The Five People You Meet in Heaven

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The Five People You Meet in Heaven Chapter 20 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narrator summarizes Eddie’s memories of his parents. As a young child, Eddie tried to get his father’s attention, but his father would either yell or ignore him. When he took Eddie out on Saturdays to Ruby Pier, he would find someone else to take care of Eddie while he drank and gambled. In contrast, Eddie’s mother was loving and protective. When Eddie got a bit older, his father habitually came home drunk late at night, went into Eddie and Joe’s room, and beat them with his belt, blaming his financial troubles on his kids. Eddie’s mother tried to stop him, but to no avail. Still, Eddie loved his father when he was young, because as the narrator says, “sons will adore their fathers even through the worst behavior.”
Eddie remembers his mother’s devotion in caring for him, while he remembers his father for his violence and distance. His father represents stereotypically male behavior of violence and emotional absence, whereas his mother represents stereotypically female ideals of comfort and love—and indeed, both are rather flatly portrayed. Eddie’s father’s actions are active, whereas his mother is a passive bystander. As a child, Eddie naturally forgives his father, showing that male violence is normalized by the culture, with the effect that male brutality faces little social consequences.
Themes
Redemption and Forgiveness Theme Icon
The Connection Between All Humans Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
At rare times, however, Eddie’s father would give out small gestures of approval, and Eddie hungered for these moments, and eagerly sought them out. His father approved of Eddie when he played well in a baseball game, when he came home bloody from a fight and bragged that he was the winner, or when he defended his older brother from bullies. When Eddie was a teenager and he went to work with his father as a mechanic at Ruby Pier, his father would toss him broken equipment to fix. “It’s fixed,” Eddie would say, and his father would nod. Eddie’s father spoke proudly of his maintenance work, and would say that Eddie’s greasy mechanic’s fingernails showed an “honest day’s work.” Eddie grew used to his father’s lack of affection and learned to communicate wordlessly through these small rituals, not letting himself expect more.
Despite his father’s cruelty, Eddie still desperately seeks his love. The strength of the human desire to be loved and to have a connection with family is so strong that it continues to seek small bits of affirmation even in the face of abuse. Eddie’s father only rewards him for violence, athletic ability, hard work, and other symbols of masculinity. The irony is that Eddie’s father also rewards him for fixing broken things, while he ignores the one thing that truly needs to be fixed—his relationship with his son. By expressing approval of Eddie’s maintenance work, his father shows that he himself feels validated by Eddie following in his career path.
Themes
Redemption and Forgiveness Theme Icon
The Connection Between All Humans Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
The narrative now shows Eddie after he has come back from the war. He is in a deeply depressed state, and spends most of his time on his parents’ couch. One night his father come home drunk, and yells repeatedly at Eddie to “Get up and get a job!” When he tries to hit Eddie, Eddie reflexively lifts his arm against his father to block his father’s strike. After that night, Eddie’s father never speaks to him again—not even at Eddie’s own wedding a couple years later. Throughout his life, whenever his mother or anyone else pleaded with his father to speak to him, Eddie’s father told them that Eddie “raised a hand to him,” a fact which he cannot forgive. Now, in heaven, Eddie is again filled with anger and hurt by his father’s silence through the diner window.
Eddie’s father is obsessed with maintaining control over his household, likely because he has so little control over other aspects of his life, such as his social status and finances. Though he contributed to making Eddie tough with violent reflexes, he is now unable to face the man he has turned his son into. So fragile is his pride, he would rather deny his son’s existence than admit his lack of control over his son. To Eddie, who tolerated his father’s physical abuse, this total denial of connection through silence is intolerable.
Themes
Redemption and Forgiveness Theme Icon
The Connection Between All Humans Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
A woman wearing a long skirt and a parasol speaks to Eddie outside of the diner, and introduces herself as his “third person.” She tells him his father isn’t really there in the diner, because they are in her heaven. Eddie is frustrated that he is meeting a stranger, when he thought heaven meant being reunited with those he’d lost in his life, and finding peace. The lady tells Eddie that he must “make peace” on his own, and Eddie feels overwhelmed at this task. He remembers the fish he used to see flopping hopelessly in nets at Ruby Pier, and thinks of himself like that—feeling trapped and hopeless for all of his life after the war.
Eddie isn’t interested in meeting strangers, because he hasn’t yet fully internalized the Blue Man’s lesson that all lives are connected. Eddie must learn all his lessons in heaven before he can fully understand each one individually. Eddie thinks of the helpless fish at Ruby Pier because he too feels helpless—even in heaven. To Eddie, things happen to him—he doesn’t see himself as creating the situations or feelings he experiences.
Themes
The Connection Between All Humans Theme Icon
The Value in Ordinary Life Theme Icon
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The woman with the parasol tells Eddie that she knows him, even if he doesn’t know her. She then tells him her story. She was once a young, pretty waitress at that very diner, right by the sea. She rejected the advance of many visiting men, until one day, when a handsome, rich businessman came to her diner. This man—Emile—took her to beautiful sea resorts and bought her extravagant things. When he proposed to her, he promised he would make a beautiful sea park in dedication to his love for her. He poured his energy into the massive project, and a few years later, he brought her blindfolded to the entrance of Ruby Pier. The woman now introduces herself to Eddie as Ruby.
As in the case of Marguerite and Eddie’s mother, Ruby’s story is based around the act of falling in love with a man and getting married. While Emile, like other men in the novel, has his own goals and pursuits apart from romance, Ruby’s “life story” is entirely defined by her relationship to men—the men who futilely pursued her, as well as Emile. That one of the five people Eddie meets is the woman who inspired Ruby Pier highlights the importance of the park as a symbol in Eddie’s life.
Themes
The Connection Between All Humans Theme Icon
The Value in Ordinary Life Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon