Salvage the Bones Symbols and Motifs

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
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Salvage the Bones Symbols and Motifs


More than just a pit bull, China is the purest representation of the power of nature in the novel. As a female dog, and as a mother, she also represents female strength and the power that can be derived from motherhood. The fact that she is able to both nurture and destroy demonstrates this dual-sided character of the natural world. She also serves as a reflection of the novel’s main character. There are direct comparisons made between her and Esch and when the narrator finally realizes her own strength, she sees herself as equal with China: “she will know that I have kept watch, that I have fought. China…will call me sister …she will know that I am a mother” (258).


The absent mother of the Batiste children is a heavy presence in the novel and Esch carries her in her thoughts continually, recalling her behavior as a guide for her own. She also looks to China for a definition of “motherhood”, as she thinks about her own mothering. There are chauvinistic attitudes in the story that associate motherhood with weakness, but China demonstrates the opposite reality with her ability to fight and overpower a large male dog. Skeetah, using China as an example, also promotes a more respectful view of motherhood: “‘that’s power…To give life…is to know what’s worth fighting for’” (96). The power of the mother is also described in reference to the hurricane. While Claude makes a disparaging comment that the hurricane is “the worst, she’s a woman” (124), Esch describes Hurricane Katrina as the “murderous mother who cut us to the bone but left us alive, left us naked and bewildered as wrinkled newborn babies…She left us to learn to crawl. She left us to salvage. Katrina is the mother we will remember…” (255). Ultimately, the author stresses the point that motherhood is not to be seen as a weakness, but as a formidable force of nature that is more powerful than humankind can understand.

Medea, Greek Mythology

Throughout Salvage the Bones, Esch is reading a book of mythology assigned by her high school English teacher and…

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