41 pages 1 hour read

Mitch Albom

The Five People You Meet In Heaven

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2003

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

The Five People You Meet in Heaven is a novel by best-selling writer Mitch Albom. Published in 2003, it sold more than 10 million copies and appeared on the New York Times bestseller list. In 2004, the story was adapted into a made-for-television movie starring Jon Voight. The novel follows the story of Eddie, a man who believes his life was unfulfilling until his death brings him answers to the key events in his life that shaped the man he became. The Five People You Meet in Heaven is a fantasy novel that attempts to answer the basic questions as to the meaning of life.

This guide refers to the 2018 Hachette Book Group, Inc e-book.

Plot Summary

It is Eddie’s 83rd birthday. Eddie works as the head of maintenance at Ruby Pier, an amusement park by the ocean, where it is his responsibility to make sure the rides run safely. Midway through his day, Eddie is drawn to Freddy’s Free Fall where one of the cars has come off the track at the top of the free fall tower. He gives instructions to his coworker, Dominguez, and runs the mechanics of the ride through his mind, trying to figure out what went wrong. When he realizes the cable has unraveled, he shouts for Dominquez to not release the car. Dominguez cannot hear him over the crowd. As the car begins to fall, Eddie spots a young girl standing too close to the tracks. He rushes to get her out of the way, dying as the car hits him.

Eddie arrives in heaven and finds himself back at Ruby Pier, but the Ruby Pier he remembers from his childhood. He meets a man from the sideshow tent, The Blue Man. This man tells Eddie that he will meet five people who will help him understand certain moments of his life. The Blue man tells Eddie that he caused the Blue Man’s death when as a nearly eight-year-old boy, he ran out in front of the Blue Man’s car while chasing a baseball. The Blue Man had a heart attack brought on by the adrenaline of the near accident. The Blue Man explains that for every life saved, another life is taken.

After the Blue Man leaves, Eddie arrives outside a small village he recalls from his time in the Philippines during World War II. He meets his former captain who reminds him of the six months during which he, the captain, and three other soldiers were held captive by four Filipino soldiers. Eddie played an important role in their escape, using juggling skills to first distract and then attack the four enemy soldiers. Once they are free, the soldiers decide to burn down the village. When Eddie lights one building on fire, he believes he sees a figure moving inside. Eddie is burned trying to enter the building, and then he is shot in the leg. Eddie learns that it was the captain who shot him. The captain believed Eddie was suffering from battle fatigue and shooting him was the only way to get him out alive. Unfortunately, the wound to Eddie’s leg left him with a permanent limp. Eddie is angry until he learns that the captain was killed that same night when he stepped on a landmine that was buried in the path of the transport vehicle the soldiers were using to escape.

Eddie is filled with regret for the captain’s fate, but the captain tells him that sacrifice is sometimes a necessary part of life. The captain says that he sacrificed his life for his men, but he was able to fulfill his promise to get them all out alive. The captain then leaves, and Eddie finds himself going to the next person he was meant to meet in heaven.

Eddie meets Ruby, a kind woman who married a wealthy man with a fascination for amusement parks. Ruby’s husband built Ruby Pier to honor her, but when a fire destroyed most of the park and left her husband injured, Ruby and her husband lost their wealth and the park. Ruby tells Eddie that she was in the hospital with her husband when Eddie’s father died of pneumonia. Ruby tells him that his father died calling the names of the people who mattered most to him, including Eddie.

Eddie believed his father died after a drunken night out. Ruby tells him that his father died because he jumped into the ocean to save a friend. Ruby tells Eddie that it is important that he forgive his father. Eddie visits the spirit of his father and does his best to express his regrets for the anger he held for him for so long.

When Eddie moves on again, he finds himself in a room with many doors. Each door leads to a wedding with different traditions and in different languages. Eddie walks through one door and finds himself in an Italian village. He finds Marguerite, his wife. He recalls their wedding and their years of marriage that were clouded with money struggles and the inability to conceive a child. On his 38th birthday, Marguerite and Eddie were waiting for the arrival of a child they were to adopt. However, Eddie chose to go to the racetrack with a friend. He called Marguerite to let her know he was winning and became angry when she asked him to come home. After he hung up on her, Marguerite drove to the racetrack and crashed her car when a couple of teens dropped a bottle on her windshield from an overpass. Marguerite suffered serious injuries that ended their attempts to adopt. After a few rough years, Marguerite and Eddie healed from their disappointment. Unfortunately, Marguerite developed a brain tumor and died at the age of 47.

Eddie and Marguerite spend a long time together in heaven, discussing everything from the events that happened after Marguerite’s death to questions Marguerite never asked while she was alive. Finally, Marguerite tells Eddie that love survives even after death before she moves on and leaves him to meet the fifth and final person he is to meet in heaven.

Eddie is by a river where a group of young children are playing unsupervised. Another girl, somewhere between five and seven, is standing on a boulder. She beckons him over. The girl tells Eddie that the day he escaped from the Philippine village where he’d been held as a prisoner of war, he burned down the building where she was hiding. Eddie remembers the shadow he saw in the flames that night. He is devastated by what he did, but the girl assures him that he’s made up for it by keeping all the children who visit Ruby Pier safe. The girl also tells Eddie that he saved the girl he tried to rescue at Freddy’s Free Fall.

After meeting five people in heaven, Eddie joins Marguerite on the Ferris wheel at Ruby Pier. Eddie now knows his life was not meaningless and that there was a purpose to his existence.

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