Salvage the Bones

by Jesmyn Ward

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How does Esch's love for Manny in Salvage the Bones reveal about her character?

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Early in the book, Esch says that before Manny, she let other boys have her “girly heart” (as she describes her sexuality) because they wanted it—not because she wanted to give it. “I’d let boys have it because for a moment, I was Psyche or Eurydice or Daphne. I was beloved. But with Manny, it was different; he was so beautiful, and still he chose me, again and again. He wanted my girl heart; I gave him both of them.”

Esch sees her love for Manny as the kind of passionate, all-consuming love portrayed in myths and legends. Later, she says, “I imagine that this is the way Medea felt about Jason when she fell in love, when she knew him; that she looked at him and felt a fire eating up through her rib cage, turning her blood to boil, evaporating hotly out of every inch of her skin.”

This shows the depth of Esch’s feelings for Manny and also shows her intelligence through her connection to the legends of the past, which on the surface, couldn’t be more different from the circumstances of her own life.

When Manny denies he is the father of her baby, Esch’s furious reaction reveals her strength. She doesn’t shrink away, and even as she attacks him physically, she tells him she loves him, which is a brave act of honesty for a young girl or anyone. Manny is not worthy of her love, but the fact that she feels so deeply for him and shows such strength gives us hope that she will be a good mother to her baby.

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In short, Esch describes her love for Manny in a strange way, as "certainty" and "as deep as a tree's roots."  This reveals that Esch's character is both passionate and loyal.  

It is the way that all girls who only know one boy move. Centered as if the love that boy feels for them anchors them deep as a tree's roots, holds them still as the oaks, which don't uproot in hurricane wind. Love as certainty.

These words from Esch are the best evidence in regards to her intense love for Manny.  She uses a particular literary device in her description of this passionate love: the simile.  A simile is a comparison using the words "like" or "as."  In this case, Esch's love is compared to "a tree's roots" running deep within the ground.  This kind of love can't be uprooted, even by "hurricane wind."  The description reveals how strong Esch's love for Manny truly is.  Esch's love is not temporary.  It is certain.

Esch also reveals something about love when she talks about her mother "mashing" words together.  Esch "mashes" words together, too.

‘Belove’ when Manny was curling pleasure from me with his fingers in mid-swim in the pit. 

Note that the words "be" and "love" are combined in this quotation.  This is another bit of evidence of Esch's passionate love for Manny.  The irony is that Manny is always desiring sex, but Esch believes love to be much more than sex.  She often laments that Manny "never kisses her the way she has seen him kiss another girl."  Esch desires this kind of passionate kiss from Manny very much.  Thus, even though Esch has had sex with other men, Manny is the only man who Esch truly loves.

He is not the first boy she has been with, but he is the only one she has truly wanted.

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