Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 268

Critic Heather Hewett suggests that The Farming of Bones “explores the impact of nationalism, race, and gender on the bodies of men and women.” Certainly, racial prejudice runs rampant through the novel. In an opening scene illustrating the respective positions of three races, Amabelle serves as an involuntary midwife to her former friend, assisting at the birth of Valencia’s twins. Pico arrives at his wife’s bedside, dismisses Amabelle, and is delighted with the birth of his fair-skinned son Rafael, proudly named in honor of the dictator. He is less pleased with his tiny, dark-complected daughter. Later, after cane workers invited by Valencia take refreshment on their veranda, Pico smashes the cups they have used.

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As another critic points out, cane itself becomes symbolic of Haitian suffering. Cane stalks are the “bones” of the title, their sound reminding Sebastien of the breaking of chicken bones. Cutting cane is difficult, brutal work: “ . . . cane stalks have ripped apart most of the skin on [Sebastien’s] shiny black face, leaving him with crisscrossed trails of furrowed scars,” and he bears infected boils on his legs. Watching women workers bathing in a stream, Amabelle notes that “one was missing an ear. Two had lost fingers. One had her right cheekbone cracked in half, the result of a runaway machete in the fields.” Such disfigurement is both real and emblematic.

As the workers bathe, they scrub themselves with parsley, as they would corpses. For them, parsley is not only a food and a cleansing agent, but also an instrument of torture, as is language (perejil). Haitian bodies cruelly testify, “We are nothing.”


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1036

As Scott Adlerberg observed in the Richmond Review, ‘‘Exile increases the poignancy of memory,’’ and many of the characters in the book are exiled, cut off from their families or homes by death or distance. Amabelle remembers her parents constantly, replaying their death by drowning in the swollen river, and talks about them with her lover Sebastien, who likewise tells her about his lost childhood in Haiti. The poor, displaced Haitians in the book all share this sense of a lost home, and it serves as a bond to unite their community—as Amabelle notes, ‘‘In his sermons to the Haitian congregants of the valley he often reminded everyone of common ties: language, foods, history, carnival, songs, tales, and prayers. His creed was one of memory, how remembering—though sometimes painful—can make you strong.’’ The Haitian sugar cane workers consider themselves to be ‘‘an orphaned people, a group of vwayaje, wayfarers.’’

The Haitians in the book are not the only exiles; Amabelle's employer, Don Ignacio, though born in Spain, came to the Caribbean to fight in the Spanish-American War in 1898. Now, each night he scrolls up and down the radio dial to hear reports from Spain about the progress of the Spanish Civil War. Amabelle notices his homesickness and is aware that ‘‘he felt himself the displaced child of a now orphaned people.’’

Despite these warnings, Amabelle, Sebastien, and the other Haitians are unprepared for the bloodbath about to occur, which will further exile those who are not slaughtered in it. The survivors, cut off from their past, those they love, and their own sense of safety and purpose, are spiritual exiles, looking for meaning and a sense of purpose; some find it, and some never do.

The mass killing of Haitians is the central event in the book, and is described with nightmarish clarity; the book may remind readers of more recent atrocities in Bosnia and Rwanda, and the refugees flowing over the borders of these and other countries. Danticat is aware that...

(The entire section contains 1304 words.)

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