Jesmyn Ward

Salvage the Bones

  • 31-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 12 chapter summaries and 6 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a high school English teacher with over 10 years of experience
Access Full Summary

Salvage the Bones Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature.  This 31-page guide for “Salvage the Bones” by Jesmyn Ward includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 12 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Nature’s Destructive and Life-giving Power and Attitudes towards Women.

Plot Summary

Salvage the Bones tells the story of the Batiste family in Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, in the twelve days leading up to Hurricane Katrina. Claude Batiste’s wife, mother of Randall, Skeetah (Jason), Esch and Junior, died a few years ago, right after Junior was born. The kids still live with their father, in an area called the Pit. They are a poor, black family, who mainly survive on what Claude can make by salvaging and then selling scrap metal. He is an alcoholic and not much of a presence in the story; the children are left to fend a lot for themselves, with Randall acting as a parent for Junior.

The story begins with Skeetah’s pit bull, named China, preparing to give birth to puppies. China is only friendly with Skeet and is his ticket to some financial freedom; he could sell China’s puppies for nearly $800. He uses China to fight, and her puppies will make excellent fighting dogs as well.

We learn that Esch has a sexual relationship with Randall’s friend Manny, and later in the story it is revealed that she is pregnant with his child.

The first ten chapters trace the lead up to the hurricane and show the family making various preparations for the storm on their father’s orders. However, no one is taking the impending storm as seriously as Claude. They aren’t able to stockpile very much food; the materials they use to store water are repurposed bottles and the wood they use to board up the windows of the house are misshapen and leave gaps. These boards are mostly picked over from the house that their grandparents used to live in on their property.

China has four puppies and a fifth that is dead at birth. In order to protect them from parvovirus, Sketch needs to break into a white person’s house and steal medicine. China has some issues with the puppies–at one point, she tries to abandon them–but Skeet nurses them carefully. All of his attention is focused on taking care of China; he is not concerned with the oncoming hurricane.

Esch tries to hide her pregnancy from her family and when she meets Manny in a bathroom, he knows she is pregnant by feeling her swollen belly. When she sees her brothers again, Skeetah knows that Manny is the reason Esch is upset. They get into an argument and Manny’s cousin, Rico, demands that they settle the score with a dog fight. He wants to determine whether or not he gets one of China’s puppies, as his dog sired the litter she just had.

Another friend, Marquise, offers up his cousin’s dog, Boss, to fight instead of China. They have the dog fight, and Boss is hurt badly. China must then finish the fight and even though her breast is badly injured, she wins. The victory is short-lived though, as the hurricane moves in.

There is an argument between Skeet and Claude about having China and the puppies in the house, but Skeet wins. The storm begins and things seem fine until the water seeps in under the floors. The water has risen so much that they are forced to move into the attic. Then, the water rises even more and they escape the house though a hole they create themselves. While sitting on the roof of the house with the puppies in a bucket and China wrapped around his body, Skeet sees that the roof of their grandparents’ house roof is still above the water. The family jumps to a nearby tree and from the top branches are able to jump over to the grandparents’ roof and then climb into their attic for safety. In the process Esch loses the puppies in the water and China wriggles her way free from Skeetah and is lost. It is also in this dangerous moment that everyone learns that Esch is pregnant, as Skeet tries to get her into the house first.

As the water subsides, the Batiste family surveys the damage done to Bois Sauvages. Skeet refuses to leave the yard in order to wait for China to come back. Esch, Randall, Junior and Claude find Big Henry’s house. He takes them in and they are cleaned up and fed. The last section of the book provides a description of the aftermath of the flooding. Skeet believes that China will come back to him and with the help of people like Big Henry, the book ends with a sense that the Batiste family will survive and continue as they always have.

This is just a preview. The entire section has 759 words. Click below to download the full study guide for Salvage the Bones.

Chapter 1