Albom describes Eddie's "true-love snapshot" (9) as an image of Marguerite wearing a yellow dress and waving to him after their first date. The oft-visited memory has a physical effect on Eddie, causing him to "feel the same arterial burst of love" every time he imagines it. Although Marguerite is the only one of Eddie's "Five People" who delivers a message that is specifically about love, love manifests itself in more subtle ways throughout the novel, as well. Albom describes the moment when Eddie's father saw his son for the first time and smiled, thinking about how this child was "his" (19). Eddie does not know this and goes through most of his life resenting his father for being an angry, abusive drunk. Later, Ruby tells Eddie that Eddie's father called his name before he died. However small these gestures may seem, they suggest that beneath the anger and pain, some part of Eddie's father loved his son. Additionally, Ruby's revelations about Eddie's father ultimately allow Eddie to forgive his father, showing that love is much more powerful than hate.
Interconnectedness of Life
The Blue Man explicitly states, "... 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" (48). Albom demonstrates the theme of interconnectedness throughout the novel by revealing how Eddie's fate intertwines of all the other characters' destinies. As a child, Eddie accidentally caused the Blue Man's death. The Blue Man coincidentally worked at the same amusement park as Eddie's father; in fact, Eddie attended the Blue Man's funeral. The woman whom Ruby Pier was named after happened to be in the same hospital room as Eddie's father when he died; it turns out that Ruby's great-grandson, Nicky, inadvertently caused the crash that took Eddie's life because it was Nicky's car key that damaged the mechanism of "Freddy's Free Fall." Eddie was responsible for Tala's death in the Philippines, but because of the Captain's sacrifice, he lived to save "Amy or Annie"'s life at Ruby Pier. By interweaving all of these stories, Albom not only proves his point about interconnectedness, he also creates a thematic net that unites all of the disparate narrative threads in The Five People You Meet in Heaven.
Eddie has to shed his earthly beliefs about justice and fairness before he can enter the afterlife. When he learns that his mad dash to save his runaway baseball at the age of 7 led to the Blue Man's death, Eddie's first reaction is, "but now I gotta pay... for my sin. That's why I'm here, right? Justice?" (47). Eddie is still holding onto the moral value systems that governed his life on earth, centered on the notion of death as a negative force. While death is a loss for people left behind on earth, Eddie is slowly realizing that just because one phase of his existence has ended, the cycle is not necessarily over. Furthermore, the Blue Man teaches Eddie that good and bad things happen to every person, regardless of his or her intentions. While the reasons that tragedies befall innocent people are mysterious, the Blue Man explains, "... there is a balance to it all" (49).
The narrative of The Five People You Meet in Heaven is episodic, weaving through time and space. However, Eddie is the center, he is the post around which Albom ties all of these disparate threads. Specifically, each one of the episodes from Eddie's earthly life reveals some piece of "unfinished business" that Eddie needs to reconcile before he moves on. He finds out that he was responsible for the Blue Man's death; the Blue Man helps to shape Eddie's limited view of justice. Then, Eddie meets his Captain and finds out that the Captain was the one who shot Eddie in the leg. Because of the Captain's lesson on sacrifice, Eddie can finally let go of the bitterness he felt about the injury that plagued him for years. When Eddie learns the truth behind his father's death, he is finally able to forgive the old man and let go of his resentment. He has the chance to tell Marguerite all of the words he could not say before her death, releasing his regret. Finally, Eddie is able to wash the burns off Tala, the young girl who died in the fire in the Philippines. This is the last of his nightmares, and once Eddie is able to wrap up all of these loose ends, so to speak, his soul is clean and ready for the next phase of its journey.
Right after Eddie's death, he is focused on finding out whether or not he was able to save "Annie or Amy" in the moments before his death. He believes that heroically sacrificing his life to save this child would have been his only chance at having some kind of positive impact on the world. Eddie's perception of his life's worth depends on this question, and when the Blue Man does not answer, Eddie laments, "Then my death was a waste, just like my life." The Blue Man mysteriously responds, "No life is a waste... the only time we waste is the time we spend thinking we are alone" (50). Eddie learns from his second person, the Captain, that the Captain died trying to save Eddie. He teaches Eddie that the nature of a sacrifice is not always clear right away, explaining that he "didn't die for nothing... sometimes when you sacrifice something precious, you're not really losing it. You're just passing it on to someone else" (94). The architect of Eddie's journey refrains from answering Eddie's question about "Amy or Annie" until the very end because Eddie must first realize that his life on Earth had meaning, even if his sacrificial gesture had been unsuccessful.
From the first pages of the novel, Albom makes it clear that Eddie is a good man underneath his grizzled exterior; he thus insinuates that Eddie's distance from other people is a survival mechanism over all else. As Eddie moves through Heaven, he realizes that the hate is like a weight tying him to the burdens of his earthly life. Each of the lessons Eddie learns involve taking down the walls of hate and anger around his heart and allowing forgiveness to seep through. Eddie is shocked to discover that the Blue Man does not resent Eddie for inadvertently causing his death, thus allowing Eddie to forgive himself for doing so. The Captain does not blame Eddie for being the indirect reason for his stepping on a landmine, thus allowing Eddie to forgive the Captain for shooting him in the knee. Eddie's father may not have been an admirable role model, but seeing glimpses of his father's humanity gives Eddie the ability to forgive the old man. Finally, Marguerite has no lingering anger towards Eddie for the difficulties in her life; rather, she professes that she has loved him all along. Therefore, Eddie can let go of his guilt about the struggles they faced and the fact that they never had a child. Finally, Tala, the Filipino girl Eddie was responsible for killing, no longer comprehends the word "hate." Meeting Tala allows Eddie to forgive himself for doing the one thing that has haunted him his whole life - and he can finally let go.
Although it is not as prominent as some of the other themes, Albom layers an anti-materialist message throughout The Five People You Meet in Heaven. Eddie comes from a staunchly blue-collar background and his father often scoffs at Eddie's dreams of ascending to a higher social class. While Eddie's brother, Joe, becomes a successful salesman, Eddie falls into their father's footsteps and considers himself a failure because of it. He cannot truly understand the value of his job as Ruby Pier's maintenance man until Tala tells him that he was "supposed to be there....'Children,' she [says]. You keep them safe. You make good for me" (191). When Dominguez and the estate attorney go to Eddie's apartment after his death, the attorney silently labels Eddie a "poor slob, with little to show but a tidy kitchen" (178). The attorney finds a box in Eddie's bureau containing items that he considers "Nothing important. No bank statements. No insurance policies. Just a black bow tie, a Chinese restaurant menu, an old deck of cards, a letter with an army medal, and a faded Polaroid of a man by a birthday cake, surrounded by children" (177). While these items may not have any monetary value, they are priceless to Eddie - worth much more than a hefty bank account and an insurance policy, especially in Heaven. In fact, Eddie's vision of Heaven has nothing to do with class or wealth, both of which are earthly constructs. He wants to spend eternity sitting alongside Marguerite on a ferris wheel.
The Five People You Meet in Heaven Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Five People You Meet in Heaven is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.