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Summary: Suitable for junior high students and older, Mitch Albom's story The Five People You Meet in Heaven provides an undaunted answer to the question "What happens when we die?" Using vivid imagery and strong diction and connotation, Albom tells the story of a man's journey into heaven and five people with whom he gets reacquainted along the way.
By: Mitch Albom
This book is intended for an audience of the approximate age level of 13 and older. This would represent levels of junior high, 7th grade and up. This book is adequate for 7th grade because it deals with issues of death and people's perspectives. Everyone has their own interpretation of death and it is appropriate to bring up the issue about this age level. This book might also cause some controversy in the classroom so it is important to stress to the students and parents that it is more about people's perspectives than it is about religion. Although religion isn't used in the novel many people might not agree with what the novel and what it is trying to teach us.
On his journey through heaven Eddie encounters a woman who presents him with closure to his father's death...
|This section contains 556 words|
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Do you think Eddie is a relatable character? Why or why not?
While Eddie certainly has some dark spots in his past, he is an all-around good person. Albom makes this clear from the very first chapter - despite Eddie's grizzly exterior, he is kind to children, his employees, and he dies trying to save a little girl from a tragic accident. Furthermore, as the narrative continues, Albom peels away Eddie's stiff exterior, thus demystifying the old man's behavior. Eddie's abusive father, his lingering injuries, the atrocities he saw at war, and the loss of his beloved wife have all contributed to the man he is when he dies. Furthermore, Albom structures the novel in an immediate cause-and-effect pattern, actually labeling the chapters as "meetings" and/or their intended "lessons." By breaking down Eddie's psyche in such a straightforward way, Albom makes Eddie a relatable protagonist.
Why do you think that Eddie's father does not speak to Eddie in Heaven?
Eddie harbors resentment towards his father, which is only natural considering their fraught relationship. However, Ruby is not there to reassure Eddie that his father loved him and bring father and son together in an embrace - she cannot change the past. All she can do is offer up a new, unbiased perspective on the situation. She makes it clear that Eddie's hatred is much more harmful to him than it is to anyone else - and the only way for him to get rid of it is to forgive his father. Eddie's resentment is a weight that is preventing him from leaving his earthly existence behind - and he needs to unload it regardless of his father's reaction.
Why do you think Albom withholds the truth about whether Eddie was able to save "Amy or Annie" until the end of the novel? What effect does this decision have on the plot?
When Eddie first arrives in Heaven, he wants to know whether or not he was able to save the little girl from the falling cart before he died. He pins the value of his entire life on this one answer. However, nobody can answer this question until the end of Eddie's journey so that Eddie can see how much he meant to so many people. He must understand that a life cannot be measured by the success of a single action. Eddie finally learns that he did save "Amy or Annie"'s life in the same moment that he realizes he ended Tala's. By accepting both of these truths at the same time, Eddie is finally able to ascend to Heaven knowing that even if his life did not always make sense, it certainly was worth something.
Even though Albom does not explicitly state criticisms of contemporary society, what do you think the novel says about marriage?
All of the marriages Albom describes in The Five People You Meet In Heaven remain intact throughout the novel. Eddie and Marguerite meet as teenagers, fall in love, and stay together through thick and thin. Marguerite does not move on when Eddie disappears in the Philippines for six months, nor does she leave his side when he becomes distant. Instead, she remains his stalwart support system. Similarly, Eddie's mother stands by Eddie's father despite his violent temper and drunken rampages. In fact, the guilt of knowing that Eddie's father died trying to avenge her honor essentially leads Eddie's mother to have a nervous breakdown. Ruby also cares for Emile after he loses Ruby Pier and his fortune. She makes it clear that her life after the fire is tough, and describes her happiest moment as meeting Emile while working as a diner waitress. While these examples are relevant to particular time periods in American history (i.e. the Great Depression), Albom is also presenting a very traditional, heteronormative, and slightly patriarchal view of marriage.
What point do you think Albom is trying to make by describing the estate attorney's reaction to Eddie's apartment? ("It sure beat ending up like this poor slob, with little to show but a tidy kitchen.")
The estate attorney scene offers a contrast to Eddie's emotionally defining journey in Heaven. At the beginning of the novel, Eddie is lamenting the fact that his life has no worth because has no financial assets and never achieved much by way of a career, and the estate attorney speaks to that perspective. However, by the time the estate attorney goes through Eddie's apartment, the reader is already aware of how many people cared about Eddie and how many hearts he touched. The ongoing contrast between Heaven and earth allows us to dismiss the estate attorney's assessment of Eddie's life as superficial. Even though Eddie's box of treasures has no monetary value, the reader knows that each of the items in his apartment represents a priceless memory.
Whom or what do you believe is the antagonist in The Five People You Meet in Heaven?
The most powerful antagonistic forces in The Five People You Meet in Heaven are internal. Throughout the narrative, Eddie blames certain people for his difficulties. He resents his father, he temporarily lashes out at his Captain, and he even wishes Ruby Pier were never built. However, none of these struggles translate to Heaven - there, Eddie's main challenge is to release all of the darkness that weighs down his soul so that he can enter the afterlife. This means that Eddie must forgive himself for Tala's death, he must forgive his father for all of his faults, his Captain for shooting him in the knee, and finally, he must let go of his guilt for making Marguerite's life difficult.
Describe Albom's use of dramatic irony as a way to make the point that everything and everyone is interconnected.
At the very end of the novel, the narrator mentions that Nicky, the owner of the key that caused the accident that killed Eddie, happens to be Ruby's great-grandson. None of the characters ever realize this, but by revealing this piece of information at the very end of the novel, Albom re-emphasizes the fact that everything is connected - even if those connections are not readily obvious or even important. Furthermore, Eddie and Marguerite never find out that a pair of teenagers caused Marguerite's accident - this is also situational irony because these two wayward children indirectly revent Eddie and Marguerite from having children.
Describe the role of class in the novel, especially in the relationship between Eddie and his father.
As a youngster, Eddie aspires to achieve the American Dream. He wants to become an engineer, but his father scoffs at him. Eddie's resentment of his father is tied into his perception of success - during his life on earth, Eddie believes that he is a disappointment because he followed in his father's working-class footsteps. In fact, Eddie even describes his career at Ruby Pier as if it were a punishment: "He cursed his father for dying and trapping him in the very life he'd been trying to escape; a life that, as he heard the old man laughing from his grave, apparently now was good enough for him" (128). However, it is Tala who helps Eddie to see how much his work meant to so many people; Tala is a child, so her perspective is not shaped by the social constructs. Instead, she simply states a fact without judgement.
Besides Eddie, do any of the other characters in The Five People You Meet in Heaven change? Why or why not?
Eddie is the only character who goes through a significant emotional change over the course of the novel, which is unusual but also emphasizes the deeply subjective nature of the narrative. Eddie's perspective changes thanks to the "Five People" he meets, but Albom specifically structures the novel's timeline to keep everyone else in the novel stagnant or mired in the past. Marguerite is waiting for Eddie in Heaven, arms open - she has already forgiven him by the time he gets there. Even though Eddie forgives his father, his father cannot even hear him. In this text, Albom has engineered all of the supporting characters to guide Eddie in specific ways. Because of the omniscient narration and frequent analysis, it is arguable that the reader is also similarly engaged in Eddie's journey and changing along with him. Also - the novel is called The Five People You Meet in Heaven" instead of "The Five People Eddie Meets in Heaven," which hints that Albom is attempting to teach his reader's something with Eddie's story.
Albom writes, "all parents damage their children" (104). Analyze the importance of this phrase in understanding The Five People You Meet in Heaven.
Albom includes this comment while describing Eddie's fraught relationship with his father. However, despite Eddie's father's missteps, Eddie turns out to be a good person. Eddie's father damaged his son's self-esteem, but he did not damage the innate goodness in Eddie's heart. Ruby tries to explain this to Eddie by telling him about the true circumstances about Eddie's father's death and revealing that Eddie's father called out the names of his family members before he died. She shows Eddie that his father was fighting his own demons. He was certainly a bad parent and husband, stemming from the fact that he he was also a deeply flawed man. Eddie learns over the course of the novel that his father, though cruel, led him to the place where he was supposed to be: Ruby Pier. As Ruby tells Eddie - "Your father is not the reason you never left the Pier" (142). The "damage" that Eddie's father inflicted on him eventually led to his happy eternity, thus defining the man he became.