The main character and narrator of the novel (age 15). Esch is the only girl in her family and one of few women in the novel in general. Growing up solely around men has lent her a sense of independence and a tough exterior, and Esch bears the hardships of falling in love and pregnancy without complaint or weakness. She is athletic and in touch with her own body, but only to the extent that it is non-feminine; as she witnesses her body becoming more anatomically feminine, she attempts to distance herself from it. Prone to daydreaming, Esch is obsessed with Greek myths and uses them to make sense of her world, obsessively comparing herself to the sorceress Medea. She frequently consults memories of her mother for guidance and strength, giving her mother’s character an almost embodied presence in her life. Esch is fiercely loyal to Skeetah and cares for Junior as if he were her own child. She fears her father and strives to stay out of his way.
Esch’s older brother, the second-to-oldest of her siblings (age 16). Skeetah is, above all, loyal to his dog, China, caring for her as he would for a girlfriend and respecting her feminine power to both nurture and destroy. A lone wolf, Skeetah is prone to superstitious behavior and spends much of the novel seemingly in touch with his environment’s underlying tone of foreboding; in this way, he is a kind of prophet figure. He is stubborn and generally resentful of his father, but he has a soft spot for Esch.
Esch’s stern, alcoholic father. Clearly mourning the loss of his wife even after seven years, Daddy is bullish and almost always drunk on cheap beer. He resents Skeetah’s aloof attitude, as he feels his children have a duty to assist him in preparing for the impending hurricane. While he often appears grumpy and threatening, Daddy also has a sentimental side, saving pictures of his deceased wife and ultimately caring deeply for his children.
Esch’s oldest brother (age 17). Randall is talented at basketball and dreams of earning a scholarship to play in college. He is more social than Skeetah, and more oblivious. Randall is generally loyal to their father, assisting him without question in performing chores. Resentful of Skeetah’s stubborn nature, not to mention of their father’s constant drunkenness, Randall often shoulders the burden of leadership in the family. He recognizes that Junior idolizes him and seems to pursue basketball as a means of escape from the pressure of his family situation.
Esch’s youngest brother (7 years old). Junior looks up to his brother, Randall, and, like a typical 7-year-old, is easily distracted by puppies and mischief. He is generally afraid of his father and is given to hiding under the family’s front porch. It was during Junior’s birth that the children’s mother died; his siblings shared the responsibility of raising him, so he looks to them for guidance.
Skeetah’s prize pitbull. Esch often compares China, whether directly or indirectly, to Esch’s deceased mother, to Medea, or to Esch herself. In general, China functions as a symbol of the intersection of the feminine and the fierce.
Esch’s deceased mother. Though physically departed, Mama continually asserts herself as a real character in the novel, punctuating Esch’s memories in a manner that borders on supernatural. She serves as Esch’s sole female role model—aside, perhaps, from China—in a world dominated by men. As Esch remembers her, Mama was gentle and wise, telling stories and teaching her children to hunt for eggs around their house. Mama’s parents were the original owners of the property on which Esch’s family now lives.
Randall’s closest friend and Esch’s chief love interest. Esch idolizes Manny and continually compares him to the sun, the moon, and most often to Jason in the myth of Medea, thereby indirectly assigning him the role of betrayer. Manny is roughly sensual but never truly romantic with Esch, though he eventually comes to fear Esch’s intensity. He is loyal to Randall as a friend but ultimately cowardly in failing to take responsibility for his relationship with Esch.
A friend of Skeetah and Randall’s. Big Henry is nicknamed after his large physique, but he is a gentle giant. He is a good friend to the family and always a gentleman to Esch. Big Henry is often useful to Esch’s family, as he has a working car.
A friend of Skeetah and Randall’s, and the boy to which Esch lost her virginity.
Manny’s girlfriend. Esch considers her shallow and silly. Although Shaliyah is prone to jealousy and often confronts girls she suspects of being Manny’s mistresses, Esch does not cross her mind as a potential threat.
Manny’s cousin and the owner of Kilo, the dog that impregnated China.
Salvage the Bones Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Salvage the Bones is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.