Salvage the Bones

by Jesmyn Ward

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In Salvage the Bones, why don't Esch and her family leave before Hurricane Katrina hits?

Quick answer:

This family is not going to leave. They have never left before and, in terms of their own perception, they are not poor. They do not depend on the state for anything so this is not about feeling abandoned by a government that does nothing for them. The father takes each storm as it comes, making preparations and doing his best to protect their home and then just living through it. This time, though, there is no time to prepare and worse still, he has an injury that prevents him from being physically able to do what needs to be done. It is interesting that Esch'

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Preparing for hurricane season is nothing new for this family and Daddy goes about sealing up the house, trying to fix the truck and using wood from the chicken coop for extra protection on the house. He feels that this one is different from other recent storms, all of which the family has coped with: "Makes my bones hurt … I can feel (it) coming." Every one else just goes about their business - even if it is dog fighting - revealing the ruthlessness of their environment. There is no expectation of leaving or of doing things differently.

Daddy seriously damages his hand and is laid up in bed for a few days, the children agreeing to finish taking the necessary measures to secure the house for the approaching storm. Other than that, life appears to continue as usual and still no thoughts that it may be better to leave. The family follows the progress of the hurricane, now named Katrina and a category 3 storm, as it approaches Louisiana. Almost systematically, they follow Daddy's instructions. Apparently they are not the only ones as, at the store, where Skeetah goes for supplies, there is very little left and Skeetah has spent much of the money on the dog's supplies. They even go to the "white people's house" intending to steal food but the house is empty. Those people obviously evacuated, revealing the stark reality for those living in poor conditions who do not really have the option of leaving.

When Katrina is a category 5, the telephone rings. It is a pre-recorded message from the state government warning of the hazards of remaining behind and encouraging everyone to evacuate. But this family does not even consider it. They discuss where they should sleep but do not really discuss what to do until they are actually faced with the dilemma of water coming through the floor as they are huddled in the living room in the midst of Hurricane Katrina. 

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