The Lovely Bones

The Sinkhole Symbol Icon

There is a sinkhole eight miles from Susie’s neighborhood, run by the Flanagan family, who make their living by charging people to dump old appliances and furniture into the hole. After raping, killing, and dismembering Susie, Mr. Harvey places her remains in a canvas sack, locks the sack in a safe, and brings the safe out to the Flanagans, claiming that it is an old safe inherited from his father, which no one alive can remember the combination to. Susie’s body is dumped into the sinkhole in one final, utter, and morbid act of violence and extreme disrespect, and the futility, injustice, and rage Susie feels watching him commit this even further humiliation against her is palpable. By the end of the novel, however, as Susie watches her friends Ruth and Ray return to the sinkhole on the eve of its closing—the Flanagans, years after Susie’s death, are planning on filling it in and shutting down business—Susie looks at the sinkhole not with a sense of injustice or hatred, and is even mildly grateful to be locked in a safe, kept away from moles, rodents, and insects which might otherwise feed on her flesh and humiliate her even further. In day-to-day speech, people often refer to sinkholes as metaphors for dark, alluring forces, or physical or emotional traps. The sinkhole of an eating disorder, the sinkhole of a toxic relationship, or the sinkholes of longing and mourning are all mechanisms which have the force to suck one down and disappear one completely. The Flanagan sinkhole, then, represents the pit of despair, humiliation, and horror which Susie—and, more broadly, the entire Salmon family—must do years and years of painstaking emotional and physical work to extricate themselves from. Being mired in the sorrow, guilt, anger, and feelings of futility which Susie’s murder engenders threatens to disarm, disband, and disassemble the Salmon family as a unit and as individuals, and it is only through the passage of time, the commitment to moving forward, and the love they have for one another that the Salmons are able to eventually pull themselves out of the sinkhole of their grief.

The Sinkhole Quotes in The Lovely Bones

The The Lovely Bones quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Sinkhole. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Justice and Injustice Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Back Bay edition of The Lovely Bones published in 2002.
Chapter 18 Quotes

When her father mentioned the sinkhole on the phone, Ruth was in the walk-in closet that she rented on First Avenue. She twirled the phone's long black cord around her wrist and arm and gave short, clipped answers of acknowledgment. The old woman that rented her the closet liked to listen in, so Ruth tried not to talk much on the phone. Later, from the street, she would call home collect and plan a visit. She had known she would make a pilgrimage to see it before the developers closed it up. Her fascination with places like the sinkhole was a secret she kept, as was my murder and our meeting in the faculty parking lot.

Related Characters: Susie Salmon (speaker), Ruth Connors
Related Symbols: The Sinkhole
Page Number: 249
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Sinkhole Symbol Timeline in The Lovely Bones

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Sinkhole appears in The Lovely Bones. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 4
Justice and Injustice Theme Icon
Tragedy, Grief, Alienation, and Isolation Theme Icon
Desire and Longing Theme Icon
Susie remembers watching Mr. Harvey take the sack full of her remains to a sinkhole on the edge of town, which locals use to dump old appliances. Susie herself has... (full context)
Chapter 10
Tragedy, Grief, Alienation, and Isolation Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Desire and Longing Theme Icon
...recently dropped out of high school and now runs a bike shop out near the sinkhole. Ruth Connors is invited to the symposium as well, and as she pulls up in... (full context)
Chapter 18
Justice and Injustice Theme Icon
Tragedy, Grief, Alienation, and Isolation Theme Icon
...her walk-in closet, takes a phone call from her father. He tells her that the sinkhole at the edge of Norristown is closing soon, and Ruth knows she must make a... (full context)
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
Desire and Longing Theme Icon
...of desire. Ruth knows that it will be Ray she takes with her to the sinkhole when she returns to Norristown—she sees him every time she goes home to visit her... (full context)
Chapter 21
Justice and Injustice Theme Icon
Tragedy, Grief, Alienation, and Isolation Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
Desire and Longing Theme Icon
In the present, Ruth’s father cuts an article about the filling-in of the sinkhole out of the paper for Ruth to read. Ray arrives to pick Ruth up at... (full context)
Justice and Injustice Theme Icon
Tragedy, Grief, Alienation, and Isolation Theme Icon
Desire and Longing Theme Icon
As Ruth and Ray arrive at the sinkhole, they both remark on how nothing much has changed, though the sinkhole has definitely expanded.... (full context)
Justice and Injustice Theme Icon
Tragedy, Grief, Alienation, and Isolation Theme Icon
Desire and Longing Theme Icon
...remains silent, vowing not to tell Ray about her brief encounter with Susie at the sinkhole until she has written it down in her journal first. Ray spots a cluster of... (full context)