Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

The central theme of Those Bones Are Not My Child is that the struggle for freedom and equality for African Americans is not over and indeed that it continues to be a fierce battle against powerful forces that are determined to destroy the progress made so far. These forces include overt racism, epitomized by the Ku Klux Klan and other right-wing extremist groups; drugs and drug violence, particularly in inner-city environments where both are rampant; and child sexual and other exploitation, demonstrated by what happens to Sonny. Equally threatening to racial equality and social justice is the self-interested pursuit of profit by capitalist leaders. If such leaders care about the murders of African American children at all, it is only because the murders could affect tourism and other economic interests.

Bambara sees counterpoised against these forces the central unit of the family, struggling to remain intact and keep its members safe. Thus, it is no coincidence that Marzala and her husband, Spence, reunite after Sonny disappears and make his safe return their top priority, along with keeping their other two children safe. Indeed, their struggle in Atlanta against multifaceted oppression and violence is probably intended by Bambara as a symbol of the dilemma of African Americans throughout the nation’s history. Bambara’s message is that the only solution to this dilemma is to wake up to the reality of racial oppression and fight against it, as Marzala and Spence do. They may not win the larger battle of discovering the real murderers of forty or more children, but they win the small battle of saving their son, and Bambara’s message is that through small successes, great victories are eventually won.


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Those Bones Are Not My Child illustrates Bambara's attempt to tell her community's story. Locating the novel in the historical moment...

(The entire section is 1126 words.)