The Five People You Meet in Heaven

The Five People You Meet in Heaven Summary and Analysis of The First Lesson - The Second Person Eddie Meets in Heaven


Chapter 5 - The First Lesson:

Eddie feels a profound sense of guilt upon realizing his role in the Blue Man's death and assumes that it is time for him to accept his punishment. However, the Blue Man explains to Eddie that there is no punishment or guilt in Heaven. Instead, the Blue Man says, everybody Eddie meets in Heaven will teach him something. Eddie angrily protests the injustice of the fact that his childhood stupidity resulted in a man's death. Unperturbed, the Blue Man gently explains, "fairness does not govern life and death. If it did, no good person would ever die young” (48). At the Blue Man’s funeral, Eddie notices the familiar faces from Ruby Pier at the gravesite, including his own. The Blue Man points out that death can hit and miss different people but in the end, all human beings are affected by the loss of a life. We are all connected to each other in some way, even if it means simply sharing space on this planet.

Eddie feels ashamed that as a boy, he did not even want to go to the Blue Man's funeral. He also laments the fact that he and the Blue Man barely knew each other despite the fact that their fates were so intertwined. The Blue Man repeats the edict of interconnectedness, stating, “strangers are just family you have yet to know” (49). Eddie asks the Blue Man if any good came from the Blue Man’s death, to which the Blue Man responds that Eddie lived.

The Blue Man embraces Eddie. In an instant, Eddie experiences everything the Blue Man has felt in his life. Eddie wants to know what happened to the little girl he tried to save at the Pier, but the Blue Man does not answer him. Eddie wonders if his life was a waste but the Blue Man replies that every life has a purpose, even if that purpose does not become clear until after death. Eddie finds himself floating above the Ruby Pier of his childhood and then the scene vanishes. The reader is back at Ruby Pier and amidst the carnage of the accident - but it is still unclear whether or not Eddie was the only casualty.

It is Eddie’s birthday again. This time the flashback is to Eddie’s seventeenth birthday. His mother is making his favorite meal, beefsteak with green peppers and sweet red onions. Eddie’s brother Joe tells the family that Eddie has found the girl of his dreams. Eddie is mortified that his brother has shared this information. Joe’s betrayal of trust results in a fight between the two brothers until their father separates them. The family then listens to radio stories about the ongoing war in Europe. Eddie’s mother switches the station to music. She is happy that Eddie has met a girl and swings her son awkwardly around the room. After that, she coaxes Eddie and Joe to dance together and the family enjoys a rare moment of laughter and joy.

Chapter 6 - The Second Person Eddie Meets in Heaven:

The sky changes from cobalt blue to charcoal grey. Eddie finds himself in familiar terrain; the jungle battlefield in the Philippines where he fought during World War II. His muscles feel strong, and Eddie moves with the strength and confidence of a soldier. Eddie eventually finds a rifle jammed into the earth with some dangling some dog tags (indicating a soldier's grave). He is surprised to discover that the dog tags are his.

The narrative flashes back to before the war; Eddie is saving money to attend engineering school. However, he decides to enlist instead, like many other young American men. Eddie’s mother objects to her son's decision but his father seems indifferent. Despite his bravado, Eddie is still very much a boy. He practices shooting using the toy guns in an arcade stall at Ruby Pier. Mickey Shea, drunk as usual, stumbles upon Eddie's innocent target practice. He warns Eddie that war is not a game and informs him that any shots he takes at the enemy should be lethal.

Back in Heaven, Eddie wanders through the desolate battlefield until he discovers his old Captain sitting in a tree. The Captain confirms that both he and Eddie are dead; Eddie wonders if he might have been responsible for the Captain’s death. Eddie recalls his wartime experiences. He remembers being stationed on an island in the Philippines, which triggers the next flashback. Four Filipino soldiers take five American soldiers captive, including Eddie and the Captain. They are imprisoned in bamboo barracks, and the Captain nicknames the enemy guards “Crazy One, Crazy Two, Crazy Three, and Crazy Four.” The "Crazies" deprive the Americans of food and water and intermittently torture them. Eventually, they force the prisoners to strip coal in a coal mine. Rabozzo, one of Eddie’s fellow captives, becomes ill and is brutally murdered as a result of his ineffectiveness. Eddie hears the sound of incendiaries in the distance, which means that American forces are close by.

A few weeks later, Eddie and the other captives are weak, starving, and thirsty. They have resigned themselves to the reality that they will die before any Allied forces arrive. Then, Eddie noticies that Crazy Three is juggling two stones. Eddie, who learned to juggle from the performers at Ruby Pier, convinces his captor to give him several stones so that he can demonstrate his talents. Eddie’s skilled performance mesmerizes the guards, giving the Captain and the three other captives the opportunity to attack. Eddie and his comrades grab the Filipino soldiers' weapons and kill them. Once the Americans escape, they find themselves in an empty village. They realize that the army barracks were likely evacuated long ago leaving the four hapless Filipino soldiers alone to guard the American captives. The Captain orders his remaining men, including Eddie, to burn the mine and the village to the ground. 

It is now Eddie’s birthday once more. This is his last birthday before being deployed, so the celebration doubles as a farewell. Eddie meets Marguerite and they walk together on the boardwalk. Marguerite offers to wait for Eddie until he returns from the war. Back at war, Eddie watches the Captain try to find a transport vehicle while the Filipino village burns. Incinerating the village is a cathartic experience for Eddie; He channels his rage and sadness through his flamethrower. While setting the last tent on fire, Eddie thinks he sees a child crawling amidst the smoke and flames. Eddie cannot bear the possibility of burning a child alive, so he drops his gun and runs into the burning tent. He stops when a shot hits him in the knee, and is badly burned when his fellow soldiers finally pull him out. The men hoist Eddie into a vehicle that the Captain has found. 

Back in Heaven, Eddie and the Captain are still sitting in the tree. Eddie laments that the gunshot to his knee shattered all of his dreams. The Captain reminds Eddie of his wartime motto: “nobody gets left behind.” The Captain then confesses that he shot Eddie in the knee to stop him from running into the burning tent. The Captain justifies his actions by pointing out that he saved Eddie's life. Eddie lunges at the Captain and they both fall out of the tree. The Captain stands by his decision - a wounded leg would heal but as the group leader, he had to stop Eddie from running into certain death. Eddie looks around and suddenly, he is watching himself being evacuated. Because he was unconscious during this time, Eddie was unaware that when the Captain got out of the truck to open a locked gate, he stepped on a land mine and died. 


Each of Eddie's encounters in Heaven gives him a new perspective on his own life and serve as parables for the reader. The Blue Man reminds Eddie that "fairness does not govern life and death” (48). He illustrates this idea by describing young Eddie's innocent yet crucial role in his own death. As a whole, this encounter also emphasizes the interconnectedness of humanity. No matter how alone a person thinks he or she is, each action has a ripple effect that may never make sense to the living. As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, people are destined to endure the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” (Shakespeare, trans. 1972, 3.1.60). Albom expresses the opinion that the universe does not act according to human interpretations of fairness or unfairness. More often than not, there are no karmic reasons behind tragedy. 

In these chapters, Eddie also learns that what he accepted as truth during his earthly life actually contains a bit of fiction. He has long blamed a faceless enemy for shooting him in the knee, but in Heaven, Eddie learns that his own Captain shot him to prevent him from entering the burning tent. He is furious with the Captain for causing the crippling injury that ruined his life, but the Captain reminds him that if not for the knee injury, Eddie would have certainly died. The Captain had to make a choice for Eddie - either he could let him die or he could salvage his life, even though he knew Eddie would be wounded forever. The Captain chose to follow his own edict, "leave no man behind." The Captain also reveals that died while trying to evacuate Eddie. Ultimately, the Captain gave his life in order for Eddie to live his, just like the Blue Man. Thematically, the meeting with the Captain reinforces the idea that life is a constant give-and-take; the Blue Man and the Captain died so that Eddie could live, and now Eddie is in Heaven after giving his life to save the girl in the amusement park. 

These chapters also introduce the abuse and misery that had a hand in shaping Eddie's perspective. The torture Eddie endures at the hands of the Filipino guards becomes an extension of his father's abuse at home. Nevertheless, Eddie still maintains his will to live and in fact, engineers the American soldiers' escape from captivity. This is an indicator of Eddie's compassionate nature, which becomes even more apparent during the last day of his life. He uses the tricks he learned at Ruby Pier to entrance the Filipino guards and draw them in, just as he does with the children on the Pier. It is starting to become evident that even though Eddie did not want to work at Ruby Pier his whole life, it made him who he was; and gave him the skills to save the lives of others. 

Similarly, Eddie remembers his first moments out of captivity as tragic; in an attempt to save a child that may or may not have existed, he took a shot in the leg. He escapes the guards just to enter a new Hell, which is more or less a construction in his own mind. "A freed soldier is often furious," Albom writes, "The days and nights he lost, the torture and humiliation he suffered - it all demands a fierce revenge, a balancing of the accounts" (80). Vengeance leads Eddie into a dark place, both physically and emotionally. However, he relives this experience in Heaven alongside the Captain, the man who pulled him out of Hell. Eddie is then forced to look at this tragedy in a different light: instead of the moment when his leg was shattered, this is the moment when the Captain gave Eddie the gift of life.

At the beginning of the novel, Albom portrays Eddie as a man who has lost his zest for life. His daily routine is "dull" and his biggest concern is his recent shingles diagnosis. He is working at Ruby Pier because he has no option and "his plans never worked out" (5). It is only after he is dead that he realizes how much others had sacrificed (not knowingly, of course) for him to keep limping along at the pier, thus imbuing even those disappointing last days with meaning.