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“The Lovely Bones” by Alice Sebold Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Oct 23rd, 2021

Introduction

The narrator in the book “The Lovely Bones” is Susie Salmon who is already in heaven and was only fourteen years of age when she was raped and murdered by a neighbor. Since the story is more in the nature of a real life narration by a girl who has been exploited in view of her being a female, and the recounting of all that happened being narrated directly by her, the singular thesis used in this paper as a critical lens will be feminism. Susie writes about what heaven is like and learns that it is just as she had imagined and desired while she was alive. In due course Susie gets accustomed to living in heaven and she observes her family members from there as they get used to living life without her and in reconciling to the fact that she has gone forever. She continues to be sensitive in the same way as she was while alive as a young girl and often feels very touchy about the pangs of suffering being experienced by her family.

Main body

Susie’s murder happened on 6th December 1973 at a time when people could never imagine such things to happen with little girls like her. She ponders about why men should do horrifying things to girls as was done to her, and thinking of the man who had killed her, her heart is filled with remorse at the cruelty with which he had committed the crime. It is quite evident that the entire book conveys the happenings and the sentiments of the narrator from a totally female perspective. There is no violence, no hard feelings and no motive for revenge against the perpetrator as narrated in the novel. The girl is most of the time concerned about her family and her heart is filled with grief at the sight of them suffering due to her death. The narrations of Susie depict a strong family bond at the initiative of the females within her family. Her mother left an academic career to raise the family and Susie and her sister were very attached with each other in the true spirit of female compatibility. Susie is portrayed as displaying feminism in the true sense in her actions pertaining to the detailed account of her rape and murder, mostly from the female perspective and does not delve into the details of how horrifying the experience was to her. She talks most of the time about her separation from her family and friends with whom she was considerably attached, much in the same way that females narrate their sense of worry and concern.

When her parents refuse to believe the story of her death even despite the confirmation by Detective Fenerman, Susie is full of deep emotion for her family thinking about the deep rooted love and affection that existed between them. Had it been a man instead of Susie, for example, if her father had died after her rape and murder, there is every indication that too much of emotion and sentiments would not have been coming from him and instead, in all probability, there would be anger and anguish expressed against the culprit. In the true spirit of a female reaction, at such moments, Susie sees each of her family members as retreating into their respective selves as they begin to reconcile to the shattering news and the reality that Susie is no more. Susie feels pangs of sorrow realizing that her family is very disturbed as is evident from the fact that they do not answer the doorbell when a neighbor brings four year old Buckley home.

The tone in Susie’s narration is very painful when she narrates about her bond with her sister Lindsey who is only one year younger to her and very mischievous but well gifted, and has not yet been informed about what has actually happened to her. She instead, has overheard her parents and the police discussing the issue which has made her to wonder about what has actually happened to her sister. Susie is quick to read the intense affection in her sister’s tone when she confronts her father with the question as to why he was giving her sister’s description to the police. She is also able to read the confusion on her father’s mind due to his lack of any reasonable response to this query from Lindsey. She is also able to read in her father’s mind that he himself does not believe the truth and continues to have false notions about her coming back alive. Susie knows that her sister is strong in the true ability of females to read emotions, and is at grief watching her sitting in isolation in her room while trying to keep herself strong. In this process, Susie can observe from her feminist bent of mind that Lindsey appears to be the biggest sufferer since none of her family members can ignore or forget the existence of Susie, after looking at her. She knows that Lindsey believes that in losing her sister she herself is at risk of loosing her identity in view of the close bond and affection she had shared with her.

It is these kinds of insights which made me enjoy reading the book tremendously. This could be because the story is being narrated from heaven by Susie implying that she is conveying a viewpoint which is believable, true and omniscient. Susie does care for all the characters that are examined on equal terms with their reactions, motivations and actions being clearly monitored by her. The softness is evident in Susie since she does not exhibit any anger for her murderer but just watches while he goes about his work in stark lack of repentance for what he has done. But the heart of the story lies in the healing process that Susie observes from her point of view as her family members start to feel the healing touch as time passes by. Susie’s broadmindedness is clearly visible when she narrates about feeling relieved seeing her father realize that it is better to spray his love and affection in the present moments. She sees her mother in admiration as having been a truly divine lady; she had given up her academic ambitions to have a family and when her first child is murdered, she is in frenzy, and is transfixed in daydreaming about the period when she was unmarried and did not have a family. She even goes to the extent of thinking whether she had made a mistake by making all the sacrifices. Susie is hopeful as she watches all these happenings with the belief that there will soon be a day when her family will slowly revert to its old days of happiness and contentment.

In keeping with the attitudes of most females and on a lighter note, Susie realizes that there are advantages of being in heaven as she can keep a watch on all her friends and what they are up to. She is able to see that her sister after getting a Christmas present from her boyfriend takes him to the kitchen where they steal some intimate kissing moments. She watches her best friend Clarissa spinning away from having her thoughts in her mind towards the intimacy of her boyfriend. She keeps track of Ray Singh, the boy who she liked very much and with whom she had stolen a kiss before her death. She also keeps close watch over Ruth Connors, the teenage girl with whom she had a close encounter before she died. Given the circumstances in which the narrator in the book met her end, one would expect a particular tone and attitude from her, but Susie is not portrayed as being bitter, angry and sad and instead lot of hope and curiosity is visible in her about the people in her town. Although she does have occasional bouts of regret when she sees her sister and her friends doing the things which she will never be able to do, but the real regret in her is for her family who are shrouded in mystery about the circumstances that led to her death. Although there are beautiful descriptions of the heaven that she is in now, the real backdrop of the novel “The Lovely Bones” is about Susie keeping a close watch on her family members and how they reconnect with each other in bringing the healing touch to bring back normalcy in their life. It is also about a devastated family rolling back to a restored happiness and normalcy that was once a characteristic of the family.

The tone of the novel is full of the feelings and images as depicted in it with the revelation of the truth and it will always be remembered for the emotional narrations of events. Although I am not the kind who will start weeping at the slightest touch of emotion, but there is an instance when reading this novel made me so engrossed that I lost track of time and realized I had spent over forty minutes while reading parts of this book at a friends place without realizing it, only to observe the string of tear droplets that had dripped down my cheeks. I was happy though that no one saw me in that state. There are lots of noteworthy narrations by Susie in the novel that stir the soul into bouts of emotion. One of such examples was when Lindsay is trying to shave her legs for the first time in the bathroom, and her father, not mother, starts to help her in this process. He provides her with a new blade and teaches her how to do it, and above all, much against his fatherly duty, he does not disclose the instance to anyone thinking that she was very young to shave her legs. There are several such moments in the novel in being so loving and so much in the nature of touching the heart in clear indication of the healing process being in its full form.

The strength of the novel lays in the way it moves forward with the beautiful language and narration used in the book. The plot of the novel is very well presented in showing how Susie places before the reader a clear picture of the circumstances and her lifestyle before her death in order to get an idea about the family. Susie’s intense concern for her family is evident from her actions in keeping detailed accounts of daily, weekly, monthly and yearly records of her family members as they move forward in reconciling to life after her death. There are so many things happening in the novel and there are a whole lot of people about whom Susie talks in adding the element of suspense in the book. The narrations by Suzie about her family and friends would make anyone to start liking them in view of the simplicity in their nature and the love showered on one another throughout the novel.

Conclusion

The ending of the novel gives lot of satisfaction in being wrapped up with a beautiful package that certainly leaves a smile on the face. After having read the book, the reader flows into a thought pattern back to Susie who keeps repeating in the novel that she just cannot help reverting to thoughts about her family and what they are up to. In similar vein, the reader too after having finished reading the book is often taken back to the story in the novel in reminiscing about the emotional and smooth manner in which the theme of the story is carried out.

References

Alice Sebold, The Lovely Bones, 2002, Little, Brown and Company.

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