Salvage the Bones

Salvage the Bones Summary and Analysis of Chapter 8


Esch awakes to Junior’s pesky questions, as well as severe body aches. Junior explains that Skeetah told him he couldn’t attend the dogfight unless Esch did, and that Randall is angry with Skeetah for fighting China so soon after she gave birth. Randall also points out that, since he was kicked out of the game for the fight Skeetah started, the only way he will still be able to attend basketball camp is if Skeetah pays for it by selling a puppy—a task that will be made difficult if China is injured in the fight.

Trying to distract herself, Esch attempts to finish Mythology but finds herself unable to move past the section in which Medea kills her brother for Jason. She feels as if Medea is under the sheets of her bed with her, and as if she can still smell Manny. To escape them, she finally forces herself to get out of bed.

Junior asks Esch why she slept so late and says that Daddy was surprised she didn’t bring him food that morning. He assures her that Randall made eggs for Daddy. Esch peeks into Daddy’s room, where he is sleeping with the TV on, still playing news broadcasts about the hurricane. Junior continues to beg her to attend the dogfight, and she finally agrees.

Sitting on the toilet, Esch watches Skeetah and Randall fight outside the bathroom window while Skeetah hoses off China, whose coat gleams white. Randall continues to beg Skeetah to not let China fight, and Skeetah stubbornly refuses. He also briefly alludes to Manny’s betrayal of Esch, but Randall misunderstands and incredulously asks if Rico looked at Esch aggressively. Skeetah laughs and responds, “You don’t know shit, do you?” (157.) Randall shakes his head and tells Skeetah he reminds him of Daddy—“always crazy for something” (157).

Esch and her brothers have to walk through the woods to get to the dried-up lake where the dogfights regularly occur. On the way, Esch notes the near-supernatural quality of the forest, where natural swimming holes are black with dirt and the oak trees are so large their branches drag on the ground like separate tree trunks. Esch’s stomach feels full of water, and she remembers that Medea’s betrayal of her brother took place on the water, as well.

Arriving at the dried-up lake, tucked away in a clearing, Esch watches the boys make small talk about their dogs and match each dog with at least one other. Marquise is there with his cousin, Jerome, who owns a large, stocky dog named Boss, whom he plans to pit against Kilo in China’s stead. Esch spots Rico and Manny across the clearing, where Kilo paws at the dirt, his coat the same color as the ground. Esch notices the wind picking up and wonders how strong the hurricane will be.

Esch watches as several dogs fight. Marquise’s dog, Lala, runs into the center ring playfully and is bitten. China dutifully watches the fights at Skeetah’s side, calm as can be.

Boss and Kilo finally fight and, after several rounds, seem to have arrived at a tie. Rico asserts that Kilo won the fight, but Jerome and several other boys argue that there was no clear winner. Rico ignores them and asks Skeetah for the puppy he agreed to sacrifice if Kilo won his fight. Skeetah decides to let China fight, amid Randall’s protests that the puppies will need her teats—her most vulnerable body part—to nurse. Randall orders Junior to climb a tree, hoping to distract him from the impending fight between China and Kilo.

Esch thinks she hears Skeetah chanting a fast-paced pep talk into China’s ear, repeating, “Make them know, make them know, make them know” (171). Rico and Skeetah release their dogs, and in the first round, China sinks her teeth into Kilo’s neck until both boys call their dogs away.

Rico has to drag Kilo away from the fight, but China responds to Skeetah’s call and happily trots toward him. As Rico wipes the blood from Kilo’s neck, Esch notices Manny telling Rico, “She ain’t shit, ain’t got no heart” about China (173). Esch feels as if he’s saying it about her.

In the second round, Kilo and China collide and Kilo goes for the easy move, ripping off the nipple on one of China’s breasts. China rips part of Kilo’s ear off, but the boys call their dogs away, and Kilo is the clear victor of the round.

Randall urges Skeetah to end the fight there, as China’s breast is clearly torn open. Skeetah refuses, and the dogs collide once more. Skeetah yells, “Make them know,” and China seems to hear him, digging her teeth into Kilo’s neck again. Esch imagines China’s dialogue with Kilo, her lover, in which China spits, “Hello, father...I don’t have milk for you...But I do have this” (175-76). Kilo whimpers and the boys call the dogs away one last time. China turns to run toward Skeetah, bringing a part of Kilo’s throat with her.

As Kilo whines, Esch sees Junior doing a victory dance in the mimosa tree nearby and imagines he is dancing to Kilo’s whines as if they were a song.


In the eighth chapter, Ward switches gears from the simile-heavy, lyrical style on which she has depended throughout the novel, now using a terser, more action-packed style. While Ward continues to insert memories, musings, and fantasies—mainly Esch’s continual fascination with the Medea myth—into Esch’s narration, this deviation into a more action-centric narration fits well into the whiplash-fast dogfights that define the chapter’s plot.

The centerpiece of the chapter is the fight between Kilo and China, which Esch envisions as a symbol of the revenge on Manny that she fantasizes exacting. Esch builds on her earlier personifications of China as a woman, both mother and lover, describing China’s first attack on Kilo as a “face-tonguing lover’s kiss” (172). When China retreats from the fight’s first round, Esch equates the blood on her lips with lipstick and the blood on her ankle with a red garter. Here, Ward fleshes out the theme that love is often equivalent to violence, as China becomes both lover and fighter at once, just as Esch wishes she could be with Manny.

In this way, the final dogfight serves as a proxy for Esch’s imagined relationship with Manny and is almost explicitly discussed as such when Manny quietly tells Rico that China “ain’t shit,” since Esch feels as if Manny is talking about her instead (173). However, for most of the chapter, this symbolism is drawn out via Esch’s extended allusions to Medea’s vengeance on Jason after he betrays her. Walking to the dogfight arena, Esch is reminded of this betrayal by the water sloshing around in her stomach, and later, as Manny disparages China into Rico’s ear, Esch explicitly equates Manny with Jason in the act of betraying Medea.

Myth and allegory also manifest in the chant that Esch imagines Skeetah reciting to China before her fight, which depends on Biblical syntax but also invokes the rhythms of rap music. “Make them runny, China, make insides outsides, China,” he sings, “make them know, make them know, make them know” (171). Indeed, this passage reads like a combination of freestyle rap and Biblical psalm, with “make insides outsides” applying Biblical syntax in the same vein as “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low” (Isaiah 40:4). These epic, Biblical qualities position China—and women, by extension—as a god-like force, able to exact legendary vengeance in order to demonstrate her power once and for all.

This chapter also builds on existing motifs of chaos and impending doom. The setting of the dogfights in a “dried-up pond...matted with dry yellow reeds” is ironic given the threat of the (female) hurricane that will inevitably fill it many times over (159). Esch feels the power of water when she notices her “stomach feels full of water, hurts with it” and remembers Medea boarding the boat on which she would slay her brother for a lover who would later betray her (159). Here, water takes on both violent and female qualities that Daddy has previously associated with Hurricane Katrina. Esch notices a hawk circling the site of the dogfights, a symbol of death that positions the mostly male crowd beneath as prey.

Even Esch’s description of the woods as larger than life, which veers into territory of magical realism, evokes prehistoric qualities associated with apocalypse. She makes an analogy between the wind (as it relates to the impending hurricane) and the way one hears a person’s voice as they cross a doorway into another room, again equating the storm to a living, breathing person.

Esch continues to pay special attention to color throughout the chapter, particularly white and red. China is “cocaine white” after Skeetah washes her, and her coat shines almost “silver” in the shade (158; 170). This silverish, shiny quality is mirrored in the razor that Skeetah stores in his cheek, the sharpness of which is, in turn, mirrored in Esch’s descriptions of him as sharp, “his hand a blade” (158). In contrast, Esch also keeps an eye on the color of Rico’s friend’s too-white sneakers, which redden as the day wears on. As the dogfights wear on, Esch continually compares the dogs’ injuries to pieces of red clothing, noting Kilo’s injury turning from “a scarf” into “a necklace” when Rico wipes at it (172). Importantly, Kilo’s coat is the same color as the dirt that muddies the sneakers Esch notices, and China is a sparkling white. This juxtaposition of red against white ties into the novel’s larger themes of good versus evil and love mingling with violence.