Study Guide

The Lovely Bones Symbols, Imagery, Allegory

By Alice Sebold

Symbols, Imagery, Allegory

Susie's Jingly Cap

The only sound I made after that was a weak tinkling of bells. (1.81)

Susie's jingly cap is a homemade symbol of her mother's love and care. Harvey perverts it, using it to gag Susie while he rapes her. It becomes a symbol of her loss of breath and voice. When Len Fenerman recovers her hat and shows it to Abigail and Jack, it becomes a symbol that great harm has come to Susie. The hat though, also leads us back to the roots of the American horror story – yes, back to Edgar Allan Poe.

In Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado," a tale of revenge and murder, the narrator murders Fortunato (dressed like a jester, complete with jingly cap) by walling him up in a tiny underground space. Before the narrator puts in the last brick of the wall he's enclosing Fortunato in, he makes sure that Fortunato, like Susie, no longer has voice to protest. He says that, at the end, "There came forth in return only a jingling of the bells." We also think of bells as tolling for the dead. In the case of both Susie and the ironically named Fortunato, the jingling of bells are one of the last sounds they hear.

The Red Scarf

"Why do you have my mother's scarf?" (16: Snapshots.36)

The bright red scarf Lindsey sees on Len Fenerman's desk clearly belongs to her mother. When Lindsey sees it, and asks Len about it, she realizes the truth of the affair. Now, we notice that Shakespeare's tragic Othello is referenced quite a few times in the novel. A similar handkerchief is a huge symbol in that play.

Here's a crash course in Othello: The handkerchief, Othello's first gift to his wife Desdemona, is a symbol of her fidelity so long as it's in her possession, but a symbol of her supposed infidelity when the evil Iago plants it on Cassio. The catch is, Desdemona isn't unfaithful. So, the handkerchief becomes a symbol of the type of jealousy that leads Othello to murder his wife.

Although Lindsey and Buckley become jealous of Abigail's life outside of them, jealousy isn't a quality exhibited by Jack, and he never learns of the affair. So, the scarf is transformed in this novel. It becomes a symbol of the fact that Abigail made her own choices about whom to have sex with, and isn't required to die as a result. This is also a sharp contrast to the fate of her daughter, who didn't have a choice and who, in some ways, dies because of Mr. Harvey's jealousy and desire to destroy her and the perfect world he can never share.

The Monopoly Shoe

[Buckley to Jack:] "I saved the Monopoly shoe and then it was gone. You took it. You act like she was only yours!" (18.60)

Buckley is about four when Susie dies, and, while he never completely understands what happened to her, he has a fair idea. When it seems clear to the family that she's met a bad end, Jack tries to explain the absence of the beloved sister to Buckley over a game of Monopoly. The Monopoly shoe was always Susie's piece. The removal of her piece from the game is what Jack uses to illustrate to Buckley her removal from the game of life, and he gives it to Buckley as a memento of his sister.

But, when it turns up missing it becomes, for Buckley, a symbol of what Susie's death has taken from him – namely, his father's love and attention throughout the years. In the difficult moment, Buckley begs him to let go of the dead and be there for him, the living. The very idea of stopping his continued vigil for Susie is so threatening to Jack that he has a heart attack.

The Broken Heart Necklace

Days after Susie's murder, Samuel Heckler enters Lindsey's life in earnest. He gives her half a golden heart, and wears the other half on a cord around his neck. This seems like a nod to David Lynch's Twin Peaks, another story of murder in a 'perfect' neighborhood, by an insider. Fans will remember that James gives Laura Palmer just such a broken heart necklace, which really is a symbol of broken love.

In The Lovely Bones it's a symbol that Lindsey and Samuel are joined at the heart, but also of the hearts are broken by Susie's death. Samuel's gift shows Lindsey that while he wants her love, he knows her heart is broken, and he wants to help heal it. And, it's true, he proves utterly devoted to Lindsey, and their romance is a sweet balm against the many gruesome aspects of the novel.