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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 557

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Because the actual language of “Ark of Bones” is its primary virtue, the story is difficult to describe. It is a first-person account of Fish-hound, a young black male, who goes fishing one day and is followed by his friend Headeye, who claims to have supernatural powers because he possesses a mojo bone, a totemistic object of African superstition. The story attempts to create the rhythm and idiom of southern black dialect and to emulate the syntax and digressions of an uneducated black youth. Although the ages of Fish-hound and Headeye are not revealed, their language and actions suggest that they are in their early teens.

The plot of the story at first seems aimless, with Fish-hound describing how Headeye follows him to the Mississippi River and how Fish-hound tries to dodge him so as not to reveal the best fishing spots. Events take a turn toward the metaphoric, however, when Headeye catches up with Fish-hound and tells him that the mojo bone is a key to the black experience, the only one in the world. Headeye recounts the story of Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones, in which it is foretold that the bones shall be bound up and shall rise again. Headeye himself prophesies that Noah’s Ark will come again and seems to be watching for it to appear on the river, while Fish-hound tries to ignore him and continues fishing. The story moves into fable when Fish-hound indeed sees a gigantic boat floating on the water, moving and standing still at the same time.

Fish-hound assumes that they are both dead and that the boat is the glory boat to take them to Heaven—until he sees a rowboat drawing up to them (rowed by two black men), which takes them to the Ark. After climbing aboard on steps that seem to be numbered for various years, they meet an old, long-haired black man dressed in skins, who talks to Headeye while Fish-hound hangs back frightened. When Fish-hound and Headeye go down into the Ark, they find bones stacked to the top of the ship; crews of black men handle the bones as if they were babies, while the old man reads from a long parchment. The men on the ship speak in a foreign tongue, which sounds as if it might be an African dialect and which Fish-hound cannot understand. As Fish-hound watches the men haul bones from the river and lay them out, he recalls a sermon about Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones, a theme frequently repeated throughout the story.

The old man tells Headeye that he is in the house of generations, that every African who lives in America has a part of his soul on the Ark and that God has called Headeye to be anointed. The old man makes Headeye promise to consecrate his bones and to set his brother free. He then engages in a ritual ceremony with the mojo bone before the two leave the Ark. Several days later, Headeye comes to tell Fish-hound that he is leaving, that he will someday be back, and that Fish-hound is his witness. The story ends with people asking Fish-hound where Headeye has gone, but he answers only by telling them about Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones, which makes people think he is crazy.

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