Salvage the Bones

Salvage the Bones Summary and Analysis of Chapter 6


Outside, Daddy’s swearing and banging as he tears down the family’s chicken coop echoes through the air. Inside, Esch devours Vienna sausages she pilfered from Daddy’s hurricane supplies and waits for Skeetah to return to the house. He has been hiding in the shed ever since his fight with Daddy the previous night.

Esch briefly tries reading from Mythology, but quickly gives up and goes to look for Skeetah. He is indeed in the shed, and he’s worried about China. He thinks he may have given her too much worm medication the day before, though Manny suggested the dosage based on what his cousin, Rico, who owns the dog that he bred with China, had suggested once.

Noticing how dirty Skeetah is, Esch suggests he take a bath to avoid infecting his numerous cuts. He obeys, and Esch watches the dogs with Junior, who eagerly prevents the puppies from leaving the shed. Esch thinks he’s too eager to play with the puppies and pinches him—hard. She draws blood. Pouting, Junior asks Esch if she’ll take him to the park. She agrees.

Remembering the way Mama used to gently wake her up in the morning before school—whereas Daddy bangs on the wall to wake them up now—Esch heads toward the park with Junior and Skeetah, who wants to take China on a run so she’ll sweat out any sickness. Junior pauses and runs back to the house, returning with a bike missing its seat. “Found it,” he explains cheerfully (116).

Junior, Skeetah, and Esch pass the houses of black Bois Sauvage on their way to the park, and Esch notices the overgrown entrance to the park, which county convicts unsuccessfully attempt to tame each year. Skeetah diverts toward the cemetery with China, and Junior and Esch enter the park, where Esch suddenly notices Shaliyah and her cousin, Felicia, watching the neighborhood boys play basketball. Manny is one of them.

Determined not to sit in the shade near the girls, Esch sits in the sun and bakes. She wonders if Shaliyah notices Manny favoring his injured arm during sex, the way he does with Esch. Manny notices Esch watching the game and begins to play recklessly, much to the other players’ annoyance. Randall pats Manny’s back, and Manny calms down. He makes a show of waving to Shaliyah.

When the game finishes, Big Henry invites Esch to relax in his car, which he parked in the shade. Junior and Randall come too, and Randall tells Big Henry he might make the cut for basketball camp, where college scouts would be able to watch him play. They drive home, with Junior riding his bike beside them and Skeetah running China nearby.

At home, China collapses lethargically in the shed. Daddy calls for Randall’s help with the chicken coop, and Junior climbs onto Randall’s back. Daddy wants Randall to drive the tractor into the chicken coop in such a way that the whole structure will collapse at once. Randall is reluctant because Daddy can drive the tractor better, but Daddy assures him it will work, since he will guide Randall to hit the coop just right.

Daddy’s growing even more worried about the storm coming. “It has a name now,” he says. “Like the worst, she’s a woman. Katrina” (124).

Junior insists on riding the tractor with Randall. Skeetah retrieves bacon grease from the house and coats China’s food in it, hoping she’ll summon her appetite.

In rapid succession, Esch’s narration cuts between the shed and the chicken coop. In the shed, China lashes out at her largest puppy, who tries to nurse, and bites its neck until the puppy is mangled, flinging it aside. Outside, the chicken wire tangles in the tractor’s grill, and Daddy unsuccessfully urges Randall to stop the tractor as he tries to extricate the wire, reaching inside the grill. Randall does not hear Daddy and moves forward, mutilating three of Daddy’s fingers.

Skeetah frantically searches for the injured puppy, wailing, “Why did you?” Daddy echoes him, screaming, “Why?” to Randall and Big Henry, who runs to help him. Esch looks to China, who is “bloody-mouthed and bright-eyed as Medea,” and asks, “Is this what motherhood is?” (130).


In this chapter, several existing plot threads reach a tipping point, particularly Skeetah’s anxiety about the health of China and her litter, as well as Daddy’s boiling nerves with respect to the approaching hurricane. Ward structures the final pages of the chapter somewhat like the climax of a film, cutting between the violence transpiring inside the shed and the accidental carnage outside at the chicken coop. Esch positions herself at the crux of this violence both physically and as its narrator, since she takes care to move to the doorway of the shed so that she “can see everything” (124).

Esch’s narrative tendency to frame her life using the story of Medea likewise culminates in this chapter. She is the one who notices China’s bloody mouth and bright eyes after the dog kills her strongest puppy, the one who instantly applies the legend of a woman who kills her children to the scene.

When Esch internally asks China, “Is this what motherhood is?” she also refers to her secret intention to force her own miscarriage (130). Overall, these themes of motherhood, or womanhood in general, as inherently violent tie into the hurricane’s new femininity: “it has a name now,” Daddy says of the storm as if the hurricane itself has just been born. “Like the worst, she’s a woman,” he says, a remark that echoes in Esch’s mind as she wonders, surrounded by boys, whether she and China—the mothers—are the evil ones.

Esch also builds on past metaphors of her love for Manny as a wound or burn, this time contrasting it with interpretations of Shaliyah’s steadier love for Manny. “She is calm and self-possessed as a housecat; it is the way that all girls who only know one boy move,” she says of Shaliyah. “Centered as if the love that boy feels for them anchors them deep as a tree’s roots, holds them still as the oaks, which don’t uproot in hurricane wind” (119). In using simile to compare Shaliyah’s love to stalwart trees that will survive the hurricane, Esch is drawing a line between this rooted, sensible love and her own fiery, dangerous love; this line falls along the lines the aesthetic Apollonian and Dionysian divide, the former governed by reason and control, and the latter governed by sensuality and spontaneity.

Along these lines, Esch envisions her body as a raisin as she watches the game from the sunny side of the park, shriveling until the “sweat, water, and blood” leave her skin, until her organs dry up. “If I could, I would reach inside of me and pull out my heart and that tiny wet seed that will become the baby. Let them go first so the rest won’t hurt so much” (122). In this gruesome imagery, we see Esch’s account of her mother’s death from the first chapter mirrored. “Junior came out purple and blue as a hydrangea,” Esch narrates then, later describing herself in the same way she does Mama, as frail bodies giving way to a new seed that will blossom into a flower (2). This imagery, however, heavily contrasts China’s (and by extension, Medea’s) style of mothering, where the mother selfishly inflicts cruelty on her own children.

The novel’s latent supernatural tone also asserts itself throughout this chapter, not only in Esch’s mention of Medea, but also in her narration, which invokes the idea of speech acts and conjuring. When Skeetah says of China, “I can’t lose her,” Esch narrates, “There is danger in what Skeetah says...Reckless to say it aloud, to call it down, to make it possible” (110). This progression insists upon the magic of words, which casts Skeetah in the role of a conjurer, a role that, in a way, he has filled throughout the novel. Skeetah continues to serve as a kind of sorcerer, almost supernaturally in touch with nature and particularly animals, watchful for signs of danger and death.