The Lovely Bones
The Lovely Bones
by Alice Sebold

The Lovely Bones Theme of Rules and Order

The Lovely Bones takes a look at how the order and safety of a suburban neighborhood in the 1970s is utterly disrupted by Mr. Harvey's rape and murder of Susie Salmon. Harvey is the disruption of order personified. A serial rapist/killer Harvey destroys the order of the lives of his victims, their loved ones, and his neighborhood. Opposing him is Detective Len Fenerman, whose goal is to restore order, or at least the fantasy of it in the town. His lack of success in that regard – his failure to recognize Harvey's guilt until it's too late – gives the novel a realistic feel. Life is disorderly, messy, and often seemingly unfair. The Lovely Bones doesn't try to tell us otherwise. Love, it argues, is all the order we can hope for, and to live in a loving way is sometimes all we can do when life turns chaotic.

Questions About Rules and Order

  1. Do you think Harvey could receive treatment that would reform him? Why, or why not? If so, what might this treatment look like?
  2. Do characters find order in chaos? Why, or why not? If so, in what ways? Is chaos ever represented as positive or healing? Why, or why not? If so, when?
  3. Why do you think Alice Sebold chose to set The Lovely Bones in a suburban neighborhood? Why not put the main action in New York City?
  4. How does Len Fenerman contribute to the order and disorder in the suburban Pennsylvania town where Susie lives?
  5. If Harvey had been caught, what would have been a just punishment for him? Why?
  6. If Harvey had been caught, could Fenerman and the Salmons prove he is a murderer? Do they have enough evidence?

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