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Literature / Salvage the Bones

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Salvage the Bones is a National Book Award-winning 2011 novel by Jesmyn Ward.

A hurricane is building over the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, and Esch’s father is growing concerned. A hard drinker, largely absent, he doesn't show concern for much else. Esch and her three brothers are stocking food, but there isn’t much to save. Lately, Esch can’t keep down what food she gets; she’s fourteen and pregnant. Her brother Skeetah is sneaking scraps for his prized pitbull’s new litter, dying one by one in the dirt. Meanwhile, brothers Randall and Junior try to stake their claim in a family long on child’s play and short on parenting.


Salvage the Bones provides examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Esch's dad.
  • Bastard Boyfriend: Manny, to the extreme. He's emotionally and verbally abusive towards Esch, abandons her after getting her pregnant, and at one point, rapes her.
  • Black and Nerdy: Esch is privately profound, philosophical, and a poetic thinker. She's a Greek mythology buff to boot.
  • Canine Companion: China is Skeetah's.
  • Death by Childbirth: Esch's mom died this way.
  • Deep South: The fictional Bois Sauvage is in poor, rural Mississippi.
  • Empathic Environment: Hurricane Katrina hits as the Batiste's private dramas come to a climax.
  • Family Relationship Switcheroo: Esch's unborn child will be raised by his biological mother and, more unusually, his uncle.
  • Incest Subtext: Esch and Skeetah have the closest relationship out of anyone in the novel. He's the one stepping into help raise her child, a child she plans to name after him should it be a boy. Most blatantly, however, is the fact that Esch repeatedly admires and compares herself to the mythological figure Medea. At the end of the novel, it's revealed that Skeetah's real name is Jason.
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  • Missing Mom: She's dead, making Esch the only girl in her family and the whole novel.
  • My Secret Pregnancy: Understandably, since Esch is unmarried and only fourteen, she's none too excited about coming clean to her family. Eventually, she spills.
  • Outnumbered Sibling: Esch.
  • Questionable Consent: Esch confesses in her narration that she agrees to her numerous sexual encounters because it's easier to say yes than to resist.
  • Rage Breaking Point: Esch reaches one after Manny, post-rape, denies fathering her child.
  • Southern Gothic: Bois Sauvage, "wild wood" in French, is haunted: by hurricanes, by nature, by the dead. Ward's voluptuous writing helps to create the visceral creepiness of gothicism.
  • A Storm Is Coming: Hurricane Katrina, no less.
  • Teen Pregnancy: Esch is only fourteen.

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