Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Although “Ark of Bones” is based on a common short-story convention of a central character who undergoes a mysterious and unexplained experience, and although it makes use of a fablelike form common to the short story since its beginning in biblical parables, Henry Dumas adapts these conventions to a uniquely black idiom and theme. The story depends on that unique blend of African black magic and Christian religion that creates the spiritualism that often characterizes black religion in the United States. The black magic of the mojo bone is connected to the idea of the dry bones in the Old Testament, and Headeye is both an Old Testament prophet and an African witch doctor. Dumas combines these two folk traditions of the supernatural to create a parable of the black experience in the United States. The notion of the dry bones being like little babies combines the idea of the death of the black man in white America with the promise that he will rise again and take his rightful place; thus, the bones are scrupulously cared for, as if they were incubating for a rebirth. Although the story does not make clear how Headeye is qualified to fulfill such a role, he is the chosen prophet for black resurrection, a seer who hears the moans and cries of his people and sets off in the end to fulfill his sacred promise to “set my brother free.”

Fish-hound is the one who remains behind to tell the story of the sacred encounter and of Headeye’s holy mission....

(The entire section is 455 words.)