helen Knightly had a rough childhood. Her mother was still not always the nicest of all people. ““Mother,” I said, calling the name only I, as her sole child, had the right to call her. She looked up at me and smiled. “Bitch,” she said” (5) is the greeting that Helen encounters when she is summoned to take care of her mother on that strange night. Helen is forced to care for her ailing mother after her father commits suicide, although Helen’s mother would not do that for others. Helen recalls a neighbor passing away, “When he died, my mother gloated in triumph. “I would have had to wipe up his drool for five years and then bury him”” (24). But eventually Helen has enough of taking care of her mother also. She desires that life be easier for herself. “For years now I’d kept my hair so short that I could almost see my scalp... I explained that my haircut made life easier” (10) Helen recalls when her mother questions her new haircut. But hair was not the only thing Helen needed to be easier. She desired that she no longer had to take care of her mother. She found it a chore to constantly be summoned into the house where she grew up to change her mother’s diapers and take care of other necessary things.

“She was eighty-eight. The lines on her face were now the cross-hatchings of fine old porcelain. Her eyes were closed. Her breathing ragged. I looked at the tops of the empty trees. There is no excuse to give, I know, so here is what I did: I took the towels with which I had meant to bather her, and not thinking that near the latticework or by the back fence there might stand a witness, I smashed these downy towels into my mother’s face. Once begun, I did not stop. She struggled, her blue-veined hands, with the rings she feared would be stolen if she ever took them off, grabbed at my arms. First her diamonds and then her rubies briefly flickered in the light. I pushed down harder. The towels shifted, and I saw her eyes. I held the towels for a long time, staring right at her, until I felt the tip of her nose snap and saw the muscles of her body go suddenly slack and knew that she had died” (14), obviously, Helen had no trouble killing her mother. But did she do it out of hatred or care?

““She was dying anyway. She’s been sitting up, dying, for the past year. Is it better that she should go to a hospice, babbling, and die in a pool of her own waste? At least I care. At least I’m bathing her”” (49) Helen tells her ex-husband as she calls him in a panic for help with her current situation. Helen’s mother had been sick for a long time. She faced breast cancer and sat in the same chair until someone was able to help her get up and move to a new location. She would sit for days at a time in her own bodily waste, except for the fact that Helen or a neighbor would come over to change her. Helen’s mother no longer had control over her body. And this caused for Helen to be forced to take care of her, sometimes causing to Helen to have to cancel plans or miss out on important events. Was the act of killing her mother really just an act of kindness?

“They would have brought my mother’s body out of this house on a gurney, I thought. They would have carried her almost vertically down the steep front stairs. She would have been another lonely old lady who died in her home. How sad. How helpless. How very very high she would rate on people’s sympathy curve” (52).

All the statements Helen makes after the death of her mother show that she didn’t want her mother to be another lonely old lady. She wanted her mother to be able to be in peace and wished that she would not die in her home alone. Helen had faced a terrible childhood in which her parents used rough language towards her, and even now as she cared for her mother, Helen’s mother had crudeness towards her own daughter. Helen spent many hours of many days caring for her mother, rushing over when a neighbor would call with a problem. Her mother appeared unappreciative and unresponsive to what Helen was doing for her.

Helen at first appeared to kill her mother out of a sudden burst of anger that grew from the many long hours of caring towards her. After careful analysis, however, there seems to be more to Helen’s story. The horrific event of killing her own mother, seems to be done out of an act of kindness in order to be sure that her mother does not die alone and suffer because of the bad illness she has. People undergo certain events constantly that cause them to be looked at as bad people. Everyday people are forced to make difficult decisions for dying family members. Whether they’re deciding when to disconnect a loved one from life support or just what medical procedures to have a loved one undergo to keep them around for a possibility of a little longer, it appears that Helen Knightly was put in the same position. She watched her mother’s health go down hill for many years being forced to take care of her. Helen decided she could no longer handle it. Her mother could not remember daily events and treated Helen with rough emotion. She greeted Helen with harsh names and didn’t appear thankful. To the reader, Helen appears to be doing the act out of kindness.

S.F. 2009

Alice Sebold’s use of weather in The Lovely Bones

[(Essay dated 11 June 2010) In the following essay, D.V. will analyze the use of weather and seasons in The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold to convey the death of Susie Salmon (the main character), her manipulation of weather to communicate, and the mourning of those left behind.]

The manifestation of weather at key points in the novel helps to stress a deeper understanding of the meaning and intention of the characters emotions. “Inside the snow globe on my father’s desk, there was a penguin wearing a red-and-white-striped scarf. He would turn it over, letting all the snow collect on the top, then quickly invert it. The two of us watched the snow fall gently around the penguin” (Sebold, 3). The Lovely Bones is introduced with Susie’s interaction with her father as a child. In this, the theme of weather and seasons appears as will recur throughout the novel in order to reveal the characters feelings and a better understanding in regard to the death of Susie.

Susie’s narration of her murder begins with her description of the weather and season. “But on December 6, 1973, it was snowing, and I took a shortcut through the cornfield back from the junior high. It was dark out because the days were shorter in winter, and I remember how the broken cornstalks made my walk more difficult. The snow was falling lightly” (Sebold, 6). It is pointed out that it is winter which is a season of death and discomfort. Her murder occurs in a field of broken cornstalks, demonstrating the natural death that winter causes. The setting the author establishes through the season aids the murderer in his dark act. The shorter days of winter gives Mr. Harvey, the murderer, cover and the snow that is falling serves as a blanket to cover up the act.

“Later that morning the weather cleared, and not too far from my house the police roped off the cornfield and began their search. The rain, sleet, snow, and hail melting and mixing had left the ground sodden” (Sebold, 25). The weather that blanketed her murder weeks before now clears as answers begin to surface to the police that Susie was murdered there. It is at this point following the murder that the weather becomes the communication between Susie and her loved ones. Susie’s father, Jack, stopped to help Mr. Harvey build a ceremonial marital tent. During his time with the neighbor that killed hisdaughter, it began to snow for the first time since when Susie was murdered. “It had begun to snow outside. It was the first snow since my death, and this was not lost on my father” (Sebold, 63). Through the weather Susie is able to transfer to her father a sense of suspiciousness for Mr. Harvey.

Although weather at first was a hindrance for Susie, on the night of her murder, in every appearance after it became her expression on earth, providing connection to the people she left behind.
“‘Do you want to go in? Artie asked.’
‘Everyone else will be inside, Ruth said.’
‘I know.’
Let’s get wet.
They sat for a while and watched the drops fall around them.
And then as quickly as the rain had started, it ceased. Sun came through the branches of the tree above her, and Ruth looked up past them. ‘I think she listens,’ she said, too softly to be heard.” The weather became Susie’s way of comforting and communicating with her family and Ruth.

“It was still early enough that he (Her father) could almost see his breath. He could pretend at that early hour that it was still winter. That the seasons had not advanced” (Sebold, 143). Uncomfortable reminders came to Mr. Salmon that his daughter was dead and her murderer still free. Despite that he is forced to live without her and keep moving forward, constantly distancing himself from her in time.

“But on the ride back from Philadelphia down Route 30, it began to rain. Lightly at first, small pinpricks flashing onto my sister and Samuel at fifty miles per hour. Finally, eight miles away from the turnoff that led to our house, the rain grew heavy enough to hurt” (Sebold, 264). The rain that Lindsey experienced after many years since her sister’s death, on her college graduation night, seems to be a cleansing rain for Lindsey, as she begins a stage in the grief of her sister when she can accept what happened and remember Susie in her memories. The words used to describe the rain allude to the death of her sister in the beginning to the book by describing the pain caused to be like “pinpricks” and later “Lindsey’s mascara began to bleed.” The choice of words describing the effect of the rain recalls the author’s description of Susie’s murder. The idea of the rain cleansing and giving rebirth to the lives of the loved ones left behind, allowing them to finally move past her death and accept it is revisited. “Around two A.M. it began to rain, and it rained down on the hospital and on my old home and in my heaven. On the tin-roofed shack where Mr. Harvey slept, it was raining too. As the rain beat its tiny hammers above his head, he dreamed. He did not dream of the girl whose remains had been removed and were now being analyzed but of Lindsey Salmon, of the 5! 5! 5! hitting the border of elderberry. He had this dream whenever he felt threatened. It had been in the flash of her soccer shirt that his life begun to spin out of control” (Sebold, 315). This cleansing by the rain allows everyone to be released from the hold that they felt to her since her death. It allowed everyone as well as herself to let go and accept what happened. Mr. Harvey’s sense of feeling threatened as he is released from Susie’s grasp foreshadows to his approaching death.

“I watched him trail her in the dirty snow along the side of the diner and out to the back of the bus station, where she would be out of the wind for a smoke. While she stood there, he joined her. She wasn’t even startled. He was another boring old man in bad clothes.
He calculated his business in his mind. The snow and cold. The pitched ravine that dropped off immediately in front of them. The blind woods on the other side.
A moment later, the icicle fell. The heavy coldness of it threw him off balance just enough for him to stumble and pitch forward. It would be weeks before the snow in the ravine melted enough to uncover him” (Sebold, 371). As he had used nature to his advantage in killing Susie, he would now be covered by the same blanket keeping his body undiscovered. The cold death of winter now instead of claiming an innocent girl’s life, now acted to kill Mr. Harvey.

Weather is necessary in The Lovely Bones, to allow communication between Susie in heaven and the people on Earth. It allows her family and friends to come to terms and accept her death and ultimately allows for her to put an end to Mr. Harvey’s sick actions before claiming more victims.

D.V. 2010

The Moon in Alice Sebold’s The Almost Moon
[(Essay date 11 June 2010) In this essay, D.V. will analyze the metaphor of the moon and it’s meaning in the novel The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold.]

“’The moon is whole all the time, but we can’t always see it. What we see is an almost moon or a not-quite moon. The rest is hiding just out of view, but there’s only one moon, so we follow it in the sky. We plan our lives based on its rhythms and tides.’
I knew I was supposed to understand something from my father’s explanation, but what I came away with was that, just as we were stuck with the moon, so too we were stuck with my mother. Wherever I’d travel, there she’d be” (Sebold, 133).

The moon is an accurate description of Clair, Helen’s mother, in the novel The Almost Moon. Just as the moon uses light from the sun as its source of light, making it what it is, so too does Clair as she feeds off of her husband and daughter to give her purpose and happiness.

“As my mother drifted into the past, where she was happiest, I appointed myself the past’s faithful guardian. If her feet looked cold, I covered them. If the light left the room too dark, I quietly crept over and turned on a bookshelf lamp that would cast only a small circle of light—not too big—just enough to keep her voice from becoming a scary shapeless echo in the dark” (Sebold, 17).

It is not surprising that Helen took the life of her mother in order to set herself free. She couldn’t stand alone as an individual while she was forced to cater to her desperate mother and killing Clair was the only way she saw to gain a life. Her mother had been controlling and domineering throughout Helen’s life. “When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily” (Sebold, 3).

Helen’s father’s message was intended to describe her in that she is always there even though you can’t always see her complete self. Her father saw Clair as a good person that often shielded her true self from the loved ones around her. If Helen could have known her mother with a different relationship than mother-daughter, she would have seen the good within her instead of only knowing the overbearing mother that she knew.

“For years now I’d kept my hair so short that I could almost see my scalp. I explained that my haircut made life easier” (Sebold, 10). Helen’s mother dictated every aspect of her life, even altering her appearance so as to better serve her. Helen could not see the almost moon in her mother that her father was able to recognize. She instead saw the constant struggle that she would face while her mother was alive, ruling her life. Helen even at a young age recognized her dislike for her mother’s involvement in her life. It took one simple annoyance to set her over the edge and follow through with the simple task of killing her own mother.

D.V. 2010

The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold: Suicide as a Means of Escape
(Essay date 8 June 2011) <Inn the following essay, A.S. will discuss the effect of a suicide on family members.>
Suicide is a tragedy, especially when a person leaves a grieving family behind. In Alice Sebold’s, The Almost Moon, the effect of a suicide on a family is presented. The main character, Helen Knightly is left alone with her mother when her father decided to take his own life. Her father’s suicide placed a burden on her and her mother; while it was a means of escape for himself.
Mrs. Knightly never expected her husband to actually succeed in killing himself. She witnessed her husband shoot himself in the head and her response was “He finally did it, I never thought he would” (193). The shock of her husband’s death worsened her mental illness, dementia. The death of Mr. Knightly left his daughter, Helen with the burden that he left behind, her mother.
Mr. Knightly carried the burden of caring for his wife for years. Mrs. Knightly’s mental illness, dimension, made her helpless. The only way for Mr. Knightly to escape from his wife was by suicide. Alice Sebold creates this issue to show how suicide is usually committed to escape.
Helen detested her mother; “When I was a teenager, I thought every kid spent sweaty summer afternoons in their bedrooms, daydreaming of cutting their mother up into little pieces and mailing them to parts unknown”(58). Helen’s hatred makes murdering her mother “easy”. Her hatred of her mother makes the death of her father even more of a hardship. Helen’s father, Mr. Knightly, was the only parental figure that she looked up to in her childhood. Mr. Knightly didn’t even leave her a last good-bye note.
Mr. Knightly left Helen once during her childhood. He went to his old childhood home for a while; but this escape in the end was not enough. “I decided that day that I would never blame my father for anything- his absence, his weakness, or his lies” (203). Helen understands why her father committed suicide; it was his means of escape.
“I wonder what specific rhythm had been playing inside my father’s head as he lifted the pistol” (224). Mr. Knightly’s death has left Helen with numerous questions; all which leave her pondering over the idea of suicide. “But I also knew that it was a house they would never have to enter, my head blown off (282).” Helen almost followed in her father’s footsteps, but she changed her mind at last minute. Though suicide was a means of escape for Helen, she decided against it. She thought about her children and that suicide would not better her situation. She had rid herself of her burden, her mother, by murdering her; so she must face the burden of punishment. Suicide is considered by some to be a coward’s way out; and not always better in the end because of its effect on others. Helen personally experienced the grief of her father’s suicide and did not want to affect her daughters the same way. Suicide may be a means of escape, but it leaves burdens on loved ones.
(A.S. 2011)
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold: Strength by Experience
(Essay date 8 June 2011) <In the following essay A.S. will discuss how ties between the author’s real-life experiences and events depicted in the novel help to strengthen the overall message of Sebold.>
Personal experiences can add astonishing accuracy to writing. In Alice Sebold’s case, her own account of being raped as a young adult adds to the reality of her novel, The Lovely Bones. The characters in The Lovely Bones are the backbone of accuracy in Sebold’s novel. For example, the main character, Susie Salmon, mirrors Sebold. Susie and Sebold are both victims of rape. The rapist/ murderer of Susie, George Harvey, is a true depiction of evil. Susie and Sebold have both personally discovered this evil and it has affected their lives dramatically. Sebold’s horrifying experience of rape adds a whole new factor to her novel because the concept is so realistic and frightening.
Sebold was raped when she was in college; this horrific experience of hers can be expressed in her novels; as seen in The Lovely Bones and in a personal memoir of her account, titled Lucky. Obviously Sebold has been immensely affected by her personal account of rape and she writes about it to educate her audience. She wants to create fear in people’s heads so they will not become victims like Susie and herself. The only way to create this fear is to make the fear believable and in Sebold’s case, realistic. Sebold creates this reality through her characters.
Susie Salmon is an average, young, teenage girl; she has crushes on boys, dreams of the future, has a close relationship with her family, goes to school, and she still possesses a child’s innocence. Many can relate with Susie, because she is an ordinary girl. Sebold purposely makes Susie so relatable to reinforce the reality of the situation. The fact that people can relate to Susie adds to the frightening realism of Sebold’s novel because what happened to Susie can happen to anyone.
Mr. Harvey is viewed as being sneaky, cold- hearted, and disturbing. Any child rapist/ murderer can fit into these adjectives. Sebold created Mr. Harvey to be a model of all rapists. Mr. Harvey is hidden in the world. He is secretive. He is oddly friendly. He is Susie’s neighbor and he could be your neighbor.
There are so many strangers in the world, but they aren’t always the people to fear. In Susie’s case, she placed her trust in her neighbor because to her he was not a complete stranger. “My mother liked his border flowers, and my dad talked to him once about fertilizer”(Sebold 6). Susie felt comfortable with Mr. Harvey because she thought that he was harmless and her parents were friendly enough with him. Also, Susie was in her own neighborhood, close to home, a safe spot (so she thought). This ties into the comfort Sebold had with her college campus before she was raped. In both instances, rape broke the barrier of safety. Both were in supposed safe spots; but were deceived in the end.
Susie was murdered on her way home from school. “On December 6, 1973, it was snowing, and I took a short cut through the cornfield back from the junior high” (6). The setting of Susie’s rape/ murder is described to her as being a normal event. “I fought hard. I fought as hard as I could not to let Mr. Harvey hurt me, but my hard-as-I could was not hard enough, not even close. And I was soon lying on the ground” (12). Sebold’s imagery used to describe the rape scene adds to the realistic horror of the situation.
Susie never expected to be raped and killed by her neighbor that night and Sebold never expected to be raped while walking home at college. The reality and message of Sebold is that it can happen to anyone, anywhere, by anyone, and at any time. People are never completely safe because of the unknown. Susie Salmon is a prime example of this; created by Sebold as a means of warning.
(A.S. 2011)