The Five People You Meet in Heaven

The Five People You Meet in Heaven Literary Elements


Adult Fiction / Magic Realism/ Metaphysical Fiction

Setting and Context

Ruby Pier (America, various time periods) / The Philippines (World War II)

Narrator and Point of View

Third Person Omniscient

Tone and Mood

Reflective, nostalgic, introspective, cathartic

Protagonist and Antagonist

Eddie the Maintenance Man is the protagonist. His antagonists are all internal, including his resentment of his father, his regrets about his marriage, and his haunting memories of war. Eddie must let go of all of these earthly burdens in order to proceed to the afterlife unencumbered.

Major Conflict

The major conflict in the novel is internal. Eddie dies believing that his life was not worth anything. However, he realizes how much he meant to his loved ones (and people he never even knew) over the course of the novel with the help of his "Five People."


The climax comes near the end of the novel when Eddie finds out that he he was responsible for Tala's death in the Philippines during World War II. Tala, immortalized as a young girl, is the fifth person that Eddie meets in Heaven. She says, "You burn me. You make me fire" (188). Eddie breaks down at this moment, having to reconcile with the internal dread that has followed him around for most of his life. However, Tala also reveals to Eddie that he did save "Amy or Annie" in the accident that claimed Eddie's own life - and Tala accepts that she had to die so that Tala could live.


In the first chapter, the narrator mentions a rumor that Eddie injured his leg in the war during an altercation with another soldier but mentions that this information has never been verified. The uncertainty surrounding Eddie's injury foreshadows the Captain's revelation that he was actually the one who shot Eddie - and not to ruin his life, but to save it. Later, when Eddie's father dies, Albom writes, "Like most workingmen's sons, Eddie had envisioned for his father a heroic death to counter the commonness of his life. There was nothing heroic about a drunken stupor by the beach" (127). This particular wording foreshadows Ruby's revelation that Eddie's father did indeed die heroically.


When Albom describes Eddie's reason for returning to the burning tent in the Philippines, he understates Eddie's agony about the fact that there may have been a child left behind in the fire. However, when Eddie meets Tala, he breaks down upon finding out that she was the child who died in that tent.


There are many allusions to the Christian Bible in The Five People You Meet in Heaven. Albom uses the terms Adam and Eve, God, and Heaven, all of which are commonly associated with the Judeo-Christian tradition. Although Albom never explicitly mentions Christianity, there is definitely a Biblical subtext to the narrative.


(See "Imagery" Section for examples)


When Eddie finally meets Tala, the girl he inadvertently killed during World War II, he thinks of himself as a "child killer" even though he would have died trying to save her if not for his Captain. However, the paradox occurs because by allowing Tala to die, Eddie saved "Amy or Annie"'s life - by becoming a "child killer," Eddie also became a "child savior."


Albom uses the phrase "Today is Eddie's Birthday" throughout the novel to signal a new chapter and highlight different stages in Eddie's life. The regular repetition of this phrase forms a link between Eddie's parallel narratives on Heaven and on Earth.

Metonymy and Synecdoche

Synecdoche: Albom uses "Ruby Pier" or "the pier" to refer to the amusement park on Ruby Pier.
Metonymy: "The pier" also represents Eddie's home. When Eddie goes off to war, Albom writes, "Eddie packed his duffel bag and left the pier behind" (60).


"The whirring of a small bi-plane, dragging an ad from its tail" (14)

"It tilted just a few feet below the upper platform , as if it had started downward then changed its mind" (15)

"...the pulley had gradually ripped the cable's steel wires-- as if husking an ear of corn-- until they were nearly severed" (17).