The Five People You Meet in Heaven
Infobox Book |
name = The Five People You Meet in Heaven
image_caption = First edition cover to the novel
language = English
Little, Brown& Time Warner Paperbacks
release_date = 25 September 2003
media_type = Print (
pages = 228 pp (first edition, hardback) & 240 pp (paperback edition)
isbn = ISBN 0-316-72661-3 (first edition, hardback) & ISBN 0-7515-3682-2 (paperback edition)
In his first novel,
Mitch Albomrecounts the life and death of a simple yet dignified old man, Eddie. After dying in a freak accident, Eddie finds himself in heaven where he encounters five people who have significantly affected his life, whether he realized it at the time or not. Each imparts a divine piece of wisdom unto him, instilling a deeper comprehension regarding the most intimate facets of life. "The Five People You Meet in Heaven" was published in 2003 by Hyperion, and remained on the New York Times Bestseller list for 95 weeks. It was the bestselling first time novel ever written.
The character of the story, Eddie is a maintenance worker at a local amusement park, Ruby Pier. He lives alone in a small apartment just outside and in full view of the park. He has been living a life of isolation since his wife, Marguerite, died almost 40 years ago. Being the last living member of his family with no children of his own, Eddie’s only human contact is with his fellow pier workers, all of whom are much younger but still treat him with respect.
Since his days as a child, Ruby Pier was part of Eddie’s life. He played there every day as a child with his older brother and friends, and began working there as a teenager under the supervision of his father, who held Eddie’s position before his untimely death. After he returned from his stint in World War II he resumed his life at the pier, where he remained for the rest of his life.
Eddie underwent years of abuse from his father. It started with neglect, took a turn towards violence, and concluded with absolute silence. His father would beat him as a child in his drunken state, culminating one night shortly after Eddie returned from war. As his father took a swing at Eddie, drunk, Eddie resisted by grabbing his father’s fist, for which his father never spoke to him again. Eddie’s relationship with his parents became distant after that, living alone with his wife, Marguerite. A few years later, his father died of pneumonia. His mother did not react well, or even sanely. She seemed unable to cope with her husband’s death and entered a stage of denial, which necessitated Eddie’s permanent return to the apartment in which he grew up. From here, he returned to working at the pier, exactly what he was doing before he went off to war.
He lived the next few decades alone with Marguerite. They lived simply, their “deep but quiet” love (p. 156) getting them through the drudgeries of their everyday life. Unfortunately, Marguerite could not bear children, prompting them to routinely discuss the prospect of adoption. Eddie’s standard response was “we’re too old.” Marguerite’s rebuttal was “what’s too old?”
They enjoyed their marriage together without a hitch until Eddie’s 39th birthday, when they fought over the phone as Eddie called Marguerite from the track to tell her of his winnings. To reconcile, Marguerite decided to drive to the track and apologize. But, along the way, she was involved in a gruesome car crash that landed her in the hospital for several months. After she was released, doctors found that she had a brain tumour. Marguerite died a few years later.
Eddie lived the rest of his life in remote solitude, keeping his job at Ruby Pier to keep him busy. He hobbled around the pier on his titanium-filled knee, a constant reminder of his time spent fighting in World War II. It is here that he meets his ultimate end, and the reader follows him throughout his exploration of the afterlife.
The Blue Man
As a young boy, Eddie spent many summer days playing with his friends and older brother at Ruby Pier. While playing catch with his friends one afternoon, the baseball Eddie received for his most recent birthday is inadvertently thrown into the street. As Eddie scampers to retrieve it, he steps in front of a car; the driver swerves, crashes, and later dies, while Eddie escapes without a scratch.
In Eddie’s first stop in heaven, it is revealed that this was “The Blue Man,” or Joseph Corvelzchik. Joseph lived his life as an attraction in a traveling freak show, often present at Ruby Pier. He immigrated from Poland in 1894, and, like most immigrants of the time, struggled to get by financially. At the age of 10 he took a job working in a sweatshop sewing buttons onto coats. His father always told him to avoid eye contact with the foreman and to remain unnoticed. But, one day, he spills a pile of buttons all over the floor right in front of the foreman, who tells him that he is useless and must go. As his father pleads with the foreman to let him stay, Joseph soils himself in front of the foreman, his father, and the entire industry.
His father never forgave him. As the years passed, his nervousness and incontinence persisted, further humiliating him and disappointing his father. In an act of desperation, Joseph resorted to a primitive medicinal measure – drinking silver nitrate. As this, later considered to be poison, did not cure him of his ailments, he assumed he was not taking a high enough dosage. As he continued to ingest more and more silver nitrate, his skin began to change colors (which he remedied by taking more silver nitrate), until eventually he was completely blue. He was left jobless after being fired from the sweatshop for scaring other workers. Eventually he found refuge with a group of carnival men, and his life as a “commodity” had begun. After traveling from carnival to carnival, he found permanent employment at Ruby Pier, where he was referred to as the best freak in the entire show. He lived above a sausage shop, playing cards at night with fellow circus performers and even occasionally Eddie’s father, earning his living by sitting in a cage all day, half dressed, as people walked by and stared in shock, awe, and sometimes, disgust.
He explains that when Eddie retrieved his ball from the street, although he was safe and sound, the Blue man wasn't. He was driving the car and the sudden halt he made because of Eddie gave him a heart attack. The Blue Man taught Eddie his first lesson, that we are all connected. Everything that we do affects what will happen to another.
When Eddie was shipped off to the
Philippinesfor World War II, “The Captain” was Eddie’s commanding officer. He was a few years older than Eddie and his fellow men and had spent his life in the military, as did three generations before him. His stern demeanor and quick temper were his most noticeable attributes, as was his promise to his men: no man gets left behind.
The Captain is the second person Eddie meets in heaven. Here, it is revealed that he was the one who shot Eddie in the leg, crippling him for life. However, unbeknownst to Eddie, the captain was actually saving his life. Shortly after saving Eddie, the captain steps on a land mine and is killed. His lesson was about sacrifices.
As a young girl, Ruby worked at the Seahorse Grille, a small diner neighboring what would become Ruby Pier that Eddie used to frequent before it was torn down years ago. She was a beauty back in those days, and as such turned down many men, until a young businessman, Emile, sat down in her diner. Ruby did not have much money growing up, and as such was blown away by Emile’s monetary whimsicality. After sufficient courtship, Emile proposed to Ruby, and she gleefully accepted. To capture her eternal youth and the everlasting happiness their marriage would undergo, Emile built an amusement park in her name: Ruby Pier.
Ruby, the third person he meets, goes on to tell Eddie about the near-complete destruction of Ruby Pier. For Independence Day, Emile hired extra workers and utilized fireworks to draw extra customers. However, some of the “roundabouts” were drinking one night and began setting off fireworks, causing a fire that almost burned the entire pier to the ground. In a frantic attempt to save his life’s work, Emile tried to extinguish the fire with buckets of water, and in the process was crushed by a collapsing column. As he had no insurance, Emile was forced to sell the land dirt cheap to another businessman. He remained incapacitated for three years with Ruby tending his every need as she nourished a single wish: that he had never built Ruby Pier.
Later on, Ruby’s husband is in the hospital, sharing a room with Eddie’s father. Because of this, she is able to recount to his father’s final living moments to him. Ruby helps Eddie understand the importance of forgiveness.
Eddie met his wife, Marguerite, right before his 17th birthday. Having met her only once, he ran home to his older brother and proclaimed that one day she would be his wife. Although premature, this prediction turned out to be accurate. They wed on Christmas Eve, once he had returned from the war, on the second floor of Sammy’s, a small Chinese restaurant. It was a simple wedding: Eddie used what little money he had from the army on their food (roasted chicken with Chinese vegetables) and entertainment (a man with an accordion).
They had a happy, loving marriage, even though they could not have children. They were planning to adopt a child until the events of Eddie's 39th birthday. That day, he won $800 at the track and called Marguerite to tell her the good news. However, she did not respond positively. Out of spite, Eddie put all his winnings on the next race. Marguerite attempted to drive to the track to apologize for yelling at him on his birthday and convince him to stop betting. On her way there, she was involved in a car crash that lacerated her liver and broke her arm. The cost of the medical bills and her health issues made them ineligible to adopt.
It is difficult to reconcile with a loved one after such a tragic event, and as such, Eddie and Marguerite's marriage changed. They often sat in silence that was permeated by sullen tension. As time passed, however, they were eventually able to overcome their emotional disconnect and become loving companions once again. A few years later, Marguerite died of a brain tumor. She is the fourth person Eddie meets.
Marguerite teaches Eddie that, even though she had passed away, their love was never gone - it just took a different shape. Until Marguerite teaches him this, Eddie had felt as though she had been taken from him too early and that their love was torn to pieces.
During the war, Eddie was held captive by a troop of Japanese soldiers. After he and his fellow captives were able to escape, he set fire to their barracks. As he watched a straw hut burn to the ground, he thought he saw the shape of a small child inside and thought he heard screaming. Unsure if what he thought he saw was real or a hallucination, he tried to run into the burning hut to save the child, but was shot in the leg by his captain, thus saving Eddie's life.
In Eddie’s fifth and final stage in heaven, Eddie learns that there was a little girl in the hut that day. She is a Filipino girl named Tala, and gives him his most important lesson: his purpose on earth. Eddie also learns that the two little hands he felt when he died were Tala's.
As a child, Eddie had a very troubled relationship with his father. Like most children, he had a deep devotion to his father, despite his abuse. Even when he was young, Eddie’s father rarely held him, and as he grew older his mother handed out the love while his father became the disciplinarian. When they visited the pier together, his father would often dump him into the custody of a stranger, with whom Eddie would spend the entire day until his father returned, often drunk. His father would beat him and his brother regularly—another result of his alcoholism. However, despite his years of abuse, Eddie still adored his father. This adoration made him strive to please his father, at first through his work with him at Ruby Pier. Initially, the only task Eddie was allowed to perform was crawling under the Ferris wheel to gather loose change. Later, he was given more responsibility, such as operating the brakes on some of the rides. Eventually, his father trusted him to repair broken mechanical parts, the completion of which earned his father’s approval. Eddie would come home tired, grease wedged under his fingernails, starkly contrasting his brother, who would come home tanned and smelling of the sea from his job as a lifeguard. For this, he gained favor over his older brother, but his father did not express it any more emphatically than a silent nod—the initial stages of a father-son relationship based on unspoken understanding and denial of affection.
Shortly after Eddie returned from war, any semblance of a relationship he had with his father ceased. Recovering from his war injury, he slipped into depression, something his father could not understand. Coming home drunk one night and finding Eddie asleep on the couch, his father began berating him to get a job. In his drunken state, he quickly became angry, and eventually violent. As he tried to punch Eddie, Eddie grabbed his fist in defense. His father never spoke to him again, citing the fact that “that boy raised a hand to me.”
Years later and unbeknownst to Eddie until he arrives in heaven, Mickey Shea, one of his father’s oldest and closest friends, attempted to rape Eddie’s mother. Eddie’s father chased him out of the house to the pier, where Mickey fell into the water and began to drown. Eddie’s father dragged the man he initially set out to kill safely to shore. From this, he caught pneumonia and died shortly thereafter. His dying breaths were spent hanging halfway out his hospital window, screaming for Eddie’s mother, brother, and Eddie himself.
Eddie’s mother does not play a prominent role in the story. She was very affectionate towards Eddie and his brother, Joe, as they were growing up—a contrast to her husband’s “tough love.” After her husband’s death, she slipped into denial, and died shortly after.
Eddie took a different path in life than his older brother, Joe. The discrepancies between Joe and Eddie became clear early on, specifically one afternoon when Joe was jumped in an alley by “hoodlums,” as their mother called them. Eddie grabbed a trash can lid and used it as a weapon to fend off his brother’s attackers. For having to be saved by his younger brother, Joe was forever ashamed, as his father praised Eddie for being the tough one.
This trend continued into their teenage years, when Joe worked as a lifeguard while his brother and father performed grueling manual labor all day. This reinforced his father’s notion that he was not “tough.” Eventually, he got a job in hardware sales, where Eddie noted he made three times his maintenance salary. Joe dies years before his brother, leaving Eddie alone in life.
The End, The Journey
At work on his 83rd birthday, there is an accident at Ruby Pier, where Eddie has worked maintaining the rides for almost his entire life. A man loses his car key (it gets stuck in the gears of a ride), and as a result the car is suspended hundreds of feet in the air. After the people in the car escape safely, the car is released and begins to drop. Eddie notices a young girl underneath, about to be crushed. He sacrifices his own life in an attempt to save her, and his soul goes to heaven, where he learns the most important lessons in life.
The First Person Eddie Meets in Heaven
The first person Eddie meets in heaven is “The Blue Man,” a member of a carnival freak show often present at Ruby Pier. “The Blue Man,” or Joseph Corvelzchik, attained his “freak” status by using silver nitrate as treatment for his nerves and incontinence as a child. Although at first Eddie is frightened at the prospect of revenge in the hereafter for inadvertently causing Joseph’s death, Joseph is interested in nothing of the sort. Instead, he gives Eddie his first lesson.
The Second Person Eddie Meets in Heaven
The Second Person Eddie meets in heaven is the captain. Throughout his life, Eddie had used his war injury as a crutch. His inability to advance further in life than a ride maintenance man, to achieve personal goals – for everything, the blame lay on his war injury. Many of the pier workers did not know it was an actual gunshot wound, and believed it was from fight with one of his fellow soldiers. The lesson in this chapter was that no life is a waste. This was shown when Captain told Eddie the way he died, Captain stepped on a land mine when trying to get Eddie back to safety, if Captain had not stepped on the land mine, he, Eddie, and his fellow comrades would have all died.
The Third Person Eddie Meets in Heaven
Eddie is then taken to an isolated diner amidst snow-covered purple mountains. Here he meets Ruby, for whom without many thoughts Ruby Pier was built many years ago by her wealthy husband. She shares with Eddie her innermost secret: her wish that the pier was never built, because the count who has ever suffered at the pier. Ruby’s story reflects the idea that events before we are born still affect our lives, as do the people before us.
After sharing this with Eddie, she tells him how his father died. Ruby witnessed everything from the other side of the curtain in the same hospital room, where she was tending to her own ill husband. Using the story of his father’s death, Ruby explains to Eddie his third lesson in heaven.
We cannot remain angry at one other for things in the past. Although we may be under the impression that we can damage someone by upholding hatred for them, the reality is that we are harming ourselves even more than the ones we hate. Ruby stresses the importance of forgiveness. She reminds him of the light, pure feeling he enjoyed upon first arriving in heaven – this elation is derived from a soul that is free of anger, something only attainable in death. But, in life, in order to overcome the anger we all inevitably feel, we must first understand why we feel angry and then realize why we do not need that feeling, and in turn how to rid ourselves of it.
The Fourth Person Eddie Meets in Heaven
(Pages 154 – 190)
After leaving Ruby, Eddie moves through various wedding receptions in his next stage of heaven. At one of the weddings, he encounters a woman handing out chocolates “for the bitter and the sweet.” It is his wife, Marguerite. As they dance from wedding to wedding, he tells her of everything she missed over the final 40 years of his life that he spent alone. Eventually, they discuss her death. She died too soon, and for this, Eddie was angry. Marguerite’s response is the fourth lesson Eddie learns in heaven.
It is never easy to deal with the loss of a loved one, and nearly impossible to cope with the premature death of a spouse. Although life is finite, love is eternal. Marguerite explains to Eddie that even after a loved one dies, the feeling of love lives on. In the absence of a physical connection, another emotion grows stronger than before: memory. “You nurture it. You hold it. You dance with it. Life has to end. Love doesn’t.” (p. 173). As they dance together at their own wedding they share a final embrace, until Marguerite disappears and Eddie is once again left alone.
The Fifth Person Eddie Meets in Heaven
In Eddie’s final stage in heaven he finds himself in a sea of white, empty and silent. He hears the sounds of screaming children – the same sounds that have haunted his dreams ever since the day he escaped captivity in the Philippines. Upon investigating the source of these screams, he finds children playing peacefully in a river. They are screams of joy, not of horror. Amongst the children, he finds a young Filipina girl, Tala. It turns out that the shadow he saw in the burning hut was her. He was responsible for her death.
After hysterically screaming and sobbing, Eddie collapses before the little girl, who shares with him his final lesson. Eddie explains to her that he was sad because he feels as if he didn’t do anything meaningful with his life. To this, she responds by sharing with him his purpose on earth. “Children. You keep them safe. You make good for me. Is where you were supposed to be. Eddie Main-ten-ance.” (p. 191).
Before Eddie exits his final stage in heaven, Tala tells him that he did, in fact, successfully push the young girl to safety from the plummeting ride. Eddie is confused at first, telling Tala that he felt arms pulling him, not pushing. It turns out that these arms belonged to Tala, who was pulling him into heaven, keeping him safe.
Eddie is then swept away and is brought back to the pier. He sees thousands of people, some dead, some yet to be born. They are all people whose lives Eddie had unknowingly saved by maintaining the park rides. Finally, he comes to a beautiful, young, Marguerite sitting on a Ferris wheel. He is home.
The pier returns as it did before Eddie’s death. Albom reiterates the idea that all lives are connected by revealing that the owner of the key responsible for the ride malfunction and in turn Eddie’s death is the grandson of Ruby. The girl Eddie saved, “Amy or Annie,” many years from now will see in her first stage in heaven “a whiskered old man, with a linen cap and a crooked nose, 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 this world is full of stories, but the stories are all one.” (p. 196)
The Connectedness of Life
Throughout every stage of heaven, one concept is consistently drawn on: all lives are connected to each other, directly or indirectly, and whether we realize it or not. The infinite combination of events that replicates from person to person, originating from the slightest nuance of one’s actions, has a profound effect on the fabric of life. In Eddie’s final stage in heaven, he is finally able to grasp this concept, when he realizes how meaningful his seemingly meaningless life was. He is able to see all the people throughout his life who he kept safe by maintaining the rides at Ruby Pier. In life, he had no way to comprehend how many people he saved, just as most fail to realize their profound effect on others. As such, we should not view ourselves as individuals, but as part of the whole. Realizing this philosophy returns us to the idea that lives do not truly begin or end, but perpetuate endlessly.
Not only do all lives affect one another in this tangible way, but ideas and emotions are transmitted continuously as well. For example, when Eddie is in his second stage of heaven, the captain explains to him the concept of sacrifice being transferred to another instead of lost entirely. Also, when he meets Marguerite in heaven, she explains to him that true love is never lost with death, but instead it simply takes a new form – memory – which lives eternally.
Life is cyclical. Albom immediately illustrates this by titling the first chapter “The End,” signifying that for every beginning there is an end, and for every end there is a beginning. Ironically, Eddie dies on his birthday. Even in the afterlife this cycle continues. Eddie begins heaven as a bewildered soul traveling to five different stages, but at the end he himself is the first stage of heaven for a little girl. Albom explores the essences of life and death, specifically the inextricable relationship between the two. He explores the idea that there is more to a life than simply living. We live on even after our bodies perish through the effects our lives had on others. As such, life is infinite, regardless of whether or not one believes in the afterlife. To demonstrate this, the book is laid out in repetitive chapter succession: “The nth Person Eddie Meets in Heaven,” “Today is Eddie’s Birthday,” and “The nth Lesson.” This further drives home the fact that life and death are intertwined, and to understand either we must understand both.
=Inspiration: The Real Uncle Eddie=The main character, Eddie, was actually based on Mitch Albom’s uncle Eddie. Both the fictional and real versions of Eddie were war veterans who died at 83 and lived simple lives, both feeling that they had not accomplished everything in life they should have. As a child, Albom listened to one of his uncle’s stories during Thanksgiving dinner. Eddie told him of a night when he went to the hospital with a raging fever. He awoke in the middle of the night, and sitting at the foot of his bed were dead relatives. Upon being asked by exuberant children what he did, Eddie replied: “I told them to get lost. I wasn’t ready for them yet.”After this, Albom began to think about the concept of heaven. Perhaps it was not a utopian paradise, but more of a place where you can gain insight into your life after you have died through people you have loved, encountered, or even never met, in your life.
=Film Adaptation=In 2004, The Five People You Meet in Heaven was adapted to a TV movie starring John Voight as Eddie. Directed by Lloyd Kramer, the film was nominated for a Primetime Emmy. Other actors include Dagmara Dominczyk (Marguerite), Jeff Daniels (Blue Man), Ellen Burstyn (Ruby), Michael Imperioli (Captain), and Steven Grayhm (young Eddie).
=Ruby Pier=The fictional amusement park "Ruby Pier" where Eddie works seems to draw many parallels to the real life amusement park "Luna Park" located in
Coney Island, although it also has many similarities to Pacific Parkas well. These parallels include...
*Both parks are named after people close to the original owner
**Luna Park for owner's sister Luna
**Ruby Pier for owner's wife Ruby (one of the people Eddie meets in heaven)
*Both parks had fires that lead to the loss of the original ownership
**Ruby Pier's fire leads to the selling of the park
**Because of the expensive costs, Luna Park is let go by the original owner(s) (not sold away)
*Both parks had/have very grand entrances
**seem to be described (by the book and in pictures of Luna Park) as very similar entrances by the large scale and grand arches/domes
* [http://albomfivepeople.com/ Official Book Webpage]
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