The Farming of Bones is told in first person narrative through the character of Amabelle Desir. Amabelle narrates in past tense with memories and dreams interlaced within it. The story is not told from the beginning of Amabelle’s life but instead, it encapsulates the period of the life leading to the massacre and her life after. The memories and dreams intermingled within the story gives insight into her character and add to story development. For instance, many of the chapters that consist of a single memory deal with her parents. These memories delve into Amabelle’s haunting past and reveal information about her development as a character. Further comprehension of Amabelle’s life and development as a character is accomplished by the author’s use of second-person narration in Chapter 19, the single time that the character breaks the third wall that separates her from the narrator. For example, Amabelle says:
“At first you are afraid to step behind the waterfall as the water in all its strength pounds down on your shoulders. Still you tiptoe into the cave…”
This is a reflection of Amabelle’s life throughout the story as although she is afraid of what may come, she still searches for Sebastian even with the risk of death closely by her side.
Edwidge Danticat attributes her love for storytelling to those of Haitian women who congregate to tell their stories, known as “kitchen poets.” The style of The Farming of Bones is reminiscent of “kitchen poets.”
“And in Sylvie’s eyes was a longing I knew very well, from the memory of it as it was once carved into my younger face: I will bear anything, carry any load, suffer any shame, walk with eyes to the ground, if only for the very small chance that one day our fates might come to being somewhat closer and I would be granted for all my years of travail and duty an honestly gained life that in some extremely modest way would begin to resemble hers.” (Ch. 41, p. 306) Danticat uses Amabelle to tell the story as if she is an older woman, trying to teach the newer generation about the past in hopes that they can learn from it. In this case, Amabelle intimates her failures of her past and hopes that the younger generation, Sylvie, will be able to learn what Amabelle had.
Major formal strategies
In terms of literary devices, Danticat relies very heavily on symbolism to apply to a more general truth. Another marked symbol in The Farming of Bones is parsley. It is the pronunciation of parsley that determines who lives and who dies in the Dominican Republic. In one instance, parsley is referred to being used to “cleanse” insides as well as outsides and “perhaps the Generalissimo in some larger order was trying to do the same for his country (Ch. 29, p. 203).” In this case, the Generalissimo uses parsley as a determinate of life or death. Furthermore, in another instance, parsley is an ability to conform to others, for the Haitians it is that “their own words reveal who belongs on what side (Ch. 41, p. 304),” the result of which is death. This marked difference that the Haitians are unable to conceal, is like the mole of Felice. The noticeable birthmark of Felice is something that she cannot escape and having it, results in prejudices against her, most specifically Kongo’s inability to accept her worth as a person.
Not only does Danticat utilize dreams as a vehicle of character development, but she also uses dreams as a vehicle for the characters to escape reality and nightmares as a means to haunt them of their past. While Amabelle frequently dreams of her parents drowning in the river, Sebastien dreams of his father’s death in the hurricane. Yves is tortured with nightmares of his father, with his eyes wide open and glazed over, he says, “Papa, don’t die on that plate of food. Please let me take it away (Ch. 22, p. 129).” Although Amabelle, Sebastien, and Yves can try to move on from the past during their daily lives, they cannot escape the truth of their nightmares. However, the characters in The Farming of Bones continue to try to find solace in the comfort of their dreams. Amabelle says, “I looked to my dreams for softness, for a gentler embrace, for relief from the fear of mudslides and blood bubbling out of the riverbed… (Ch. 41, p. 310).” As a refuge from the rigors of real life, dreams serve as “amulets to protect us from evil spells (Ch. 37, p. 265) ” or to protect the Haitians from the harshness of reality. In fact, Man Denise seeks refuge from her life and the pain of losing her children, saying “I’m going to dream up my children (Ch. 33, p. 243).” Although the characters depend on dreams to protect and mollify them, providing an escape from reality, dreams are not always guaranteed and nightmares may actually come to haunt them in their sleep.
Lastly, sugarcane is another important symbol found in the book. One of Amabelle’s recurring dreams is one of the sugar woman. The chains bind the sugar woman and she wears a silver muzzle. This muzzle was given to the sugar woman so that she would not eat the sugarcane. However, despite her confinements, she is dancing. Much like the workers, they come to the Dominican Republic to find work and a better life and stay due to the work that they find in the mills that they cannot find in Haiti. Regardless of their hard work, the workers cannot taste the sweetness of the sugarcane; instead, they are bound by it. In fact, they cannot escape it. Danticat even describes Sebastien with his sweat as thick as sugarcane juice and many of his defining scars a result of working in the cane fields.
Aside from Danticat’s use of symbolism, foreshadowing is also heavily prevalent. For example, the doctors states that “many of us start out as twins in the belly and do away with each other (Ch.4, p.19).” This foreshadows not only the death of Rafael, but also the fate of the Haitians. The Haitians and the Dominican both hail from the same island and struggle to survive among the same resources. 1 However, it is the Dominicans who try to do away with the Haitians in the form of the killings. In addition, the twins serve as further foreshadowing in terms of the Rosalinda’s caul and Rafael’s death. The caul served as an omen of bad luck to come and Rafael’s unexpected death foreshadowed many more deaths, such as the sudden death of Kongo’s son and the unprecedented number of deaths of Haitians.