The Five People You Meet in Heaven


Mitch Albom

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The Five People You Meet in Heaven Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Mitch Albom's The Five People You Meet in Heaven. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Mitch Albom

Mitch Albom was born to a middle class suburban American family, and was the middle child of three and attended Brandeis University. Though he initially dreamed of becoming a professional piano player, and in fact supported himself after college as a part-time piano player in New York, he soon became interested in journalism and began freelancing as a sports reporter. He eventually attended the Journalism School at Columbia University. After Columbia, he worked his way up in sports journalism, winning prestigious awards from the Associated Press in 1985, and eventually landed as the lead sports columnist at the Detroit Free Press. Albom also wrote a number of sports books, but his big success occurred in 1995 when he learned that a professor of his from Brandeis, Morrie Schwartz, was dying of ALS. Albom visited Schwartz multiple times in Boston, and wrote a book about the experience, Tuesdays with Morrie. The advance for the book allowed Albom to pay Schwartz’s medical bills, but what was expected to be a modest publishing run turned into a phenomenon, as Tuesdays with Morrie spent 205 weeks on the bestseller list. Albom followed up Tuesdays with Morrie six years later with the novel and smash success The Five People You Meet in Heaven in 2003. Since then, he has also written For One More Day (2006), Have a Little Faith (2009), and The Time Keeper (2012). His books are known for their inspirational themes, and have been featured on many news and talk shows. Albom is also an accomplished musician and songwriter. He lives in Detroit with his wife, Janine Sabino.
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Historical Context of The Five People You Meet in Heaven

The novels spans the 20th century, encompassing events from the late Industrial Revolution to the cultural shifts surrounding World War II. The novel briefly depicts the struggle of immigrants during the late Industrial Revolution through the Blue Man. The Blue Man, the “Circus Freak” from Eddie’s childhood, tells the story of how he and his parents emigrated from Poland at the turn of the century, and who was forced to work in a dangerous factory alongside his father. Eddie, the novel’s protagonist, is born to a working class family during the Great Depression. The poverty prevalent during that era characterizes Eddie’s childhood, adding to a sense of scarcity and hopelessness that follows him throughout his life. As a young man, Eddie feels society’s obsessions with contributing to the war effort, and he voluntarily enlists in World War II. Eddie’s lifelong depression and anxiety depict the experience of American veterans, particularly in an era before post-traumatic stress and other mental health issues were openly discussed. After Eddie returns from World War II, the novel turns inward to focus on Eddie’s inner struggles, and his connection to world events appears to diminish. Though the novel spans several more decades up to the 1990’s, no mention is made of the changing politics, social values or pop culture that take place during those eras.

Other Books Related to The Five People You Meet in Heaven

While the modern genre of Inspirational/Religious fiction is believed to have began in the 1950’s with an increase in religiously infused novels, the genre of Inspirational fiction became popularized in the late 1970’s and 80’s, with faith-based authors like Janette Oke. Later adapted to Hallmark movies, Oke’s Love Comes Softly (1979-1989) series featured the stories of frontier women learning to use their religious devotion and connections to others to cope with life’s struggles and find hope. Through authors like Oke, the Inspirational/Religious genre came to develop a distinct theme of coping with suffering through faith and seeking new beginnings through the assistance of a higher power. In the early 1990’s, the Chicken Soup for the Soul (1993-present) series, further characterized the genre by focusing on anecdotes of suffering, loss, and rediscovery of love/ faith/ happiness to create positive, therapeutic reactions in readers. Mitch Albom is considered to be one of the most important figures in modern Inspirational fiction, due to the mainstream popularity of his prolific work. His first best-selling novel, Tuesdays with Morrie (1997), is a memoir about his meetings with his dying former professor. Like Five People, the novel focuses on lessons of love, compassion, forgiveness, and human connection, and the meaning of life in the face of death. With Five People, Albom introduced the theme of life after death and delved further into Christian themes. His novels, For One More Day (2006) and Have a Little Faith (2009) returned to the themes of redemption and religious lessons around the meaning of life and death. Five People has also been compared to Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven (2007), the novel by Fannie Flagg. Though considered a mystery-comedy, Flagg’s novel similarly portrays an elderly woman who has died and gone to heaven, and her adventures and reflections as she reflects on her life and observes the effects she had on others. Albom’s works have also been compared to Nicholas Sparks, the author of The Notebook who focuses more on romance but uses a similarly accessible style to portray stories of hope and triumph over impossible obstacles. In The Notebook, Sparks similarly uses the reflections of an elderly couple as the vantage point for a seemingly impossible love story, illustrating how love, devotion and forgiveness create meaning in life. In his novel Safe Haven, Sparks uses the theme of faith to tell the story of a woman who escapes an abusive relationship to begin a new life elsewhere, and who finds a new family with the help of a woman who has died.
Key Facts about The Five People You Meet in Heaven
  • Full Title: The Five People You Meet in Heaven
  • Where Written: Detroit, United States
  • When Published: 2003
  • Literary Period: Contemporary Fiction
  • Genre: Religious Fiction, Philosophical Fiction
  • Setting: Fictional seaside amusement park in an unnamed town
  • Climax: When Eddie realizes that the shadow he saw in the flaming hut during the war really was the little girl, Tala, and that he killed her.
  • Point of View: Third-person omniscient

Extra Credit for The Five People You Meet in Heaven

Ruby Pier’s Inspiration: Ruby Pier, the setting of The Five People You Meet in Heaven, was inspired by the beach town amusement parks in California, particularly the Santa Monica Pier.

Eddie’s Inspiration: The character of Eddie was inspired by Mitch Albom’s uncle Eddie, who was a working class World War II veteran.