Salvage the Bones

Salvage the Bones Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Jesmyn Ward's Salvage the Bones. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Jesmyn Ward

Jesmyn Ward was born in Mississippi, a town right on the Gulf of Mexico. Ward was the first member of her family to attend college, earning a BA and an MA from Stanford University before going on to receive an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan. Ward’s first novel, Where the Line Bleeds, received critical acclaim, but it was Ward’s second book, Salvage The Bones, which brought her to prominence in the literary community. The novel, a tale of Hurricane Katrina, received massive acclaim and received the prestigious National Book Award for Fiction in 2011. Ward, a former Stanford University Stegner Fellow, is an accomplished writer of fiction, memoir, poetry, and critical nonfiction, and was a 2017 recipient of the MacArthur “Genius” Grant.
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Historical Context of Salvage the Bones

Salvage the Bones is situated in the days leading up to—and the aftermath of—Hurricane Katrina, a destructive Category 5 hurricane that hit the Gulf Coast of the United States in August of 2005. Though catastrophic damage was seen from Florida to Texas, the city that saw the most devastating consequences and the most concentrated loss of life was New Orleans, Louisiana, where breaches in surge protection levees led to massive flooding that covered 80 percent of the city for weeks on end. The insufficient emergency response from the government at the federal, state, and local level highlighted the ways in which race, class, and employment status affected both preparation for and relief after the storm; an evacuation order was not issued until just hours before the storm made landfall, and many impoverished or otherwise struggling families had no choice but to stay and ride out the storm, leading to mass casualties not just in New Orleans but all along the coast of Louisiana and Mississippi. Relief organizations such as FEMA and the Red Cross were unprepared for the intensity of the storm, and these organizations found themselves overburdened and incapable of providing aid, relief, or rescue on the scale the storm demanded, certainly adding to the number of lives ultimately lost in the storm and the floods that followed: an estimated 1,836 lives were lost, making Katrina the deadliest storm in America since 1928.

Other Books Related to Salvage the Bones

Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones is one of the standout literary novels of Hurricane Katrina. Tom Piazza’s City of Refuge is another notable Katrina novel, and follows two families—one white and one black—as they confront the storm. Much of the literature that has emerged in the wake of the storm, however, has been nonfiction, such as Dave Eggers’s Zeitoun, which focuses on Syrian-American business owner Abdulrahman Zeitoun, who chose to stay and ride out the storm in New Orleans to help his friends and neighbors, only to be arrested and accused of “terrorist activities” by the US National Guard. A good deal of children’s literature about Hurricane Katrina has emerged as well—perhaps because the storm’s powerful, devastating impact created in children questions so large and profound that stories were needed to explain the catastrophe. Julie T. Lamana’s Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere and Jewell Parker Rhodes’s Ninth Ward both feature preteen female protagonists who find themselves swept up in Katrina’s chaos and destruction.
Key Facts about Salvage the Bones
  • Full Title: Salvage the Bones
  • When Written: Early 2010s
  • When Published: 2011
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Setting: Bois Sauvage, Mississippi
  • Climax: Hurricane Katrina, which has been bearing down on the Gulf Coast for days, makes landfall and devastates Esch and her family’s home and neighborhood, resulting in their dog China’s disappearance and the death of her remaining puppies.
  • Antagonist: Manny; nature
  • Point of View: First person

Extra Credit for Salvage the Bones

Close to Home. Jesmyn Ward and her family in DeLisle, Mississippi were real-life victims of Hurricane Katrina. Ward was home when the storm made landfall; she and her family were not aware that the storm was a Category 5 until the night before it hit. Ward’s family’s house flooded, and as the water rose, they went together out into the storm to find shelter elsewhere. Eventually they were able to board a boat and seek shelter at a neighbor’s.