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“Salvage the Bones” is a woman’s coming of age fiction novel that follows along with a poor African American family living in Bois Sauvage Mississippi in the year of 2005. Facing the tragedy of following twelve days leading upon the arrival of hurricane Katrina.
Esch is a fifteen year old girl living with her family of her father and three brothers being considered to be the only girl in the family after her mother “Mama” unfortunately passed away as she was giving birth to Esch’s little brother Junior. Growing up without a mother not only taught Esch to be independent but at the same time developing on how to become a woman. In an interview with Michel Martin, Ward mentions:
“Well, I’d had Esch’s character in my head for a while and I knew that I wanted to write a novel about her, about a girl that grows up in a world full of men.”
Esch is often surrounded by men, she’s grown up with having no mother figure but is being raised with her brothers, Skeetah, Junior and Randall by her alcoholic father. Besides that she is as well surrounded with more men in her life, her brothers friends Big Henry, Marquise and Manny. Esch has to pretty much suck it up and live with all these men in their life bringing in the famous sport of all time basketball and to which can be disturbing to some people dog fighting.
“What China is doing is fighting,
like she was born to do.”
It’s hard in Esch’s position because she is the only girl in the family and she is still trying to learn the process of womanhood and it isn’t either, the children without having Mama struggle to take care of each other as well as there’s barely anything left in the family.
In the beginning of the novel China, Skeetah’s adored pitbull is giving birth to puppies as she is being surrounded by everyone in the family.
“Now China is giving like she once took away, bestowing where she once stole. She is birthing puppies.” (Ward 1)
After the birthing of the puppies, around August it is when it gets really hot. Hot to the point where it makes the water that’s inside of a well boil. Esch is starting to not feel so well, she is having early pregnancy symptoms such as nausea, light headed as well as dizziness, the most common symptoms. Skeetah then asks Esch if she wants to come along with him to the grocery store to get dog food, while in the grocery store Esch secretly has her hands inside of her pockets ripping out a pregnancy test from the box and putting in into her waistband of her shorts that she was wearing. Now the symptoms of pregnancy are starting to kick in even more, at first she kinda blames China on how sick she’s feeling but then suggests to take the test, Esch is throwing up every other day, not eating as much since you do tend to get disgusted by certain foods while pregnant. Shortly after, Esch finally takes a pregnancy test and it came out positive!
“Two lines mean that you are pregnant. You are pregnant. I am pregnant. I sit up and curl over my knees, rub my eyes against my kneecaps. The terrible truth of what I am flares like a dry fall fire in my stomach, eating all the fallen pine needles. There is something there.”
After Esch discovers that she is pregnant, she processes everything at once thinking about what is it going to be like for her to raise a child of her own, without having the guidance of her mother, will she be able to handle this new chapter of her life of entering motherhood? She thinks to herself. Although she is surrounded by men, whether they can be a positive or a negative role model for her it is the only thing that is going to be able to set her an example of what is the meaning of becoming a woman and at the same time how to be a mother are those around her. When Esch begins to see what is out there to help her go through the process of motherhood and womanhood, she has the memory of her mother with her. Even though Mama isn’t in the families life physically she is there with them spiritually and mentally. Coming again back in the beginning of the book when China is giving birth to the puppies, it had reminded Esch of her mother
“What China is doing is nothing like what Mama did when she had my youngest brother, Junior. Mama gave birth in the house she bore all of us, here in this gap in the woods her father cleared and built on that we now call the Pit.”
We begin to see the new coming journey for Esch on transitioning into a mother and woman on her own. Mama is considered to be that type of mom that is a strong woman who isn’t afraid of not one thing, she was more of she is going to do what is needed to do without taking no for an answer. Mama wouldn’t stay quiet about anything she will stick up for herself and handle her business. Mama’s death now has Esch taking over that role of a mother which indeed helps her at the same time, she is a woman that will never be forgotten and will always remain in everyone’s memory. When Esch is taking care of her father it reminds him giving him flashbacks of Mama, he sees how nurturing and caring she is just like Mama.
“He hasn’t changed a thing here since Mama died: there are small glass candle holders with tall peach candles wedged into them, and two small bunches of fake flowers in squat vases looking cups that Mama placed at both ends of the dresser.”
Esch looks up to Mama as a woman who is a great mother to her children, a wife to a husband, loved by her family, independent strong woman and made sure she did everything she could do for what was in the end best for her children. In an article from the New York Times, the influence of a mother is so important and is considered to be a huge impact in the life of a child. And it perfectly goes well with this novel because the article mentions a single father with children which relates to Esch’s father
“If a son or daughter who loses a mother never receives adequate substitute mothering, the loss can do long term damage to his or her self esteem, ability to relate to others, overall feelings of security and ability to trust others.”
Instead this has a negative impact of Esch because even though she hasn’t had her mother for quite a long time now, she lives and continues her mother’s legacy based on her memories in which is what makes her still go on in life. Through the eyes of every child, mom’s are seen to be the best mother in the world, one of the people they look up to the most, the greatest role model you can ever have. As Ward was writing this novel she knew for a fact Mama would play a huge role in the life of Esch of being the perfect role model for her having her to be the one she should look up to when it comes to motherhood and womanhood. Besides Mama being the perfect motherhood and womanhood role model for Esch to look up to, she also is on the lookout for other good role models as well which isn’t bad, it’s always good to keep your options out but do keep in mind that not everything that you come across will leave you on a positive note. One role model that isn’t so positive for Esch to look up to is from the story of Jason and the Argonauts, Madea.
Madea was one of those that was unexpected for Esch to come across after Esch looking up to Mama with so many positive aspects that she is still being remembered through her memories. After Esch reading the story of Jason and the Argonauts during her English class, in the story both Medea and Jason run away together to get away from Medea’s father. As well as to make the king slow down they both ended up killing her brother. Instead of this story had a happy ending like your typical crazy love stories, Jason ends up with another woman falling madly in love with her in which of course leaving Medea heartbroken. And so Medea’s way of getting
“Revenge” after getting her heart broken, she murders Jason’s new woman and Madea murders her own children that she had together with Jason leaving him with nothing left. Coming across Medea it leaves off Esch wondering is this how motherhood really is? Medea can be known to set a bad example for Esch in this case, Because Esch is relating her life to Medea’s pointing out she sees Jason as to be Manny, and Medea to be Esch. In Joseph Noshpitz’s book The Journey of Child Development, he informs that when your a young girl still trying to figure out things in life, the way things happen/work, etc. These fictional books with fictional characters have a huge impact in the lives of these young girls playing versions of female gender roles since some can be relatable to them just like how Medea is to Esch.
“When Medea falls in love with Jason, it grabs me by the throat. I can see her… She has magic, could bend the natural to the unnatural. But even with all her power, Jason bends her like a young pine in a hard wind; he makes her double in two. I know her.”
Manny is the father of Esch’s child that she is carrying, and sees her own reflection of herself in the character of Medea. For example to her she considers herself to be Medea, Manny is Jason, and Esch’s little brother is like Medea’s brother.
“I tried to read this morning, but I stopped in the quest for the Golden Fleece, distracted again by Medea, who can only think of Jason, her face red, her heart aflame, engulfed by sweet pain. The goddess struck her with love, and she had no choices. I could not concentrate. My stomach was its own animal, and thoughts of Manny kept surfacing like swimmers in my brain; I had my own tender pain. I slid my book between the wall and my bed and slunk to the kitchen, flinching Daddy’s hurricane supplies.. I will go to Skeetah like Medea went to her brother when they fled on their great adventure with the Argonauts.”
This story she views it more as her love situation with Manny, but reading how Medea was part of murdering her own brother with Jason, realizing the horrible things she would do all so that she can be with Jason.
“I read it over and over again. It is like she is under the covers with me, both of us sweating to the water. To get away from her, from the smell, Manny still on me a night and morning afterward, I get up.
Esch can’t turn into someone like Medea, the way Medea was madly in love with Jason to the point where things got too overboard making her murder their children they had together. Remembering her mother “Mama” would never hurt such child over a man after getting heartbroken. A good mother would never do what Medea did over one man. Esch in the beginning though Medea was your ideal perfect role model for motherhood and womanhood, but as it was mentioned earlier again, you can’t always think that everything you see is a positive thing. Another positive role model that Esch can look up to for motherhood is China, Skeetah’s pit bull. In the beginning of the novel, Esch is more focused on China since she just had given birth to puppies, she notices the respect that China has for Skeetah
“Skeetah ignores Junior because he is focused on China like a man focuses on a woman when he feels that she is his, which China is. Randall doesn’t say anything but stretches his hand across the door to block Junior from entering.”
In the ending of the novel “Salvage the Bones” Esch progressed a lot, throughout the novel she has taken steps little by little on what it is to become a woman and a mother at the same time willing to take that next step in her life and learn for herself. With her mothers memories within her she has learned to follow her mother’s footsteps an important one is being independent herself. Medea on the other hand, was just a lesson. From Medea, Esch learned that in a relationship you can’t give everything up just for one man. Medea thought she had everything until the tables turned for her after Jason breaking her heart. From China, Esch learned that women should always be respected by a man, and gain their trust never fall off from it because if it does then it’s just a waste of her time and don’t even bother. Esch is one of those characters that you can just go on and on about when it comes to coming of age.
In the novel “Salvage the Bones”, Jesymn Ward added the character Esch into the novel therefore we can sort of have a way to connect with the character one way or another. I can say I relate to both Mama and Esch, Mama reminds me of my other so much. She is such a strong independent woman and is considered to be one of my biggest role models. Unfortunately she is sick, her worst fear is leaving me without knowing whether im ready to be independent on my own or what not. But by Esch’s character I think I will be okay, living by her memories just like Esch did keep her going, following Mama’s footsteps realized what it’s like in womanhood. We the readers saw how Esch progressed in the novel from the beginning to the end. After finishing reading the novel, it has a much more meaning to it than just Hurricane Katrina. Jesmyn Ward has made a voice for those who aren’t able to speak up or are afraid to. There are stories that need to be told in the real world, society is one of them that need to recognize what life is like for a lot of people.
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