Study Guide

The Graveyard Book Chapter 5

By Neil Gaiman

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Chapter 5

Danse Macabre

  • It’s winter, and something is up in the graveyard. Mrs. Owens is all distracted, and she’s singing a song about some kind of dance called “the Macabre” (5.7). She makes Bod go outside.
  • Mother Slaughter is also hinting about dancing the Macabre, and doesn’t have time for Bod.
  • Even Bod’s friend Fortinbras Bartleby, who was ten when he died, can’t hang out, because he’s busy preparing for the dance, which is happening tomorrow.
  • Bod goes to wait for Silas. When Silas shows up, he has new clothes for Bod – a sweater, jeans, and tennies. So, ten-year-old Bod learns to tie shoelaces for the first time.
  • He asks Silas about the Macabre, and learns that it is a dance. (Yeah, we already guessed that.)
  • Silas has never danced it because you have to be either alive or dead to dance it, and Silas is neither alive nor dead.
  • Bod feels really sad for Silas and wants to hug him but he knows such behavior is out of the question. (Even if Silas did hug him that one time in Chapter 4.)
  • The next day, Bod wakes up earlier than usual. He knows that it would be too easy for him to stay snuggled in bed all through the day and only come out at night like Silas.
  • So he makes himself get up during the day, every day.
  • He smells something he’s never smelled before – some kind of flower smell. Following his nose, he comes to the Egyptian Walk, the part of the graveyard with Egyptian-looking statues decorating it.
  • Some snowy white flowers have bloomed here overnight.
  • Bod watches as some men tell a woman, Mrs. Caraway, the Mayor, that it’s a tradition for her to cut the white flowers. She says it’s silly, but she cuts them anyway and puts them in her basket.
  • She learns that the last mayor didn’t tell her about the tradition because he didn’t even know about it. These flowers haven’t bloomed in eighty years.
  • After she fills the baskets, one of the men tell her that she needs to give a flower to every single person in Old Town (the town down the hill from the graveyard).
  • It gets dark by four o’clock – early even for winter. Bod starts looking for the dead people he usually hangs out with but none of them are around. He starts to get scared.
  • He goes to wait for Silas, but Silas never comes.
  • When Bod walks to the main graveyard gates, he hears some music that’s nothing like any music he’s ever heard before.
  • He goes through the gates and down into Old Town. He sees Mrs. Caraway and the men pinning flowers on people.
  • They don’t see Bod (the living usually don’t), so he has to ask for a flower, which they don’t really want to give to him.
  • Now that he’s wearing the flower, the music seems even louder and he follows the sound, forgetting that he’s not supposed to leave the graveyard.
  • He makes his way to downtown Old Town, to the parks. The music seems to be coming from the town square. More living people than Bod’s ever seen are filling up the square, swaying to the music.
  • All of a sudden, the music stops. A clock strikes midnight.
  • Now, the dead people from the graveyard come walking down the hill, including all of Bod’s friends.
  • The living people start to panic a little bit. The dead keep coming.
  • Josiah Worthington (see Chapter 1 if you’ve forgotten about him) steps into the square and asks Mrs. Caraway to dance, and she accepts.
  • When their hands touch, the music starts up again and the living and the dead dance together.
  • Bod finds Liza and dances with her.
  • As he’s asking Liza about where the music comes from, she shushes him and points.
  • It’s the Lady on the Grey and her big white horse. (See Chapter 1 if you’ve forgotten about her too. See her “Character Analysis” for some discussion of who/what she might be.)
  • Now that the Lady is dancing with them, they’re all really getting down.
  • Except for Silas, that is. Bod sees him standing nearby, not dancing, and calls out to him.
  • But Silas just fades into the shadows.
  • The Lady is Bod’s dance partner during the last dance. She won’t tell him her name, but promises that he and everyone else will eventually get to ride her horse.
  • The clock strikes twelve again, but Bod isn’t sure if they’ve been dancing for twelve hours, twenty-four hours, or even longer.
  • Bod finds himself alone in the square, which is now carpeted with white flowers.
  • When he wakes up at home the next night, none of the dead will discuss the dance with him.
  • Silas won’t really discuss it either. He says he can’t, “Because there are mysteries. Because there are things people are forbidden to speak about. Because there are things they do not remember” (5.185).
  • Bod can’t understand this. It’s just too frustrating. He wants to share his excitement over dancing with the Lady on the Grey.
  • But he forgets about it all soon because it’s snowing! And that’s how this chapter ends, cool and wet.

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