Randall and Esch count and sort all the food they have in the house and become frustrated and frightened when they realize it will not be enough for all of them. 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 Randall that there is a few hundred dollars to spare in case of an emergency. Besides, he says, FEMA and the Red Cross will always come through with food. Randall still worries that their stores won’t be enough, but Daddy stubbornly insists they’ll make do with what they have.
Daddy has been trying to prepare for the storm for days, but his efforts have been effectively thwarted—now, as his children try to take over preparations and control how they’ll weather the storm, Daddy seems to reverse his tack and try to impress upon them that there are some things beyond their control.
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 of China’s things. Randall asks if Esch has any ideas about how to get some more food, but she says she doesn’t have any. They all watch as China chases chickens around the yard until Skeetah calls her off.
As the storm bears down in earnest, Skeetah continues exhibiting a preoccupation with keeping China’s things clean, neat, and perfect—as if she is a goddess and he is worshipping at her altar.
Randall suggests they all hunt for eggs, and urges Skeetah to stop fussing over China and her things and help out. The wind picks up as Randall and Esch begin their search, and Esch imagines that Medea has called it up just as she did in the myth of the Argonauts. Esch is tired, and barely has the energy to walk. The hunt is frustrating; the chickens are preparing for the storm, too, and have hidden their eggs well. Randall teaches Junior how to hunt for eggs, giving him the same instructions Esch remembers their mother giving her, Skeetah, and Randall years and years ago. Esch hunts and hunts, but can’t find even a single egg.
Esch, too, feels the encroachment of elements of myth on real life—the winds are so powerful that they seem to her to be summoned directly from myth, and her fruitless search for eggs, traditionally symbols of rebirth and renewal, has a mythic quality in and of itself.
Junior, however, finds several eggs, and he and Esch bring them back up to the house so that she can hard boil them. As Junior and Randall place them in the pot, Esch counts them, and is excited to realize that there are twenty-four in total—not much, but something. While the two of them finish placing the eggs and filling the pot with water, Esch sits on the front steps of the house; she is the first to see Manny as he walks up the drive.
Junior’s discovery of the eggs is the first hopeful omen the Batistes have gotten in a while; still, the meager supply is barely enough to last all five of them a few days.
Manny calls for Randall, and the two go outside to talk while Esch finishes up the eggs. Manny and Randall talk about basketball, and Esch overhears Randall saying that one of his other teammates has been selected to receive the coveted scholarship to basketball camp. Esch lights the burner and overhears Randall and Manny’s conversation shift to the fight that broke out at the game—Randall says that Skeetah thinks Manny is “dogging” Esch. Manny denies it, insisting that he and Esch are “like family,” but Randall debunks this—he says that he and Manny are the only ones who are really close, and Manny’s relationships with Esch, Skeetah, and Junior are “not the same.” Manny says goodbye and turns to leave, and Esch hurries out of the house to catch him before he goes just as Randall goes inside.
Manny’s lies and secrets are beginning to catch up with him, and he can no longer fall back on the excuse that he is close enough with the Batistes to be their family—it has become clear over the last several days that his allegiances lie elsewhere, and that nothing is thicker than blood.
When Esch catches up with Manny, he asks if Randall wants something—she says that it’s her, though, who has something to say to Manny. Manny tries to walk away, but Esch confesses that she’s pregnant, and the baby is his. Manny replies that he has “nothing” here at the pit; Esch is blinded by anger, and hears Skeetah’s words to China in her ears: “Make them know.” Esch attacks Manny as if she herself is China, tearing and scratching at him while screaming that she loves him. Partway through, she changes her statement, admitting that she “loved” Manny, past-tense. Manny asks Esch what’s wrong with her; she replies that Manny is what’s wrong.
In this passage, Esch invokes China as a mother figure and a model for how to assert her femininity as she hails her rage down upon Manny. Her conflicting feelings of love for Manny—she seems to be unsure whether she is in love with him or has fallen out of it—demonstrate how she has grown over the novel. She is not blindly fawning over Manny as she once was—she has been stung by his rejections and betrayals, and now prioritizes her own revenge.
Manny grabs a hold of Esch and throws her away from him into the dirt. He asks how she can know that he’s her child’s father when she sleeps with every boy who comes to visit the Pit. She insists that Manny is the only person she’s been with in a long time. Manny calls Esch a slut and runs away. As Esch watches him go, she prays that tomorrow everything will be washed clean. As Manny goes, Esch calls after him that “the baby will tell,” but the wind is blowing so hard that her voice is muted and quiet.
Manny attempts to discredit Esch when she tells him something he doesn’t want to hear by making a pointed and aggressive insult against her femininity, denigrating how she has chosen to come into her own as a woman. At the end of their confrontation, it seems as if Esch has been defeated, or at least silenced—Ward is attempting to demonstrate the ways in which femininity is both desired and reviled by men, craved only when it’s convenient and rejected the moment things get tough.
Esch sits on the ground and thinks about Medea. When Jason betrayed her, she killed his new bride, the bride’s father, and her own children, and then flew away into the wind. When Medea shrieked, Jason heard. Randall comes upon Esch and asks her what’s wrong, but she insists she’s fine. Randall tells her that the two of them need to return to the white people’s house nearby for supplies. Esch doesn’t want to go, but Randall begs for her help. Esch stops herself from crying and gets up, jogging towards the woods with Randall beside her.
Esch has lashed out violently in order to make herself seen and heard, following in the footsteps of the mother figures in her life—China, Medea, and though she does not yet know it, Katrina. Still, it has not been enough, and Esch wonders how much violence and how big a spectacle women must create in order to be valued—or at the very least acknowledged.
As they run through the woods, Esch asks where Skeetah and Junior are; Randall replies that they’re somewhere else in the forest. Esch notices that the woods are empty of birds and other animals; when she looks up at the sky, she sees huge flocks flying north, away from the storm. At the edge of the white people’s property, Esch and Randall look into the yard. There are no cars parked anywhere, and the windows of the house and barn have been boarded up with plywood.
The air of desolation, abandonment, and flight palpable in the air and on the ground in Bois Sauvage portends just how awful and dangerous the approaching storm is going to be. Nature functions again and again as a way of foreshadowing the future throughout the novel, and the flight of birds and animals from the woods signifies that something serious is bearing down on the Batistes.
Esch and Randall approach the house and try to get the boards on the windows off; they can’t, and when they grow frustrated, Randall punches at the boards, but only hurts his hand. Esch suggests they give up, but Randall wants to keep trying. He kicks at the boards, shattering the window behind it; he kicks once more, and the board cracks in two, though nails hold it in place. Randall nurses his sore knee and tells Esch to look inside the house; she peers through the boards and sees nothing of use. She suggests that the owners took everything with them when they evacuated, and Randall at last admits defeat.
The intersection of poverty and survival is on display in this passage as Esch and Randall attempt to salvage goods and supplies from their wealthier neighbors, only to find that this storm has made survivalists out of everyone. There is no excess, no luxury, no breathing room where this storm is concerned, and everything has been stripped back and salvaged.
Randall and Esch head back through the woods towards the Pit. Halfway through, they encounter China, who has caught a chicken in her mouth and killed it. She drops it on the ground in front of them and runs away; Esch suggests they pick the chicken up, take it home, and cook it, but Randall walks away from the bloody carcass towards home.
There is something omen-like about China dropping the chicken at Esch and Randall’s feet; she has killed something for them, perhaps sensing their need, but they reject her offering. China has been positioned throughout the novel as a “goddess” to whom offerings—of food, attention, medicine, et cetera—are made; here, though, China is the one in supplication to her humans.
Back at the house, Skeetah has China up on the bed, and she is licking his face despite the fact that her jaw is still red and bloody with the chicken’s guts. When Randall asks what China is doing in the house, Skeetah explains he’s bringing her inside for the storm. Randall tells Skeetah to keep 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 the room. Daddy says that the dogs can’t stay inside. Skeetah says that if the dogs have to stay outside, then he’ll stay outside.
China is often depicted licking Skeetah with bloody lips. Ward invokes this image again and again to illustrate the violence inherent in femininity but especially in motherhood, and the ways in which nurturing and love are possible in spite of violent acts or behaviors. It also underscores Skeetah’s intense devotion to China, compounded in this passage by his willingness to sleep outside with her in the middle of the worst storm in decades.
Daddy says that Katrina has been upgraded to a category five. He relents and says that China can stay in the bedroom, but mustn’t run wild throughout the house. Randall is upset about having to sleep in the living room, as he refuses to stay in the room with China, but Esch comforts him by reminding him that during hurricanes they all usually camp out in the living room anyway.
Symbolically, it’s possible that allowing China’s motherly presence in the house is repugnant—or perhaps simply re-traumatizing—to the men of the Batiste family other than Skeetah.
Daddy asks Esch to make him some soup, but Randall says he’ll take care of it. Esch and Skeetah stand together in the hallway, with China between them. She is wagging her tail and smiling. Skeetah tells Esch that “everything need[s] a chance.”
For the entirety of the novel, Skeetah has been trying to give China and her puppies the “chance” they deserve to survive—now, at this crucial moment, he refuses to give up just because things are getting tougher and more dire.