The Five People You Meet in Heaven

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Gender Roles Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Redemption and Forgiveness Theme Icon
The Connection Between All Humans Theme Icon
The Cycle of Life and Death Theme Icon
The Value in Ordinary Life Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Five People You Meet in Heaven, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Gender Roles Theme Icon

While gender roles are not directly discussed in the novel, strong differences exist between Albom’s depictions of female and male characters, to the point that gender roles become an important theme. The primary difference in the portrayal of men and women is that the novel’s female characters are nearly all defined by their relationships to male characters, while male characters are defined by their goals, occupations, and actions. Several male characters are mentioned as not having wives (like the Blue Man and Mickey Shea) or their potential wives or children are hardly mentioned (like with the Captain and Dominguez), whereas every adult female in the novel is described as some man’s wife or mother (Marguerite, Eddie’s mother, Ruby). To Marguerite, happiness is defined by her role as wife and bride, so much so that she chooses a heaven full of endless weddings around the world. Every depicted memory of Marguerite’s life is in relation to her hopes and disappointments with Eddie, her husband. While Eddie’s life contains many relationships and internal struggles that aren’t associated with Marguerite, it appears that Marguerite’s central defining relationship is with Eddie, and both her joys and struggles center around him.

Female characters in the novel also exhibit similar traits—they tend to be nurturing, caring towards others, and preoccupied with children and husbands. Male characters, meanwhile, are more often preoccupied with achievements and actions. Eddie spends his life trying to leave Ruby Pier to make more of himself as an engineer, while his wife spends her life focusing on taking care of Eddie and trying, in vain, to bear children. In heaven, the Captain remembers battle and dedicating his life in service to his country, while the Blue Man remembers his struggle to escape poverty and find his place in society. Both Ruby and Marguerite, however, remember their struggles to find peace with their husbands.

Another part of this gendered dichotomy is that females in the novel tend to be the victims of danger or violence, while males are the source of danger and violence. Eddie’s mother comforted and loved him, whereas his father beat him and withheld affection. There are no instances of female characters causing pain or violence to other characters. Tala is the ultimate bystander of violence, as a female child killed in a war in which all the fighters are male. Marguerite gets into a terrible car accident while driving to save Eddie from his gambling addiction, and this accident is caused directly by teenage boys throwing glass bottles off a bridge, and indirectly by Eddie’s reckless behavior. Mickey O’Shea attempts to rape Eddie’s mother, and when Eddie’s father walks in, he blames his wife and adds to her experience of violence by jerking her around.

In heaven, Ruby tells Eddie the story of Mickey’s attempted rape, but explains that Mickey deserved to be forgiven because he had done many good things to help Eddie’s family. Ruby also encourages Eddie to forgive his father for physically and mentally abusing him as a child, as she shows Eddie that his father was capable of kindness. The principal female characters, however—Eddie’s mother and Marguerite—don’t need to seek redemption, as they never commit seriously hurtful or violent acts. Men are thus the only characters depicted as capable of both good and evil. Because of all this, it could be argued that Albom only truly humanizes his male characters, while his female characters remain flat, idealized, and locked into gender roles.

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Gender Roles Quotes in The Five People You Meet in Heaven

Below you will find the important quotes in The Five People You Meet in Heaven related to the theme of Gender Roles.
Chapter 4 Quotes

Later, she will walk him along the pier, perhaps take him on an elephant ride, or watch the fishermen pull in their evening nets, the fish flipping like shiny, wet coins. She will hold his hand and tell him God is proud of him for being a good boy on his birthday, and that will make the world feel right-side up again.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Eddie, Eddie’s Mother
Page Number: 24-25
Explanation and Analysis:

In this important passage, we meet Eddie when he's only 5 years old. His father (who is generally an antagonistic character) ritually holds him upside down and "shakes him out" every year on his birthday to symbolize his growing maturity. Eddie seems not to like being shaken out; in the passage, for instance, he looks forward to the moment when the ritual is over and his mother will help turn the world "right-side up again." This is just one example of the primary role the female characters take in the book: that of (rather one-dimensional) caregivers and nurturing figures, primarily taking care of men or children.

The passage is also notable in that it brings up God. The novel has been praised for its Christian themes (it's all about Heaven, after all), but it gives few details of doctrine or specific beliefs, and overall, there's meant to be a more general spiritual element to the story. The novel's religion seems to hinge on the belief that our lives are interconnected in complex, challenging ways--thus, the spiritualism of the book is more universal and accessible than the specific teachings of Christianity (or any other organized religion, for that matter).


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Chapter 13 Quotes

Young men go to war. Sometimes because they have to, sometimes because they want to. Always, they feel they are supposed to. This comes from the sad, layered stories of life, which over the centuries have seen courage confused with picking up arms, and cowardice confused with laying them down.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

The book has an interesting attitude toward the idea of war: the narrator claims that war is neither inherently good or bad. The problem, however, is that many soldiers join the army because they want to appear noble and brave, not because they sincerely believe in the virtues of the war itself. Eddie seems to be one of the many soldiers who joins the army to "become a man." In short, Eddie substitutes vague masculine ideals for genuine courage and resolve--he become a soldier because he thinks "it's what men do."

Notice that the book isn't saying that war is either good or bad--war, like life, is whatever you make of it. Albom isn't a pacifist; he wants people to stand up for whatever they believe in, provided that they're sincere in their beliefs.

Chapter 20 Quotes

Eddie privately adored his father, because sons will adore their fathers through even the worst behavior. It is how they learn devotion. Before he can devote himself to God, or a woman, a boy will devote himself to his father, even foolishly, even beyond explanation.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Eddie, Eddie’s Father
Page Number: 106
Explanation and Analysis:

Strangely, Eddie seems not to hate his father for beating him or gambling excessively. Instead, Eddie worships his father. The narrator notes that parents are our first models for God--Eddie, who grew up with a harsh, often cruel father, seems to think of God as a harsh, cruel being who's abandoned and mistreated Eddie for years. (Notice also that narrator rather narrowly assumes boys mostly look up to fathers, while girls presumably look up to mothers.)

While Eddie's adoration for his father is unfortunate in many ways (as a result of his admiration for his father, Eddie becomes a tougher, grimmer person who struggles to express his feelings), there's also a silver lining: paradoxically, the very fact that Eddie seeks to emulate his father's bad habits proves that Eddie is a loving son.

Chapter 21 Quotes

How can he explain such sadness when she is supposed to make him happy? (…) She looks beautiful wearing the print dress Eddie likes, her hair and lips done up. Eddie feels the need to inhale, as if undeserving of such a moment. He fights the darkness within him. “Leave me alone,” he tells it. “Let me feel this way, I should feel it.”

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Eddie, Marguerite
Related Symbols: Color and Darkness
Page Number: 118-119
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we see the long-term effects of Eddie's tragic inability to express his feelings. Eddie has been trained to believe in backwards masculine ideals--he's told to keep his feelings bottled up, proving his strength and toughness. As a result, Eddie doesn't know how to tell his beloved wife, Marguerite, about his post-traumatic stress, a result of his service in World War II. Eddie even comes to believe that he's supposed to feel dark and depressed as a result of his military service--machismo tells him that depression is somehow a sign of his maturity.

Eddie loves Marguerite deeply, but because of the culture in which he was raised, he's unsure how to communicate with her, and as a result, their marriage deteriorates.

Chapter 28 Quotes

That was my choice (…) A world of weddings, behind every door. Oh, Eddie, it never changes, when the groom lifts the veil, when the bride accepts the ring (…) They truly believe their love and their marriage is going to break all the records…

Related Characters: Marguerite (speaker), Eddie
Related Symbols: Birthdays and Celebrations
Page Number: 156-157
Explanation and Analysis:

Albom's depictions of women in the novel are respectful and yet arguably one-dimensional. Here, for instance, Eddie reunites with Marguerite, his wife, in Heaven--and he's surprised to see that Marguerite sees Heaven as "full of weddings." Marguerite explains that she sees Heaven as a place for weddings because weddings are a defining part of the human experience--they're the moment when two people are on their best behavior and show their love for one another, feeling idealistic and hopeful about the power of their love.

The fact that Marguerite should see Heaven as a place for weddings reflects the truth that her role in the novel is defined purely by the fact that she's Eddie's husband. We don't really know much about Marguerite, except that she's the perfect, saintly wife--we don't know her personality or idiosyncrasies, and Albom doesn't give her the kind of complex inner life that he gives Eddie, the Captain, etc. In the novel, more often than not, women exist to steer complex, emotionally damaged men on the path toward Heaven.