Salvage the Bones

Salvage the Bones Literary Elements


Southern Gothic; Novel.

Setting and Context

Bois Sauvage, Louisiana; the days leading up to and following Hurricane Katrina.

Narrator and Point of View

First-person narration from the perspective of Esch.

Tone and Mood

Ominous, foreboding, gritty, dreamy, and lean.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Protagonist: Esch; Antagonist: Hurricane Katrina or Manny

Major Conflict

Conflicts abound in the novel, but chiefly revolve around two distinct tensions: that between Esch's family and the unmerciful force of Hurricane Katrina, and that between a pregnant Esch and her lover, Manny. The latter tension hinges on whether Esch will reveal the baby is Manny's (and whether she will seek revenge when he fails to take responsibility).


The climax comes in the form of Hurricane Katrina's landfall, specifically the moment in which Esch and her family must escape from the attic of their own home and swim through the storm to seek shelter in Mama Lizbeth and Papa Joseph's house.


-Skeetah's foreboding comment that the water moccasins in the Pit lake will not bite him because he smells like death
-Esch continually compares various aspects of the Pit property (the broken cars, Mama Lizbeth and Papa Joseph's house, her father's neck, etc.) to rotting carcasses and food
-Esch's continual comparison of herself to Medea and of Manny to Jason naturally foreshadows her real-life relationship's downfall
-Esch compares her love for Manny to visceral, grotesque imagery such as a dying squirrel's beating heart, foreshadowing the decline of her tryst with Manny
-Fleas coat Esch's legs at the start of Chapter 4, evoking the dark imagery of the Biblical plagues of Egypt
-Esch aligns the flush of the toilet after she and Manny have sex in the elementary school bathroom with the coming hurricane, creating a sense of foreboding
-The motifs of clairvoyance and impaired vision, which take shape in personifications of rabbits and Mama Lizbeth and Papa Joseph's "blind" house, foreshadow an imminent apocalypse by implying that both people and things in Bois Sauvage should be alert
-Junior's fear of baths foreshadow the destructive power of water that will be embodied by Hurricane Katrina




-Esch continually alludes to the myth of Medea and Jason
-Esch mentions that she read William Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying" the previous summer
-Esch alludes to the myth of Eurydice, in which Orpheus unsuccessfully attempts to retrieve Eurydice from the underworld following her death
-The novel's imagery of apocalypse (such as the fleas that coat Esch's legs at the start of Chapter 4) often alludes to the Biblical plagues of Egypt


See Imagery section of this ClassicNote.


-It is paradoxical that as the hurricane approaches, Skeetah becomes increasingly less attuned to the ominous signs around him.
-It is paradoxical that Esch often envisions love and sex as inextricable from violence and hate.


-Skeetah's chants to coach China for her final fight against Kilo demonstrate parallelism, as Skeetah continually uses "China" to punctuate his chanting: "Make them runny, China, make insides outsides, China" (171).
-Esch's final narration at the end of Chapter 12 uses parallelism by beginning each sentence with "we will" and later with "she will" (meaning China).

Metonymy and Synecdoche

-Metonymy: "They are pink yawning tongues" uses tongues as a substitute for the tiny, writhing bodies of China's puppies (39).


-Throughout the novel, Esch continually personifies China as if she were a woman, mother, and lover, particularly in relation to Skeetah, with whom Esch often envisions China having a romantic, even sexual, relationship.
-Esch continually treats the decaying elements of the Pit as if they were decaying bodies.
-While running through the woods to steal from the white people's house, Esch sees a rabbit whose eye is "wide and glazed as if it is seeing something supernatural," personifying it as a clairvoyant (70).
-Esch calls Mama Lizbeth and Papa Joseph's house a "blind house with closed eyes," personifying the property by imbuing it with the ability to see (71).
-Esch continually personifies the coming hurricane; this is particularly embodied in a passage at the close of the novel, where she calls Katrina "the mother that swept into the Gulf and slaughtered" (256).