Salvage the Bones


Jesmyn Ward

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Themes and Colors
Motherhood and Violence Theme Icon
Nature and Control Theme Icon
Myth Theme Icon
Poverty and Survival Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Salvage the Bones, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Motherhood and Violence

At the heart of Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones are two very different but parallel stories of new motherhood: that of the central protagonist, Esch, and that of China, Esch’s brother Skeetah’s prize fighting dog. At the start of the novel, China is giving birth to her first litter; shortly thereafter, at the end of the second chapter, Esch reveals that watching China give birth has made her realize that “something’s wrong”…

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Nature and Control

The Batiste children—Randall, Skeetah, Esch, and Junior—are being raised in rural poverty, at the fringes of the remote Mississippi gulf town of Bois Sauvage. Nature is part of their lives in a ubiquitous and intimate way, and they are often required to live off the near-barren land around them in order to survive: grilling squirrels for meat, fighting dogs to make money, and finding what little joy and solace they…

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The protagonist of Salvage the Bones, Esch, is a daydreamer who deals with her taxing and bleak existence by losing herself in stories—lately, she’s been preoccupied with the Greek myths she’s studying in school, particularly interest the story of Medea, who famously murdered her own children. As Esch’s story unfolds, it takes on a mythic quality itself; Esch’s struggles with poverty, teen pregnancy, and an oncoming hurricane of epic proportions all lend…

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Poverty and Survival

The story of Salvage the Bones is ultimately the story of one impoverished family’s struggle for survival. While the approach of Hurricane Katrina galvanizes the Batistes against one very large and very real threat, even on ordinary days Esch, her Daddy, and her siblings are barely getting by, eager for new ways to reverse their fates and keep their clan together. From Skeetah’s scheme to sell off China’s puppies to the four…

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