Salvage the Bones

Salvage the Bones Summary and Analysis of Chapter 11


As Esch and her brothers prepare to ride out the storm, she recalls her mother explaining to her what a hurricane was for the first time. Esch, Randall, and Junior move their bed linens to the living room and take turns watching TV. In the waning light after dark, Esch reads about Medea and realizes that water will be deadly for both her and the Greek goddess.

Esch is also the one to answer the phone when the automated call comes warning the family of the hurricane. It encourages them to evacuate and renounces all responsibility for their lives if they do not. She remembers Hurricane Elaine, when Mama let her peek through the plywood laid over the windows and into the storm, simultaneously letting Esch feel her belly, pregnant with Junior and full of water. She remembers her mother telling her about Hurricane Camille, as well, and about how the water made Papa Joseph, Mother Lizbeth, and her sick after the storm.

Esch wakes up to find the house without power and imagines talking to the storm, calming it so that her baby would hear. The wind outside sounds like a train, and Esch remembers her mother telling her that’s how the wind sounded during Hurricane Camille, too. Skeetah appears, the only other family member that is awake, and invites Esch into his room, where China is sitting on the bed. Skeetah remembers Mama talking about the wind, he says, but he cannot remember her voice. He tells Esch she looks like her.

Remembering her last moments with Mama, Esch recalls sneaking up to Mama’s bedroom window with Skeetah and Randall while she struggled to give birth to Junior. Mama noticed them peeking but did not tell Daddy they were outside. Skeetah remembers her telling the kids she loved them and to take care of each other as Daddy carried her to his truck the day she died. Esch doesn’t remember that.

They hear a dog whimpering outside, and Skeetah wistfully agrees they can’t go outside to help it. China begins acting strange and leaps from Skeetah’s bed just as a loud noise sounds from Daddy’s room. A tree has fallen on the house and burst into the room. The kids rush into the room, where Daddy is unharmed. They catch him shoving a package he takes from his dresser into his pants.

Daddy and Skeetah relocate to the living room. Esch is dumbfounded, as she believes China knew the tree would fall before it did. Skeetah dismisses this idea.

Later in the day, Randall spots liquid pooling under Junior and assumes he’s urinated. Esch, reading from Mythology, feels moisture as well, and she wonders if she’s miscarried. Gradually, the family realizes the house is flooding. They look outside, where a lake is forming in the Pit, and see what Esch assumes is a boat come to rescue them, but it is actually Daddy’s truck floating in the water.

As the water rises, the family makes their way up into the attic to escape. Esch takes the puppies with them in a bucket. She realizes that the package she saw Daddy with earlier is a plastic baggie full of family photos.

The family feels the house tilting and notices the attic filling with water. Randall recalls a family who drowned in their attic during Hurricane Camille. He finds a chainsaw and cuts a hole in the roof just as the water nearly swallows them up.

On the roof, the hurricane is vicious. Esch notices the detritus of the yard floating in the water. Trees crack like fireworks in the wind, and China grips Skeetah. Skeetah points to Papa Joseph and Mama Lizbeth’s old house, which they realize is on a hill they never noticed before. They decide to grip the tree that burst into Daddy’s room and swim towards the house. Each person will have to jump onto the tree trunk in order to reach it.

One by one, each member of the family jumps onto the tree. Skeetah asks Esch to swim with him and China to the other house, but Daddy protests, annoyed that Skeetah is thinking of the puppies in the bucket that Esch still carries. He argues that she’s too small. Skeetah tells him Esch is pregnant, and Daddy pushes Esch off the tree trunk.

Daddy quickly regrets pushing her and tries to help her back up. When she flies backwards, the three puppies fly out of the bucket into the water and Esch feels them judging her as they hit the surface. She grabs the brindle puppy and shoves it in her shirt, but the hurricane submerges her, and she hears it calming her, speaking to her. Skeetah releases China from the makeshift sling he’s created to keep her fastened to his body and pulls Esch to the surface.

The family finally reaches the other house’s attic, but the hurricane carries China away towards the woods. Skeetah calls for China, hysterical. Junior covers his eyes and repeats the word ‘no’.


In this chapter—the novel’s climax—a number of motifs that Ward has developed throughout the novel reach their culmination. Mama’s ghostly presence, often accessed by Esch through memory, is at its most visceral. Indeed, Mama becomes almost synonymous with the hurricane: her watery belly is a metaphor for the water chaos of Hurricane Elaine.

The motif of seeing and clairvoyance comes to a point, as well, as the psychic qualities he once exhibited are now evacuated from him and transferred to China and Esch. Even with the storm upon them, Skeetah denies its strength, but Esch notices China’s new clairvoyance when China seems to predict the tree falling through Daddy’s room before it happens.

Esch is also assigned psychic powers of a kind when she is the one to answer the phone call warning the family of the storm; in fact, she connects this scene to her memories of looking out the window at Hurricane Elaine as a child, even to touching her mother’s belly, a gesture that is inherently tied to forecasting a future disruption of peace and order (i.e. birth).

Biblical motifs are also ubiquitous in this chapter. When Esch notices the lake forming in her yard, she likens it to a snake that “has eaten something greater than itself” and realizes “it is coming” for her family, an allusion to the story of Adam and Eve (227). Later, as she prepares to jump onto the tree trunk that will carry her family to safety, she says that her “heart is a wounded bird, beating its wings against the cage of [her] ribs,” a reference to the story of Noah and the flood (232). Embedded in these Biblical references are nods to punishment and apocalypse that endow Hurricane Katrina with the power to kill and cleanse.

Ward also follows up on similes that compare Skeetah and Randall to various sharp and metallic objects by emphasizing that the boys are now growing softer. Though Esch still encounters imagery linking men to metal, it comes this time in the form of an anonymous man on the telephone with an "iron throat," who informs her of the coming hurricane (217). In contrast, Randall in particular is described as becoming "soft" under the pressure of preparing for the storm (227). These gender-related power shifts speak to the power of the storm to upset order and hierarchies, leaving room for new power dynamics that could allow women, including Esch, more strength.