The Five People You Meet in Heaven: the Impact of Relationships on the Individual
The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom follows a man’s journey through heaven after dying at the age of 83 in a horrific theme park accident. The novel proposes that when one dies, one meets with the five people that most influenced, affected, or defined one, before moving on. The story is told partly through Eddie’s interactions with his five people and also through vivid snapshots of his life, both of which allow the reader to see changes in his character and the development of his identity as he journeys through life.
The changes in Eddie’s character before and after his death and the musings the author instills in the reader exemplify the theme that what defines an individual the most are the people around them and their relationships with them. The novel begins at the end, right before Eddie dies in the accident. It is here the reader gets the first view of Eddie as an old man, weary of the world: “His plans never worked out.
In time, he found himself graying and wearing looser pants and in a state of weary acceptance, that this was who he was and who he always would be, a man with sand in his shoes in a world of mechanical laughter and grilled frankfurters” (Albom 5). This initial introduction to Eddie delivers the reader with a vivid description of his weariness and resignation. Throughout this same first chapter, the author also interjects small stories of Eddies past, no more than a paragraph each: “Another story went around about Eddie. As a soldier, he had engaged in combat numerous times. He’d been brave.
Even won a medal. But toward the end of his service, he got into a fight with one of his own men. That’s how Eddie was wounded. No one knew what happened to the other guy. No one asked” (Albom 8). These short glimpses into Eddie’s past interspersed throughout his last moments make the reader wonder what the meaning of these stories are. The way the author uses short, clipped sentences and the repetition of the phrase “No one” evokes a tone of mystery, arousing the reader’s curiosity in Eddie’s past. What was Eddie like in his childhood, his adolescence, his adulthood? What made him into what he is now?
These unanswered questions pester the reader like flies and builds the framework for future revelations about Eddie’s character. The first of these changes seen in Eddie’s character is when Eddie first awakes in heaven, finding himself 75 years in the past, on Ruby Pier, the place that has always been a constant setting throughout his life. He is at the beginning. It is here that Eddie meets his first person in heaven, the Blue Man, who explains the intricacies of the journey Eddie must travel and how he will meet five people in heaven, “Each of us was in your life for a reason.
You may not have known the reason at the time, and that is what heaven is for. For understanding your life on Earth” (Albom 35). Eddie learns that his relationship with the strange man he barely knows was Eddie’s unintentional act that led to the Blue Man’s death. The knowledge that it was his irresponsibility that caused the death of the man sitting in front of him fills him with guilt and sorrow that ultimately deeply affects his identity and character, as seen in the two quotes, “‘You see? the Blue Man whispered, having finished the story from his point of view. ‘Little Boy? ’ Eddie felt a shiver. ‘Oh no,’ he whispered” (Albom 44), and, “‘Please, Mister…’ Eddie pleaded. ‘I didn’t know. Believe me…God help me, I didn’t know’” (Albom 47). The shock and guilt Eddie feels is profoundly felt by the reader, through words with foreboding connotations like “whispered” and “shiver” and by the ellipses and commas between phrases, showing pauses in his speech as he attempts to absorb the impact of the new knowledge.
The revelation that he had a hand in murdering another person strongly affects Eddie’s character, making him more paranoid and confrontational, as everything he knew about his life crumbles into a much less desirable image, a trait he holds for the rest of the book. The gruesome relationship between Eddie and his unintended victim affects Eddie’s behavior and attitude in a way that no setting, environment, or event ever could: “Eddie stepped back. He squared his body as if bracing for a fight…Eddie was skeptical. His fists stayed clenched” (Albom 47).
The transformation from a weary old man too tired to care about much but the weather to a confrontational man willing to fight for the life he had once known is radical and sudden, and brought about merely through what many would consider a fleeting acquaintance with a man he barely knew. Yet, this apparently minor relationship had a major effect, clearly exemplifying the huge power of a relationship with another individual. The people Eddie meets in heaven do not all affect his character after death, such as the Blue Man, but rather let him and the reader reflect on Eddie’s fluctuating identity in the past.
One of these such people was his father: “The damage done by Eddie’s father was, at the beginning, the damage of neglect” (Albom 104). Eddie was often neglected and abused physically as well as emotionally by his father. This resulted in him always thirsting for approval or affection, two things he would only ever receive in small, taunting tastes from his father: “And on occasion, as if to feed the weakest embers of a fire, Eddie’s father let a wrinkle of pride crack the veneer of his disinterest” (Albom 106).
This virtual torture of Eddie’s emotions as a child and for the rest of his life would forever scar him and breed a habit of coldness between Eddie and his father. The impact on Eddie’s character cut deep. The abusive relationship between him and his father made him into a man that was always searching for his place in the world, always feeling inadequate. Eddie was never content with his lot in life, not with his wife, job, or family: “He cursed his father for dying and trapping him in the very life he’d been trying to escape” (Albom 128).
Of everything that defined Eddie, the relationship with his father was the most influential, a relationship that stemmed from less than opportune circumstances, yet yielded what is perhaps the core of Eddie’s character. After reading The Five People You Meet in Heaven, it becomes obvious to the reader that changes in an individual are direct results of relationships and connections between individuals. Many things can grow to define a person’s self: war, hunger, death, time.
Yet none of these can compare with the soft words of a parent or the pleading of an enemy soldier on the battlefield or the trust held between friends. One realizes, as Eddie did, that every individual is just a strand in a web, a drop in a pool of water, and when one strand is plucked or the surface disturbed, the ripple is felt by those closest. Albom, Mitch. The Five People You Meet in Heaven. New York: Hyperion, 2003. Print.