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Loss and Grief In “The Lovely Bones” By Alice Sebold

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    Losing someone you love and deeply care about is something us humans avoid talking about. We each deal with loss and grief in different ways, and this is something the novel, ‘The Lovely Bones’ written by Alice Sebold, emphasized. Sebold effectively uses a range of techniques to express this idea, including first person narrative, pathetic fallacy, oxymoron and symbolism.

    To begin with, first person narrative is used by Sebold to portray the idea of loss and grief and how different people move on in different circumstances. Susie Salmon, the main character is used in this case. After being raped and murdered in 1973 at only 14 years old, she acts as an omniscience narrator. Through this, the audience is given different perspectives on her death and how each of her family and friends deal with her tragic loss. Susie also speaks of her own desires and how she longed ‘to grow up’. Family members appear to deal with Susie’s loss in a different way as they each experience different emotions. However Susie never judges them on their individual coping mechanisms. For example, her mother condones in a ‘merciful adultery’ with Len Fernerman and this demonstrates that there are no right or wrong ways to grieve a sudden loss. Her father shows his grievance through revenge whereas the likes of Lindsay, Ray and Ruth keep their emotions to themselves. As Susie herself struggles to accept her death, she spends up to 8 years watching her family mourn and this further emphasizes to the audience that grieving a loss is a long journey and that time cannot be substituted. Through the use of this first person narrative, Sebold uses a dead character to teach the audience about loss and grief and how time is the only way to heal the pain it inflicts. As each death is different, they are also dealt differently by those directly affected and this subsequently teaches the audience to be more accepting and sensitive when it comes to the individual process of grieving.

    Secondly, Sebold effectively uses pathetic fallacy to teach the audience about loss and grief and how it acts as a natural cycle in life that cannot be altered. The weather described in the Lovely Bones often mirrors the current events of the novel. The day of Susie’s murder, the weather is described as ‘snowing, and dark because the days in winter were shorter’.

    The accumulating snow not only covers up any evidence of her violent murder, but also contrasts the heavyweight laid on her family as they are buried underneath the snow with no answers or information. Following her death as the novel progresses, the weather slowly begins to melt away the snow as the warmer weather appears. This not only mirrors how the salmon family slowly accepts Susie’s death, but also provides more evidence about her murder. The cycle of the seasons also act as a cycle of grieving a loss. With winter comes heartache and negative emotions, however with summer they can rehydrate and encourage growth. The way the Salmons deal with Susie’s loss is very much like this seasonal cycle. Some days will be better and easier to cope with, but others will bring back strong feelings of pain and memories. Sebold shows us that the cycle of grieving loss will never stop, but each day is different and needs to be treated differently. Time appears to be the only way to move on from such an unexpected event, and even though the cycle of grieving will be hard at first, each day it will slowly get better.

    Another technique used by Sebold to emphasize the idea of loss and grief is Oxymoron, and this expresses that death is not the end. Death is a physical separation but not necessarily a spiritual one as people live on in the hearts and minds of those who love them. The title ‘The Lovely Bones’ is used to show this. After Susie’s rape and murder, it appears that her recovered elbow is the initial reference to the title. However as the novel progresses we learn that the ‘lovely bones’ are more than just a physical piece of evidence. They are a metaphor for the framework of skeleton that has been built as a result of her death. The bones signify the loss of Susie and her potential on earth, as well as the ‘lovely’ relationships that have subsequently formed. Death is sad but an inevitable event that we all have to experience in our lifetime, but it will create new beginnings for those affected by it. In the lovely bones, we learn that death can fracture a family and leave scars deep within our memories however each individual and group will come out stronger and more resilient. Sebold effectively teaches us that death isn’t as bad as humans perceive it to be through the use of oxymoron.

    Lastly, symbolism is used to show the audience further insight about loss and grief and how isolation can interfere with the process of grieving a loss. Susie’s surname ‘Salmon’ is a symbol of this. The way salmon fish live their entire lives contrasts Susie’s journey through birth and death. Salmon have a unique cycle of life, which include three different stages of migration. They are first born in freshwater rivers where they spend a short period of time before migrating to the ocean for 1-8 years where they sexually mature. After this, they return to the freshwater rivers to spawn and then die. The freshwater rivers act as planet earth for Susie, as this is where she is born and stays momentarily before dying. She migrates to heaven, the equivalent of the ocean where she spends 8 years maturing and grieving her own loss. It’s not long before she begins to feel her own isolation and she is ‘trapped in the perfect world’. She can see and hear everything that’s going on within her friends and family, but cannot physically combine with them. She began grieving her own loss so much in heaven that she felt she couldn’t move on and accept her death without physically returning for one last time.

    The surname Salmon reinforces the idea that Susie’s natural cycle of life and death was interfered by her grievance and her momentary presence back on earth enabled her to move on- she dealt with her grievance by becoming mentally, physically and spiritually involved one last time. Her return to earth to make love with Ray Singh is the similar process of salmon returning to the freshwater rivers to spawn and die forever. This contrast of Susie’s surname: Salmon was used effectively by Sebold to reinforce the idea of dealing with loss and grief and how the process of isolation can interfere with this. Keeping yourself mentally, physically and spiritually involved during a hard time such as the death of a loved one will help you through the process of grieving and enable an individual to accept a death.

    In summary, Sebold uses a range of techniques such as first-person narrative, pathetic fallacy, oxymoron and symbolism to teach the audience about loss and grief. Losing someone with strong meaning to you can leave a deep scar within our memories, however time is the only method that will allow one to accept a death. Each person deals with a death in different ways, and these ways should be appreciated and respected instead of categorized as ‘right or wrong’. There will also be many obstacles in trying to deal with a loss, such as isolation in which Susie experienced. Sebold teaches the reader that death is not the true end as loved ones will remain forever despite the loss of their physical presence.

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    Loss and Grief In “The Lovely Bones” By Alice Sebold. (2017, Jan 16). Retrieved from

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