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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES / ANALYSIS
In this chapter, Susie Salmon (like the fish) introduces herself and gives the reader all the details of her murder. She was 14 years old and she took a shortcut home from school through the cornfield behind the junior high. It was already dark, because it was December 6, 1973. She wasn’t paying much attention and so was startled when Mr. Harvey, her neighbor just two doors away, spoke to her. Because she had been taught to respect authority and he was an adult, Susie spoke to him. She is surprised he knows her name, because no one in the neighborhood ever really knew him. Her father had spoken to him once, but they had never socialized.
Mr. Harvey lures her into a hiding place he’s made in the ground, and Susie naively goes inside with him. In fact, she even tells him it’s “neato!” He offers her a Coke and convinces her to take off her parka. When she becomes nervous and tries to leave, he blocks the entrance with his body. She tells us that she fought as hard as she could, but it just wasn’t enough. At the time, she says this must be the worst thing in the world to have a sweating man on top of you and be trapped inside the earth with no one knowing where you are. She pleads with him over and over, but he finally shuts her up by stuffing the hat with bells her mother had made her into her mouth.
The only sound she made after that was the “weak tinkling of bells.” She knows he is going to kill her, especially when he reaches for the knife on the ledge with his razor and shaving cream. He makes her say she loves him, and she does, hoping he might let her go. But “the end comes anyway.”
After Mr. Harvey rapes Susie, he stabs her to death and then cuts her body into pieces, inadvertently leaving behind her elbow, which is later brought home by the Gilberts’ dog.
Several important ideas surface immediately in this first chapter. First, it is 1973, so it is still at a time when people believed things like raping and murdering a young girl didn’t happen. Second, although Susie is 14, girls her age, in 1973, were probably more like 11 year old girls are today. They were not nearly as mature as they are now.
Furthermore, Susie relates a story to us about Mr. Harvey being old-fashioned and using eggshells and coffee grounds as fertilizer for his garden. This foreshadows that even though Mr. Harvey’s garden stinks, no one investigates, because he has made it known what fertilizer he uses.
In heaven, Susie reveals several aspects of her death that she should have noticed at the time. For example, she remembers there had been the light scent of cologne in the air as she walked through the field. That should have made her more watchful. Also, Mr. Harvey knows her name. That should have raised her suspicions. She watches Mr. Harvey tell her mother later, “I hope they get the bastard. I’m sorry for your loss.” She sees then that he had no shame, but she didn’t know it at the time of her death. She enters the hiding place and never asks herself why a grown man would have such a place. Then, when he tells her he had built it for the neighborhood kids, she knows he is lying, but just feels sorry for him for his loneliness.
Finally, Susie is amazed that he has lantern inside the hiding place as well as his razor and his shaving cream. She just attributes this to his oddness - her father had once told his family that Mr. Harvey was harmless, just a “character” - and doesn’t hear any warning bells. Now, we know that he was preparing himself for her murder.Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version