The Five People You Meet in Heaven combines magical realism and metaphysical fiction in a way that never fails to drive interest in classrooms. It offers the perfect introduction to magical realism and a fantastic opportunity to study foreshadowing, imagery, symbolism, and other literary devices in a short book that is readable by students at all levels of high school.

Mitch Albom's novel is a great addition to a unit on the value of family, forgiveness, love, and sacrifice, as well as the emotional impact of death and loss. The main character Eddie accidentally letting Tala die compared to saving the little girl at the amusement park calls for a fascinating discussion about redemption and purpose: Was Eddie supposed to die in order to make up for his past mistakes?

It is important to note that, despite the fact that the main character Eddie is dead for most of the book, The Five People You Meet in Heaven is a novel about life. Albom explores connectivity, that lives touch one another, and that human existence is simply one big life; these are powerful, deep ideas, surely applicable to the student experiences beyond the classroom and, thus, important to discuss and reflect upon.

Summary

Eddie is an 83-year-old man working at an amusement park, burdened by a war injury in his leg and disappointed in himself for not making a better living. During a ride malfunction on the day of his 83rd birthday, Eddie attempts to save the life of a little girl who is about to be crushed by the ride. He dies immediately, not knowing whether or not he was able to save her. After he dies, Eddie experiences flashbacks to past birthdays and encounters with important people from his different times of his life, all of which inspire him to self-reflect and to understand his purpose.

Objectives for Teaching
The Five People You Meet in Heaven

  • Make connections between the life of Eddie and the lives of students.
  • Identify the author's purpose or message of the text.
  • Analyze the ways in which irony and foreshadowing help build suspense.
  • Recognize literary devices used in the text, including allusions, personification, metaphors, and similes.
  • Study character relationships and how one character may directly or indirectly affect another.
  • Trace the motif of coincidence in the story.
  • Identify themes of the novel and evaluate how they are developed throughout the course of the text.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Allusion
  • Foreshadowing
  • Imagery
  • Irony
  • Metaphor
  • Parallelism
  • Personification
  • Symbolism
  • Third Person Omniscient Narrator

Themes and Motifs

  • Love — The text of this novel emphasizes love's powerful effects on an individual's thoughts and decisions.
  • Sacrifice — Albom explores the idea of sacrifice: Can death serve a purpose?
  • Forgiveness —  Specifically, The Five People You Meet in Heaven deals with the burden of guilt and, eventually, the ability to forgive oneself.

Related Works

Theme of Love

 

Theme of Sacrifice

 

Theme of Forgiveness

Key Facts

  • Length: 196 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 780
  • Publication Date: 2003
  • Recommended Grade Band: 9 – 10

Awards

  • Number 16 of Waterstone's Top 25 Books of the Last 25 Years (2007)
  • New York Times Bestseller (2003)

Movies

A TV movie version of the novel premiered in 2004. It was nominated for a Primetime Emmy and has very few differences from the book. Albom wrote the screenplay, and, according to his website, the film was the most-watched TV movie of the year. Viewership reached 18.6 million.

Your students will love:

  • The inspiration to ponder existence and the purpose of living.
  • Several interesting characters with unique qualities and depth.

Students may have problems with:

  • The number of characters to keep track of.

More Teacher's Guides to Literature:

See all our Teacher's Guides to Literature here.