Salvage the Bones

by

Jesmyn Ward

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Daddy Character Analysis

Esch, Skeetah, Randall, and Junior’s father is an alcoholic who is rarely home. He functions as a sort of Cassandra figure throughout the novel—Cassandra, a mythic figure from the story of the Trojan War, was blessed with clairvoyance but cursed with the condition that no one would ever heed her visions. Daddy is concerned from day one about the storm forming far out in the ocean, and tries to get his family to begin making preparations for it; the children are so disorganized and wrapped up in their own lives that they fail to start storm prep until the hurricane is near. Daddy loses the fingers of his left hand in a tractor accident while preparing for Hurricane Katrina; his disfigurement and the rigorous course of medication he has to start do not interfere with his heavy drinking. If anything, they intensify his need to escape the pain of his circumstances through alcohol, even as the storm of the century approaches.

Daddy Quotes in Salvage the Bones

The Salvage the Bones quotes below are all either spoken by Daddy or refer to Daddy. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Motherhood and Violence Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Bloomsbury edition of Salvage the Bones published in 2011.
The Fourth Day: Worth Stealing Quotes

"You giving China a floor?" Daddy had started on our house once he and Mama got married. Hearing the stories about him and Papa Joseph when I was growing up, I always thought it was something a man did for a woman when they married: build her something to live in.

"No, Esch." Skeetah slices at the underside of the next tile with one of Daddy's rusty box cutters. "I'm saving them puppies. China's strong and old enough to where the parvo won’t kill her." He yanked. "They’re money."

Related Characters: Esch (speaker), Skeetah, Daddy
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:
The Sixth Day: A Steady Hand Quotes

Daddy has only knocked down one of the chicken coop's walls. The chickens wander drunken and bewildered around his feet, seemingly mystified that he is dismantling their house, even though they haven’t roosted in it in years. In the half-light from the bulb from the shed and Daddy's headlights, they look black. Daddy lets his hammer fall, and the chickens scatter, fluttering away like leaves in a wind.

"The storm, it has a name now. Like the worst, she's a woman. Katrina."

"There's another storm?" Randall asks.

"What you think I been talking about? I knew it was coming," Daddy says. Like the worst, l repeat. A woman. He shakes his head, frowns at the coop. "We going to try something."

“What?”

“I want you to get on my tractor and I’m going to direct you to this wall right here.” Daddy points at the longer wall. “And we going to knock this damn thing over.”

Related Characters: Esch (speaker), Randall (speaker), Daddy (speaker)
Page Number: 124-125
Explanation and Analysis:

"Do it," Skeetah commands China.

China's ears are fat as plastic knives laid on her head and her mouth is wet and pink as uncooked chicken, except here the bone shows. She is quivering, her muscles beset by a multitude of tics. She is shaking all over, now eye to eye with Skeetah, seemingly ignoring the dirt-red puppy rounding her bowl, waddling for milk. He is the one that is a model of the father, of Kilo; he is the fattest, the most well fed, the bully. Turgid with the promise of living. When their eyes eventually open, I think that his will be the first.

The tractor idles and the engine turns, sounds as if it going to move.

"Don't do it!" Daddy yells against his tugging, but his grunts eat the Don't, and I don't know what Randall hears, but he lets up on the brake and slips it in gear, and the tractor eases forward. "Stop!" Daddy yells. He is pulling back, his hand clenched in the wire, and he twists so hard his arm looks long and ropy.

The red puppy creeps forward, rounds China's bowl, noses her tit. China is rolling, rising. The rumble of the tractor is her growl. Her toes are pointed, her head raised. Skeetah falls back. The red puppy undulates toward her; a fat mite. China snaps forward, closes her jaw around the puppy's neck as she does when she carries him, but there is no gentleness in it. She is all white eyes. She is chewing. She is whipping him through the air like a tire eaten too short for Skeetah to grab.

Related Characters: Esch (speaker), Skeetah (speaker), Daddy (speaker)
Page Number: 128-129
Explanation and Analysis:

The blood on Daddy’s shirt is the same color as the pulpy puppy in China's mouth. China flings it away from her. It thuds on the tin and slides. Randall comes running. Big Henry kneels with Daddy in the dirt, where what was Daddy's middle, ring, and pinkie finger on his left hand are sheared off clean as fallen tree trunks. The meat of his fingers is red and wet as China's lips.

Skeetah kneels in the dirt, feeling for the mutilated puppy; he knocks into metal drums and toolboxes and old chainsaws with his head and his shoulders.

"Why did you?" Skeetah wails.

"Why?" Daddy breathes to Randall and Big Henry standing over him, the blood sluicing down his forearm. They are gripping Daddy's wrist, trying to stop the bleeding. Skeetah is punching the metal he meets. China is bloody-mouthed and bright-eyed as Medea. If she could speak, this is what I would ask her: Is this what motherhood is?

Related Characters: Esch (speaker), Skeetah (speaker), Daddy (speaker)
Page Number: 129-130
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Salvage the Bones LitChart as a printable PDF.
Salvage the Bones PDF

Daddy Character Timeline in Salvage the Bones

The timeline below shows where the character Daddy appears in Salvage the Bones. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The First Day: Birth in a Bare-Bulb Place
Motherhood and Violence Theme Icon
Nature and Control Theme Icon
Poverty and Survival Theme Icon
...Junior came out “purple and blue as a hydrangea” after hours of difficult labor. Esch’s Daddy put her mother into his truck, against Mama’s protestations, and none of the children ever... (full context)
Motherhood and Violence Theme Icon
Nature and Control Theme Icon
...is fighting, like she was born to do.” Skeetah urges Esch, Randall, Junior, and their daddy to leave the shed and give China some space to breathe and relax, but they... (full context)
Motherhood and Violence Theme Icon
Poverty and Survival Theme Icon
...too, and Esch observes now that he is watching China as if he’s watching television. Daddy insists that Junior is old enough to stay and watch. (full context)
Nature and Control Theme Icon
Earlier that day, Esch was awakened by her father knocking on the door of her and Junior’s room, urging them to get up so... (full context)
Myth Theme Icon
...Randall’s buddies, talking about how no more hurricanes were going to hit. Esch heard her Daddy insisting the opposite: that this year’s storm season was the worst in his memory. As... (full context)
Nature and Control Theme Icon
...Randall in the yard, she felt hot and nervous. Before she could talk to Manny, Daddy urged her to rinse the jugs Junior was pulling out from underneath the house. As... (full context)
Motherhood and Violence Theme Icon
Nature and Control Theme Icon
...the shed, China is licking her puppies clean; Esch has never seen her so gentle. Daddy warns everyone that China’s labor is not done—she still has to pass the afterbirth. Sure... (full context)
The Second Day: Hidden Eggs
Poverty and Survival Theme Icon
Later, out in the yard, Daddy gets Big Henry—whose name is due to his size and the fact that he looks... (full context)
The Third Day: Sickness in the Dirt
Nature and Control Theme Icon
Myth Theme Icon
Poverty and Survival Theme Icon
Esch wakes up again hours later, surprised that Daddy hasn’t woken her up yet to help with hurricane prep. Wanting to stay in bed... (full context)
Nature and Control Theme Icon
Poverty and Survival Theme Icon
...to the shed, walking past Junior in the yard. Junior is piling wood planks on Daddy’s orders, but he stops when he sees them coming and follows them inside. As Skeetah... (full context)
The Fourth Day: Worth Stealing
Poverty and Survival Theme Icon
...house, swatting away fleas that bite at her legs. She and her brothers and her Daddy often “pick at the house like mostly eaten leftovers,” taking from the shell of the... (full context)
Nature and Control Theme Icon
Myth Theme Icon
Poverty and Survival Theme Icon
Esch and Skeetah are startled by the sound of their father’s tractor approaching. As Daddy walks into the house, Esch wonders if Medea felt about her... (full context)
Poverty and Survival Theme Icon
Esch gives Skeetah a boost up into the attic; Daddy tosses him a hammer, and Skeetah starts pulling boards up and dropping them down without... (full context)
The Fifth Day: Salvage the Bones
Motherhood and Violence Theme Icon
Today, Daddy is not gathering supplies for the storm; he is underneath his truck, working on the... (full context)
Motherhood and Violence Theme Icon
Nature and Control Theme Icon
Esch is in the bathroom, and she can hear her father’s truck rolling very slowly up the driveway. She knows that Daddy drives slow when he... (full context)
Motherhood and Violence Theme Icon
Nature and Control Theme Icon
Daddy warns Skeetah that if China ever attacks him, he will either take her into the... (full context)
The Sixth Day: A Steady Hand
Nature and Control Theme Icon
Myth Theme Icon
The next morning, Esch awakens to the sound of Daddy knocking down the chicken coop—the chickens that roam the Pit have long abandoned it, and... (full context)
Motherhood and Violence Theme Icon
Nature and Control Theme Icon
Myth Theme Icon
...exhausted from her long, hard run, and makes a wet choking sound with each breath. Daddy is still working on the coop, and he calls Randall to come help him—after all... (full context)
Motherhood and Violence Theme Icon
Nature and Control Theme Icon
Poverty and Survival Theme Icon
Daddy instructs Randall to get onto his tractor and drive it towards the coop to knock... (full context)
Nature and Control Theme Icon
...the yard; Junior is shadowing Randall, and climbs up onto the tractor to help him. Daddy tries to dissuade Junior from doing so, but even Randall insists Junior won’t be in... (full context)
Motherhood and Violence Theme Icon
...milk. Outside, the tractor engine turns over, as if Randall has started it up again; Daddy shouts “Don’t do it,” but his words are garbled, and Randall starts the tractor, easing... (full context)
Motherhood and Violence Theme Icon
Poverty and Survival Theme Icon
...stop the tractor, but it is positioned on a hill, and it keeps moving forward. Daddy wrenches his hand free, and Esch can see that his hand and shirt are covered... (full context)
Motherhood and Violence Theme Icon
...away from her, and it lands on the floor of the shed. Randall runs towards Daddy and the shed as Daddy collapses; he is missing the middle, ring, and pinky fingers... (full context)
The Seventh Day: Game Dogs and Game Men
Nature and Control Theme Icon
Myth Theme Icon
Poverty and Survival Theme Icon
The morning after Daddy’s accident, Esch recalls the events that followed it directly. Big Henry drove everyone to the... (full context)
Motherhood and Violence Theme Icon
...up to find everyone but Junior still asleep; Big Henry is on the sofa, and Daddy and Randall are in their rooms. Skeetah and China—who’d stayed behind in the shed while... (full context)
Motherhood and Violence Theme Icon
Nature and Control Theme Icon
Esch goes into Daddy’s room, bringing him chicken soup and helping him adjust the television. He wants to watch... (full context)
The Eighth Day: Make Them Know
Poverty and Survival Theme Icon
...on the floor outside of Esch’s door. He lets her know that Randall has fixed Daddy’s breakfast, and that Daddy, after spending some time hollering about the approaching hurricane, has fallen... (full context)
The Ninth Day: Hurricane Eclipse
Motherhood and Violence Theme Icon
...still in bed—the sound belongs to someone else. She goes into the bathroom and finds Daddy throwing up into the toilet. He asks her to get Randall. (full context)
Nature and Control Theme Icon
Poverty and Survival Theme Icon
Esch wakes Randall and tells him that Daddy is sick in the bathroom and asking for him. They go together to the bathroom,... (full context)
Motherhood and Violence Theme Icon
Nature and Control Theme Icon
Outside, the wind has grown stronger. Esch and Randall look through Daddy’s pickup truck for nails, hammers, drills, and spare boards to put up over the windows.... (full context)
Nature and Control Theme Icon
Poverty and Survival Theme Icon
...their bin. She can’t find him anywhere, but she eventually locates him standing next to Daddy’s bed, staring at Daddy while he sleeps. Esch pulls Junior out of Daddy’s room, and... (full context)
Motherhood and Violence Theme Icon
...asks Junior what’s wrong with him, and points out he could’ve gotten a disease pulling Daddy’s wedding ring from his severed finger. When Randall asks why Junior salvaged the ring, Junior... (full context)
Motherhood and Violence Theme Icon
Nature and Control Theme Icon
Poverty and Survival Theme Icon
...up windows, clean and fill water jugs, cook the food in the fridge, and drive Daddy’s truck to town to fill it with gas. They then park it at the edge... (full context)
The Tenth Day: In the Endless Eye
Nature and Control Theme Icon
Poverty and Survival Theme Icon
...Esch goes to use the bathroom, and while she’s in there, she hears Randall and Daddy talking. She leaves the bathroom and listens at the door to Daddy’s bedroom—he is telling... (full context)
Myth Theme Icon
With the windows boarded up, the house is hot and miserable, and everyone but Daddy hangs out in the yard for some air. Skeetah is busy washing and arranging all... (full context)
Motherhood and Violence Theme Icon
Nature and Control Theme Icon
Poverty and Survival Theme Icon
...China in the shed, but Skeetah says they need to be inside. Randall heads for Daddy’s room and calls for Daddy to weigh in on the issue; Skeetah follows him into... (full context)
Motherhood and Violence Theme Icon
Poverty and Survival Theme Icon
Daddy says that Katrina has been upgraded to a category five. He relents and says that... (full context)
Nature and Control Theme Icon
Poverty and Survival Theme Icon
Daddy asks Esch to make him some soup, but Randall says he’ll take care of it.... (full context)
The Eleventh Day: Katrina
Nature and Control Theme Icon
Myth Theme Icon
Poverty and Survival Theme Icon
...before the storm hits washing dishes, filling the bathtubs, and watching cartoons. Only Skeetah and Daddy stay in their rooms. Unable to sleep, Esch stays up reading her mythology book, moving... (full context)
Motherhood and Violence Theme Icon
...their mother ever said to them; Esch admits she does not. Skeetah recalls that as Daddy loaded Mama into the truck to take her to the hospital, she called for Esch... (full context)
Motherhood and Violence Theme Icon
Nature and Control Theme Icon
Myth Theme Icon
Poverty and Survival Theme Icon
...the house; Esch and Skeetah run out to the hall to see Randall heading into Daddy’s room, where a tree has fallen in and left a gaping hole in the ceiling.... (full context)
Motherhood and Violence Theme Icon
Nature and Control Theme Icon
Myth Theme Icon
In the living room, Daddy predicts that the storm will be over in just a few hours. Esch marvels at... (full context)
Nature and Control Theme Icon
Poverty and Survival Theme Icon
...stands up and looks around; he states that water is coming up through the floorboards. Daddy and Randall assure him that couldn’t happen, but Skeetah goes to the window and looks... (full context)
Motherhood and Violence Theme Icon
Nature and Control Theme Icon
Myth Theme Icon
Poverty and Survival Theme Icon
Daddy instructs Randall to open up the attic. Skeetah hands Esch the puppies’ bucket so that... (full context)
Motherhood and Violence Theme Icon
Nature and Control Theme Icon
Poverty and Survival Theme Icon
...jump down onto the tree, and then it is Esch’s turn. She is hesitant, but Daddy urges her, and she leaps—burdened by the bucket full of puppies, she worries she won’t... (full context)
Motherhood and Violence Theme Icon
Nature and Control Theme Icon
Poverty and Survival Theme Icon
...China, but she is gone. Randall and Junior haul themselves up into the house while Daddy swims lopsidedly, favoring his bad hand. Randall hoists Daddy up into the attic; Esch realizes... (full context)
The Twelfth Day: Alive
Motherhood and Violence Theme Icon
Nature and Control Theme Icon
Poverty and Survival Theme Icon
...when the rubber became visible over the roiling water, Skeetah began squirming to leave, though Daddy insisted the storm wasn’t over. Skeetah jumped from the attic and waded out through the... (full context)
Nature and Control Theme Icon
Poverty and Survival Theme Icon
The water eventually receded all the way, leaving Daddy’s ruined truck marooned atop the gas tank and the inside of the house wet, muddy,... (full context)
Motherhood and Violence Theme Icon
Poverty and Survival Theme Icon
...discuss the damage throughout the town, which has rendered whole roads and bridges completely impassible. Daddy asks Esch if what Skeetah said during the storm was true, and Esch nods. Daddy... (full context)
Myth Theme Icon
...see the damage. Esch agrees, and suggests they go collect Skeetah on the way back. Daddy predicts that Skeetah won’t leave the Pit. He grips his bad hand and complains that... (full context)
Motherhood and Violence Theme Icon
Nature and Control Theme Icon
Myth Theme Icon
Poverty and Survival Theme Icon
...upon the ruins of a local liquor store. Randall suggests they get some bottles for Daddy, and they all get down on hands and knees to grab whatever is still intact.... (full context)