Salvage the Bones

by

Jesmyn Ward

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Salvage the Bones can help.

Salvage the Bones: The Sixth Day: A Steady Hand Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
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 Daddy wants to use the wood to fortify the house against the storm. Esch has been sitting on the sofa reading about Jason and Medea all day, but she cannot concentrate—she is terribly hungry, and there is not enough food to eat. Skeetah has been out in the shed all night, and Esch decides to go see if she can offer him any help with China and the puppies.
Daddy’s endless storm preparation—in spite of the ambivalence of everyone else around him—renders him a Cassandra figure. A staple of Greek myth who was blessed with clairvoyance but cursed with the caveat that her predictions would always fall on deaf or unbelieving ears, Daddy’s relentless preaching about the storm mirrors the dramatic irony of Cassandra’s predicament.
Themes
Nature and Control Theme Icon
Myth Theme Icon
When Esch gets to the shed, the puppies are nursing happily while China relaxes, but Skeetah insists something is wrong. They have been nursing for nearly an hour, he says, and normally she would push them away from her after so long, but she hasn’t moved. Skeetah fears he has given China too much wormer—more than that, he worries that Manny purposefully gave him bad instruction on how to fix the medicine so that China would get sick. Esch insists that Manny would never do something like that, but Skeetah isn’t so sure.
Skeetah loves China to the point of paranoia—she is slightly sluggish today, and Skeetah is suddenly sure that he has allowed himself to be duped into drugging his beloved dog by those who wish to see China’s seat at the top of the dogfighting food chain unsettled. Esch, of course, defends Manny’s character, unable to believe that the boy she thinks she loves would do such a thing.
Themes
Motherhood and Violence Theme Icon
Poverty and Survival Theme Icon
Esch suggests Skeetah go take a bath to clean his wounds and take his mind off the dogs, but he refuses. Esch reminds Skeetah that China is not the only one who must appear clean and healthy at the fight; Skeetah needs to keep up appearances, too. Skeetah goes inside to bathe, leaving Esch in charge of China. As he walks out of the shed, he sees Junior standing at the door and warns him not to touch anything.
Junior, as always, hovers at the periphery of his older siblings’ antics, desperate for the chance to observe and participate in any way he can.
Themes
Poverty and Survival Theme Icon
Esch and Junior watch as China, just as Skeetah predicted she would, kicks away the puppies. Four remain: the white one, the red one, the runt, and the black-and-white one. China sleeps while the puppies mew and roll on the floor. Junior tells Esch the puppies need to get back to China, but Esch warns him not to touch them. As Esch watches China settle in for a nap, she realizes how tired she is herself.
Just as Esch got the idea that she might be pregnant in the first place from watching China give birth, Esch now feels her own physical state affected by observing China’s.
Themes
Motherhood and Violence Theme Icon
Get the entire Salvage the Bones LitChart as a printable PDF.
Salvage the Bones PDF
Junior starts grabbing the puppies and moving them closer to China, and Esch urges him to be careful not to wake China up. Junior holds the runt instead of putting it next to China, though, and Esch squeezes his arm until he drops the puppy—if Skeetah had come in or if China had woken up, she says, they’d both be in big trouble. Esch apologizes for hurting Junior, and when Junior asks if they can go to the park, Esch agrees to take him.
Junior is so desperate to have a part in things that he takes a major risk in this passage by handling the puppies. Junior could get attacked by China or reprimanded by Skeetah if caught, and yet his need to have a hand in the puppies’ lives—and in those of his siblings—is so potent that he puts his own well-being at risk.
Themes
Motherhood and Violence Theme Icon
Skeetah comes back, and Esch tells him she and Junior are going to the park. Skeetah puts the puppies in a box and wakes China gently, then leashes her; he wants to bring her, too, so that she can get some exercise and “walk out” whatever is making her so tired. From the house, Junior grabs a bike that he once found in the street, and the three of them—plus an unenthusiastic China—set off for the park.
Though China is still a new, nursing mother, Skeetah has become convinced that she’s been poisoned, and is desperate to right the wrong he feels he’s brought upon her—even though the circumstances may be beyond his control.
Themes
Nature and Control Theme Icon
Poverty and Survival Theme Icon
At the park, Manny is playing basketball with Big Henry, Randall, and some other neighborhood boys while his girlfriend Shaliyah watches with her friends. Esch wonders if Shaliyah notices all the little things she notices about Manny, and tries not to squirm in the heat as her breasts throb.
Watching Manny and Shaliyah, Esch is reminded both of her burning desire for Manny and the fact that she is carrying his child—both reasons she feels she should have an advantage over Shaliyah.
Themes
Motherhood and Violence Theme Icon
When the game is finished, Skeetah is still jogging around the park with China on the leash, trying to get her to sweat out the wormer. Randall and Big Henry talk about basketball camp; Randall knows that the coach will pick between him and another boy on the team for a coveted camp scholarship. Randall knows he is a better player and harder worker than the other boy, and is already dreaming cockily of all the basketball scouts who will notice him at the camp.
Though Randall is in the background for most of the novel, in this passage he reveals that he has much more concrete dreams than any of his siblings; he knows he could make something of himself if given the chance, but he is held back by poverty and circumstance.
Themes
Poverty and Survival Theme Icon
Esch watches Manny and Shaliyah flirt and wishes she could pull her own heart out of her chest—and pull the baby from her womb. Big Henry approaches Esch and asks if she wants to come sit in his car, where it’s a little bit cooler. She agrees, and turns away from the spectacle of Manny and Shaliyah. In the parking lot, she listens to music with Big Henry and her brothers. After a little while, they all decide to head back to the Pit, and Big Henry drives home alongside Skeetah and China, who are trotting through the dusk.
Big Henry seems to intuit—or observe—just how badly Esch is suffering, and he comes to her rescue by offering her the chance to look away from the objects of her pain and focus on having fun with her friends and siblings. Big Henry is one of the few positive older male figures in Esch’s life, and his kindness catches her off-guard every time.
Themes
Motherhood and Violence Theme Icon
Back home, China’s puppies whine for milk. China is 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 his hard work, he has only been able to knock down one wall of the chicken coop. He tells Randall and Esch that the approaching storm has a name now, and “like the worst, she’s a woman.” The storm is called Katrina.
China’s exhaustion is contrasted by the rising-up of a new “mother” figure in the novel; the storm, Katrina, has been named and declared a woman. Daddy calls women the “worst,” referring perhaps not just to their might but to their vindictiveness.
Themes
Motherhood and Violence Theme Icon
Nature and Control Theme Icon
Myth Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Daddy instructs Randall to get onto his tractor and drive it towards the coop to knock it down. Randall doesn’t like the idea of doing this task in the dark, but Daddy insists that the storm is approaching and there isn’t any time to waste. Randall says Daddy could drive the tractor best, but Daddy insists he doesn’t see as well as Randall. Junior follows Randall and Daddy over to the tractor while Esch helps Skeetah and Big Henry put China in the shed, where she lies down and seems to fall asleep immediately. Skeetah worries that he has worked China too hard, but Big Henry assures him that China’s going to be fine. Skeetah tries to get China to eat, but she is too tired. Her puppies creep closer and closer to her and begin to nurse.
This passage sets up a duality: Esch, poised on the threshold of the shed but still in sight of the yard, is about to watch two scenes unfold simultaneously. Her attention is pulled in two directions: Daddy’s seemingly drunken, desperate attempt to continue with his storm preparations even as night falls, and Skeetah’s paranoia about China’s well-being even after a full afternoon of attending to her. Both men are trying to control nature, in very different ways.
Themes
Motherhood and Violence Theme Icon
Nature and Control Theme Icon
Poverty and Survival Theme Icon
Esch peeks out into 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 the way. Randall starts the engine and the tractor surges forward—Daddy warns Randall that there is chicken wire stuck in the grille, and after Randall stops the tractor Daddy begins pulling at the wire.
Junior, so desperate—again and still—to be a part of his siblings’ tasks is unknowingly putting himself in the way of serious danger as the dismantling of the coop starts going wrong before it even starts.
Themes
Nature and Control Theme Icon
Almost angrily, Skeetah tries to get China to eat, but she is tired and shaking. The red puppy, confused, squirms around China’s food dish, looking for 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 it forward. Daddy yells for Randall to stop; his arm is twisted in the chicken wire.
Disaster begins to strike in two places at once, as Esch bears helpless witness to both the tension in the shed and the accident unfolding in the yard.
Themes
Motherhood and Violence Theme Icon
Related Quotes
In that instant, China lurches her head forward and snaps the red puppy up in her jaw; she whips the pup back and forth, chewing at it. Skeetah yells for her to stop, but she does not. Randall, meanwhile, tries to 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 in oil. As Daddy walks towards the light of the shed, though, Esch sees that the oil is in fact blood.
A lot is happening in this passage. As two extremely violent events occur parallel to one another, Ward contrasts the feminine or motherly violence of China’s attack on her puppy with the masculine violence of Daddy’s tractor accident. Though one instance is “female” and one is “male,” Ward both highlights and subverts the traits in each. China, though a mother, aggressively attacks one of her own in a decidedly unmotherly display of violence, while Daddy loses control and has the fingers of his less-dominant (some might read more feminine) hand, the hand that bears his wedding ring and the last symbol of his attachment to his wife, ripped away.
Themes
Motherhood and Violence Theme Icon
Poverty and Survival Theme Icon
China flings the “pulpy puppy” 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 of his left hand. Skeetah, crying, yells at China, asking her how she could kill her own puppy; Randall and Big Henry struggle to stop Daddy’s hand as it bleeds. Esch looks directly at China, who is as “bloody-mouthed and bright-eyed as Medea. If China could speak, Esch thinks, Esch would ask her: “Is this what motherhood is?”
The intense violence happening in the shed mirrors the violence happening out on the Pit. As Esch—who seems to have one foot in the shed and one foot out of it—observes both horrible displays of violence, she wonders if she has, in becoming a mother, condemned herself to a life filled with gore and disaster at every turn.
Themes
Motherhood and Violence Theme Icon
Related Quotes