Salvage the Bones

by Jesmyn Ward

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1117


Esch is a fifteen-year-old girl who lives in Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, with her father and three brothers. She is loving and strong-willed, and acts as a caretaker to her youngest brother, Junior, more so than her own father. As the third of four children, Esch remembers when her mother died giving birth to Junior. Esch grew up fending for herself in her family’s junkyard and turning to books for escape and understanding.

The novel follows Esch as she discovers that she is pregnant in the week before Hurricane Katrina strikes the Gulf Coast. Esch struggles with the concept of motherhood throughout the novel; having lost her own mother, she lacks support and advice, and she goes without telling her brothers and father about her pregnancy out of fear. She feels that her brothers and fathers don’t understand her or her condition and can’t “see” her for who she is.

Esch’s love interest, Manny, is the father of her child. She is in love with Manny, despite him ignoring her and dating another girl named Shaliyah. When Esch finally gets Manny to see that she is pregnant with his child, he denies it. Esch shows her strength and ferocity as a character when she attacks him for this; she compares herself to the Greek sorceress Medea.

At the end of Salvage the Bones, Esch has accepted her pregnancy and upcoming motherhood. She finds that she is surrounded by supportive family members and friends, and that she doesn’t need to rely on Manny. Esch’s growth as a person is an example of the strength and empowerment found through motherhood.


Skeetah is sixteen years old and is the brother who is closest to Esch. Skeetah is passionate about his fighting dog, China, and goes to great lengths to care for her. Skeetah helps China whelp her puppies at the start of the novel. For Skeetah, China is a source of pride. He hopes the sale of her puppies will help support the family, and make it financially possible to send his older brother Randall to a summer basketball camp. Furthermore, unlike his other brothers and father, he is more observant and is the first to suspect Esch’s pregnancy and conflict with Manny.


Randall is seventeen and Esch’s oldest brother. He is passionate about basketball, hoping to earn a scholarship to a basketball camp that is frequented by college scouts. Randall acts as a father-figure to Esch and his younger brothers whenever Daddy is absent.


Junior is seven years old and the youngest of Esch’s siblings. Despite the gap in age between Junior and the others, Junior is eager to participate in their activities and adventures. Junior is the member of the family who is the most willing to talk about his grief over his mother. When Esch cares for Junior, she revisits memories of her mother.


Daddy is Esch’s father. He drinks alcohol heavily and is often absent from the home. He is the only member of the family concerned about preparing for hurricane season at the start of the novel. He is also the only member of the family to fully acknowledge the threat posed by Katrina, as his children are distracted by their private lives. After injuring his hand while preparing for the hurricane, he is incapacitated during the crisis itself as a result of medications and his alcohol consumption.

Although her never voices it, Daddy is deeply affected by the loss of his wife. Left alone to care for his children, Daddy is unable to parent them properly and fails to understand his daughter or...

(This entire section contains 1117 words.)

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to help his sons. His children end up caring for him and fending for themselves.


Though she died during childbirth six years before the events of the novel, the memory of Mama looms large in Esch’s mind. Gradually, Esch begins to identify with her and understand her more deeply. Though Esch feels lost and abandoned without her mother, memories of her mother give guidance and comfort over the course of the story.


Manny is nineteen and one of Randall’s friends. Initially, Esch is in love with him. She enjoys their sexual relationship, though Manny keeps it a secret from his friends and girlfriend. When Manny discovers that Esch is pregnant, he insults her and refuses to acknowledge his paternity. Manny is best friends with Randall and considers himself family to Randall. However, after Randall sees that Manny has hurt Esch, Randall rejects Manny’s friendship.


Rico is Manny’s cousin. Rico owns Kilo, the prize fighter dog that sired China’s pups. Rico comes into conflict with Skeetah when he tries to claim one of China’s puppies for himself.

Big Henry

Big Henry is another friend of Randall’s who lives in the neighborhood. He has a car, so he helps drive Esch and Skeetah to and from the store. He also accommodates Esch’s family when their house is destroyed after the hurricane. Though he and Esch have never been romantically involved, he assures her that he will be there for her when she has her baby.


Marquise is friends with Skeetah and Randall. He is the first person with whom Esch had a sexual relationship.


Shaliyah is Manny’s girlfriend. They live together, and she is fiercely jealous. Esch is intimidated by her, fearing that she will find out that Esch has slept with Manny. Shaliyah seems more affluent than the others from Bois Sauvage. She is always well-dressed, and Manny is freshly groomed whenever they are together.

Papa Joseph and Mother Lizbeth

Papa Joseph and Mother Lizbeth are Esch’s maternal grandparents. They owned the property on Bois Sauvage originally and left it to their daughter’s family after their deaths. Their home still stands on the property, and Esch and her siblings take from it when they need supplies for their own home. When the hurricane hits, the Batiste family goes to Papa Joseph and Mother Lizbeth’s house for shelter.


Medea not a character in the story; she is a sorceress from Greek mythology who traces her lineage to Helios, the sun god. Medea helps Jason and the argonauts steal a golden fleece from her father. When her father pursues them, Medea kills her brother, knowing her father will stop to mourn for him. Later, after Medea has borne two children, Jason leaves her for a more politically advantageous marriage. In response, Medea kills his new bride and their two children. Esch reads the myth of Medea over the course of the novel and analyzes Medea’s choices as she makes her own.