This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "The Five People You Meet In Heaven" by Mitch Albom. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.
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What is The Five People You Meet in Heaven setting? How does the setting change throughout the book?
The Five People You Meet in Heaven‘s setting changes depending on who Eddie is talking to. The book also explores Eddie’s memories, and the setting reflects the time and mood.
The Five People You Meet in Heaven Setting 1
In The Five People You Meet in Heaven, setting is important. Eddie is in heaven, which changes depending on who Eddie is with. The setting also changes in his memories, exploring places like Ruby Pier and his childhood home. The following are just a few of The Five People You Meet in Heaven settings.
Ruby Pier is the first The Five People You Meet in Heaven setting. Eddie spends his final hour at Ruby Pier amusement park, a place that he has worked for most of his life. He is the maintenance man, so his job is to maintain and fix the park’s many rides, attractions, and games. After so many years, he can detect problems with the rides just by listening to them. He is an old, resilient man. He has the stature and dress of a workingman, which is exactly what he is.
Eddie walks with a cane now because of a knee injury he got in the war. He has white hair and a strong, barrel chest. Despite Eddie’s past of alley fights in his youth, the park’s regulars trust Eddie and children like him. Many people have taken to calling him “Eddie Maintenance,” like it says on his name tag. He doesn’t think that’s funny.
Today is Eddie’s 83rd birthday. If he had known he was about to die, he would have gone somewhere else and done something new. He had always dreamed of leaving Ruby Pier behind and starting a different life. But he never got around to leaving after the war. So, he goes about his last day as he did every other.
With thirty-four minutes left to live, Eddie walks into the amusement park maintenance shop. There, he talks with Dominguez, one of the fellow workers. Dominguez tells Eddie that he is planning a trip to Mexico with his wife. Eddie takes out 40 dollars, hands it to “Dom,” and tells him to get his wife a nice gift. Then, he walks away.
With only 19 minutes left in his life, Eddie goes to sit in his special spot. It’s an old aluminum beach chair that he has placed behind the ride where he first met his late wife Marguerite. The ride used to be called the Stardust Band Shell in those days. The night they met, Eddie and Marguerite danced together on the boardwalk. Listening to the sounds of the ocean, he visualizes that moment, which he considers the snapshot of true love. Eddie used to think of his wife all the time, but lately, he tries to forget the pain like an old wound.
Eddie’s daydream of Marguerite is interrupted by a young girl with blonde curls. Eddie has seen her around the park many times before, but can’t remember her name. Annie? Amy? She asks him to make her an animal out of the pipe cleaners he is known to carry in his front pocket. He twists up a small, yellow bunny for her, and she dances away, smiling.
All of a sudden, Eddie hears screams and immediately knows something is wrong. Looking up, he sees the cart of the Freddy’s Free Fall ride dangling at a dangerous angle. The passengers are terrified. He calls to Dom and the rest of the park maintenance and security teams. He gives everyone directions of how to handle the situation. He tells them to evacuate the passengers from the ride, then send the broken cart down to be examined.
Eddie could never have known this, but a few months earlier, a young man lost his car key at Ruby Pier. He had been keeping it in his jacket pocket while he rode the rides. As it turns out, the key had fallen and become lodged in Freddy’s Free Fall and had been slowly wearing away at the cable. There was no way to see that this was happening. Every person’s story overlaps with someone else’s.
Just as the passengers are being taken off the dangerous ride, Eddie realizes that there must be something wrong with the cable. He screams for Dom to keep the cart at the top, but it’s too late. He sees the cart hurling toward the ground. Just underneath, the little girl with the pipe cleaner bunny is crying out for her mom.
Without hesitation, Eddie runs toward the girl, ignoring the pain in his injured knee. He jumps toward her and feels her small hands just before the impact and a flash of light. Then, he feels nothing.
The Five People You Meet in Heaven Setting 2
The other major The Five People You Meet in Heaven setting is heaven itself. Heaven looks different as Eddie’s journey continues.
Eddie did not get to witness anything after his final breath. He didn’t see the cart shatter or the crowd on the pier. He remembers the little girl’s face as she cried and the feeling of her hands in his. Then what? He wonders if he was able to save her.
Eddie is floating in the sky, which turns from pink to yellow to green to sapphire. He feels calm. Any pain or sadness he had in life has vanished. He wonders where his worry has gone. Now, he is dropping towards a colorful ocean, but he is not afraid.
Eddie wakes up in a teacup. Though his instinct is to reach for his cane, he realizes it isn’t there and he doesn’t need it. His back doesn’t hurt. His knee doesn’t throb. He jumps out of the teacup and lands awkwardly on the ground. Three things strike Eddie as odd:
- He feels great.
- He is completely alone.
- He is still at Ruby Pier. But it’s the Ruby Pier he knew as a young boy, 75 years ago.
Eddie begins to walk around and take in his surroundings. Realizing he feels no pain, he starts to run for the first time in 60 years – the first time since the war. He runs and leaps and tries to fly like a child would. He only stops when he hears a voice.
Looking towards a large theater, Eddie realizes it’s the voice of a barker announcing a freak show. As a kid, Eddie always felt bad for the cast of the freak shows and how they were forced to sit behind bars while people pointed at them. For some reason, he still walks inside.
In the dark hall, he sees a man sitting alone. The man’s skin is blue. Eddie has seen this man before.
The Blue Man says, “Hello, Edward… I have been waiting for you.”
The Captain’s Setting
When Eddie’s feet meet the ground, he finds himself surrounded by rubble and lifeless terrain. The sky is changing colors again, from deep blue to dark gray. He feels his body, stronger than before but less flexible. Then, the sky explodes and hot air whips him in the face. Once again, Eddie starts to run. But this time, he runs like a soldier. This is the The Five People You Meet in Heaven setting where Eddie meets the Captain.
Eddie feels himself lifted up on a strong wind. The sky gathers around him and then explodes into a million stars. He finds himself in the most beautiful mountain range, ankle-deep in snow that doesn’t make him cold or wet. In the distance, he sees a flickering light.
Eddie feels his body for clues about where he could be. He’s flabbier in the middle now, but still muscular in his arms. He squeezes his left knee and feels the familiar throbbing pain. Frustrated, he wonders why pain and deterioration would follow you in heaven. This is The Five People You Meet in Heaven setting where Eddie meets Marguerite, and it’s the most abstract.
Walking along the silent ridge toward the flickering light, he notices that it is the sign of a diner. Looking in through the glass door, he sees many different kinds of customers that appear to be from many different time periods and walks of life. Then, in the farthest booth from the door, he sees someone he thought he would never see again—his father.
Eddie looks around and finds himself in a circular room with plain brown walls, a wooden stool, and a mirror. But when he looks into the mirror he doesn’t see himself. Instead, he sees a row of doors behind him. He turns around to face them.
Eddie is startled when he coughs a deep, rattling cough. Then he notices that his skin is thin and dry, his stomach is soft with age, and his knee is stiff. He’s frustrated to realize that he is deteriorating with each new stage in heaven.
Eventually, Eddie starts to open the doors. Each one opens into a different wedding reception, seemingly in a different country. The first wedding might have been German or Swedish. The next door takes him to a Spanish wedding. He sees weddings in what he guesses to be Africa, China, and France. Each of these celebrations has different music and different customs. But to Eddie, they’re all pretty much the same.
Eddie is hanging in a white, silent place. The only noise is his own labored breathing. Eddie realizes that Marguerite is gone, and is overcome with an empty feeling. After some time, Eddie hears a noise and opens his eyes. This feels different than the first four areas of heaven he’s seen.
He hears the noise again—louder this time. It is a noise that has haunted his dreams. The sound is like a medley of squeals and cackles. He yells into the white void: What do you want?
Then, the noise changes. He hears running water and sees that there is now ground under his feet. He is relieved to see that the noise is nothing but the sound of thousands of children laughing and playing. He wonders if that is what he’s been dreaming about all this time, when he thought he was having nightmares.
The Five People You Meet in Heaven setting changes often. The two major settings are Ruby Pier and Heaven. One is where many of Eddie’s memories take place, and the place where he dies, and the other is where he spends the afterlife.
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Here's what you'll find in our full The Five People You Meet In Heaven summary:
- Who the Five People Eddie meets in heaven are
- What each person teaches Eddie about the meaning of his own life
- Why Eddie finally feels gratitude and closure at the end of his life