The Five People You Meet in Heaven

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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.
The Cycle of Life and Death Theme Icon

Life and death are a continuous cycle, making birth and death different ends of the same spectrum of existence. Eddie’s life story is told in intertwining vignettes, in which the beginning and end of his life melt together as if they were always happening at the same time. In heaven, the agelessness of characters like Marguerite, the Captain, Ruby, and Tala implies that birth and death are all happening at once from the viewpoint of eternity.

In Albom’s novel death isn’t the end, but another kind of beginning. As the Captain explains to Eddie, people naively think that death is the end in the same way that the first man, Adam, may have thought that he was dying on the first night he went to sleep. Because existence on earth is all that people know, they fail to realize that death is a kind of sleep that ushers them into a new experience, a “tomorrow.” The point of heaven, the Captain explains, is to have a place in which to deeply explore “your yesterday.” In heaven, every character who has died experiences a new kind of existence.

Highlighting that death is a mirror of life, Eddie goes through the same physical and emotional changes he experienced throughout his life on earth. When Eddie first arrives in heaven, he feels nimble like a child. Yet as he moves through the stages and meets the five people, he physically feels his body changing, as if it were aging again. He sees the skies changing color as he falls through each part of heaven, and he feels a whirl of emotions—sadness, love, peace, fear, joy—as he sees the colors change. At the end of the novel, he realizes these colors are all the emotions of his life.’

Loss, represented by death, is an essential part of life that is pervasive throughout the novel. The pain of loss gives meaning to the things and people lost, highlighting how without death there is no shape to life. Eddie deeply mourns the loss of his leg, of his joy, and later of Marguerite. Yet his losses also give meaning to the things he has felt and had. By losing Marguerite, Eddie feels fully the weight of the love he had for her. And just as death is not really the end, neither is loss permanent—in heaven, Eddie regains his mobility, his joy, and Marguerite.

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The Cycle of Life and Death 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 The Cycle of Life and Death.
Chapter 1 Quotes

It might seem strange to start a story with an ending. But all endings are also beginnings. We just don’t know it at the time.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

We kick off with a discussion of the transient nature of human existence. Life is very short--indeed, the main character of the book, Eddie, will die almost immediately. And yet, the passage seems to suggest, death is never exactly the end. Sure enough, the book will show us that (in the world of Albom's book, at least)death is just a stage in our passage to the afterlife.

More generally, though, the passage suggests that lives are closely connected. On Earth, humans are constantly influencing each other in tiny but important ways, of which they're usually unaware. Thus, the end of one person's story could easily influence the beginning of someone else. We'll see many examples of such a principle in action--just as one phase of Eddie's life is coming to an end, he'll do something that begins a new phase of life for someone else.


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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).

Chapter 6 Quotes

People think of heaven as a paradise garden, a place where they can float on clouds and laze in rivers and mountains. But scenery without solace is meaningless. This is the greatest gift God can give you: to understand what happened in your life.

Related Characters: The Blue Man (speaker), Eddie, God
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Eddie has arrived in Heaven, but he's surprised to find that Heaven looks more or less like Ruby Pier, the place Eddie's just come from. Furthermore, Eddie finds himself talking to a figure he knew well when he (Eddie) was just a kid--the Blue Man, a carnival "freak." The Blue Man is the first person Eddie will meet in Heaven; as such, he gives Eddie some of the most basic lessons about Heaven. Here, he essentially explains what Heaven is "for."

The Blue Man suggests that the purpose of Eddie's time in Heaven is at first to do work, not just savor everlasting pleasure. Eddie must come to terms with his own life, understanding what he's accomplished during his time on the Earth. The notion that people who enter Heaven have to think on their lives--i.e., do some mental and emotional work--is surprising. And yet, the very fact that Eddie is in Heaven as he thinks back on his existence suggests that his contemplation will eventually bring him joy.

Chapter 9 Quotes

Sometimes you have to do things when sad things happen.

Related Characters: Eddie’s Mother (speaker), Eddie
Related Symbols: Birthdays and Celebrations
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

In this touching passage, Eddie is turning 8 years old, and he's forced to go to a funeral on his birthday. Eddie is too young to really understand what it means to be dead--or why he, someone who doesn't know the deceased, really needs to go to the funeral. (This is ironic, since, we later learn, Eddie is the accidental cause of the man's death.) Eddie, as a child, thinks that he can separate his own pleasure from other people's pain--he can stay home and watch TV while other people cry. His life is his own, nobody else's.

Eddie's logic is crude, and yet it's more or less the same reasoning that most adults use. The passage implies that there's something immature and foolish about the notion that we should only care about our own happiness. True maturity and wisdom, we come to see, stem from the realization that the universe is a complicated place, in which one person's life influences hundreds of other lives.

Chapter 10 Quotes

You are here so I can teach you something (…) That you can no more separate one life from another than you can separate a breeze from the wind.

Related Characters: The Blue Man (speaker), Eddie
Page Number: 47-48
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, the Blue Man teaches Eddie one of the most basic lessons of the book--maybe the most basic one of all. All lives are connected, whether we like it or not. Those who try to live their lives separate from other lives are either foolish or in denial; they ignore a basic truth of the universe. As we've already seen, Eddie believed that his life was basically separate from the life of the Blue Man--and yet a little knowledge reveals that their two lives were closely and profoundly connected.

Eddie has learned the Blue Man's lesson; yet he'll struggle to understand it for the rest of the book. Eddie will meet other figures whose lives he influenced in major ways, and gradually, he'll begin to realize that his life wasn't lonely at all; it was actually eventful and exciting, albeit in ways Eddie himself never fully appreciated.

It is because the human spirit knows, deep down, that all lives intersect. That death doesn’t just take someone, it misses someone else, and in the small distance between being taken and being missed, lives are changed.

Related Characters: The Blue Man (speaker), Eddie
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

The message here, as delivered by the Blue Man, is that human beings naturally understand that all human lives are connected, particularly when it comes to living and dying. For example, the Blue Man lost his life in trying to protect the life of Eddie the 8-year-old child--one man's death allowed for another person's life.

All humans are naturally understand the importance of funerals and births--the Blue Man says this is because humans instinctively know that death and life are connected to each other. The passage is particularly interesting because it argues that we all know what the Blue Man is saying--it's just that during the course of our lives, we allow ourselves to become distracted from truth. The purpose of Eddie's time in Heaven, then, isn't to teach him new, exciting truths, but to remind him of what he secretly knew all along.

Strangers (…) are just family you have yet to come to know.”

Related Characters: The Blue Man (speaker), Eddie
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

The Blue Man gives Eddie another version of the same lessons he's been teaching: all lives are connected in tiny yet crucial ways. A human being isn't just connected to his friends and family--he's also connected to strangers. The Blue Man's message helps us understand the structure of the novel, as Eddie is going to meet lots of people whom he barely knows, and yet the life of each person Eddie is about to meet has been forever altered by Eddie's own actions, good or bad.

The Blue Man's message is both inspiring (if cliched) and intimidating. We tend to think that being a "good person" means living a good, peaceful life and not causing harm to anybody else. What the Blue Man is effectively saying is that we have no real control over our own lives--we're always on the verge of causing some unseen change in another person's life; we don't even know if the change will be good or bad. Humans like to pretend that they're in control of what they do and say, but the Blue Man (and Albom) is arguing that humans are only dimly aware of what they're really doing to other people.

No life is a waste (…) The only time we waste is the time we spend thinking we are alone.

Related Characters: The Blue Man (speaker), Eddie
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of Chapter 3, the Blue Man gives Eddie a final piece of useful advice about the nature of life. The Blue Man has been telling Eddie that our lives are not really our own: everything we do has an effect on the people around us, often in ways that we're only dimly aware of. (For example, an innocent episode from Eddie's childhood caused the death of the Blue Man, unbeknownst to Eddie himself.)

What, then, should be the enlightened person's response to the Blue Man's lessons? How do we live our lives in a way that respects the complexity of the universe? (More pointedly, does it matter whether or not we respect the complexity of the universe? Seems like our lives are unpredictable either way.) The Blue Man suggests that one can attain a kind of "inner peace" by accepting that one's life is "bound up" in millions of other lives. There is, in effect, never a reason to feel lonely: we're always connected to other people.

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 16 Quotes

Adam’s first night on earth? (…) He doesn’t know what sleep is. His eyes are closing and he thinks he’s leaving this world, right? Only he isn’t. He wakes up the next morning and he has a fresh new world to work with. But he has something else, too. He has his yesterday (…) That’s what heaven is. You get to make sense of your yesterdays.

Related Characters: The Captain (speaker), Eddie, God
Page Number: 92
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Eddie continues talking to the Captain, with whom Eddie served in World War II. The Captain gives Eddie an interesting parable to illustrate a point: when Adam (the first human, according to the Bible) went to sleep after the first day of his life, he must have thought the world was ending forever. And yet the world didn't end--he woke up again and got to live longer. By the same token, human beings like to believe that life ends with death; instead, life continues in a different form. The beauty of Heaven, we've come to see, is that it gives people the benefit of hindsight: it allows people to look back on their lives and learn from their mistakes and experiences.

Sometimes when you sacrifice something, you’re not really losing it. You’re just passing it on to someone else.

Related Characters: The Captain (speaker), Eddie
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the novel is at its most overtly Christian. The Captain, who has sacrificed his life foe the benefit of his troops, claims that sacrifice is the highest good. Sacrifice--a cornerstone of Christianity, considering Christ's sacrifice on the cross--is a noble act because it assumes that one's life isn't truly one's own. As the Captain argues, life is a gift that must be passed on to others--thus, when they sacrifice themselves for the sake of other people, they're just passing on the gift of life to another person.

The passage recalls a key Christian belief, articulated in the Biblical Book of Job: human beings don't "own" their own lives, and should be grateful to God for whatever they're given in life. As the Captain implies, humans are lucky to be alive at all; therefore, they shouldn't be angry when they die while passing on life to someone else.

Chapter 28 Quotes

What people find then is a certain love. And Eddie found a certain love with Marguerite, a grateful love, a deep and quiet love, but one that he knew, above all else, was irreplaceable. Once she’d gone (…) he put his heart to sleep.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Eddie, Marguerite
Page Number: 155-156
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Eddie is reunited with Marguerite, the love of his life. Although we've known about Marguerite for some time, it's only now that we truly understand why she was so special to Eddie. Eddie has always had a tough time showing his feelings--therefore, it was hard for him to make friends and meet people. In Marguerite, Eddie found someone who understood him intuitively--who didn't have to ask him lots of questions or pester him for the truth. Marguerite is, perhaps, the closest thing to a saint in the novel--selflessly, she sacrifices her own needs and happiness for the sake of her husband.

The passage is an interesting example of the controversial way Albom portrays women--more often than not, he depicts them as perfect, moral creatures, whose great purpose on the Earth is to care for complex, conflicted men.

Chapter 30 Quotes

…Eddie admitted that some of his life he’d spent hiding from God, and the rest of the time he thought he went unnoticed.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Eddie, God
Page Number: 171
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the novel becomes overtly religious (God) without ever mentioning a specific religion. Eddie and Marguerite stroll through Heaven, savoring each other's company. Eddie asks Marguerite if God is watching him, and Marguerite says that he is. Eddie comes to realize that he's spent his life denying God or trying to avoid God.

The passage suggests that Eddie is coming around to the religious point of view that the novel puts forth--a point of view that revolves around the connections between all human beings. The fact that Eddie feels comfortable accepting the absence of God during his life on the Earth suggests that he's finally ready to embrace God in his life in Heaven.

Chapter 35 Quotes

He was nothing now, a leaf in the water, and she pulled him gently, through shadow and light, through shades of blue and ivory and lemon and black, and he realized all these colors, all along, were the emotions of his life.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Eddie, Tala
Related Symbols: Color and Darkness
Page Number: 193
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Eddie goes through a rite of purification that symbolizes his struggle to come to terms with his life on the Earth. Tala--the little girl whom Eddie killed years ago during his time in World War II--leads Eddie into a river, where he finds that colors are coming off of his body. Some of the colors are bright, while others are dark, but together, they make a beautiful rainbow.

The symbolism of the colors is clear enough: Eddie's life has been full of joys and sorrows (bright and dark colors)--and yet the combined effects of so many different colors is more stunning than any single color could be. Eddie thinks of the pain in his life as a horrible burden, but in fact, his pain and suffering have actually made his life richer and more complex. It's strange to think that pain can be anything other than miserable, but as Albom sees it, one needs both pleasure and pain to get the full measure of mortal life. 

Chapter 36 (Epilogue) Quotes

And in that line now was a whiskered old man (…) who waited in a place called the Stardust Band Shell to share his part of the secret of heaven: that each affects the other and the other affects the next, and the world is full of stories, but the stories are all one.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Eddie, “Amy or Annie”
Page Number: 196
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of the novel, we've come full-circle. When we met him, Eddie was just arriving in Heaven, having died at Ruby Pier. Now, Eddie is an experienced resident of Heaven, ready to introduce someone else to the wonders of the afterlife. Furthermore, the first person Eddie will introduce is the young girl whose life Eddie saved by sacrificing his own. Thus, Eddie fulfills the same role for "Amy or Annie" that the Blue Man fulfilled for Eddie years before: he sacrificed his life to save a child, and in Heaven, will tell the child about the importance of sacrifice and interconnectedness.

The novel ends with a theme that Albom has been exploring for some time now: all stories are one. In other words, Eddie's life is only one part of someone else's story (for example, "Amy or Annie"). By accepting the truth about life and interconnectedness, Eddie comes to terms with his life on the Earth and embraces his new existence in Heaven.