Salvage the Bones

Salvage the Bones Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Medea and Jason (Allegory)

The story of Medea and Jason is an allegory that appears throughout the novel. It serves as an empowering lens through which Esch envisions her future with Manny, since she aligns herself with Medea, who ultimately takes revenge on Jason. Esch departs with this allegory to the extent that she is actually a merciful character and does not fully give in to her role as a scorned woman.

Water (Symbol)

In general, water symbolizes chaos in the novel. At the start of the novel, we learn that Junior fears and avoids taking a bath, characterizing water as a mysterious and even dangerous substance. Later, Esch unsuccessfully attempts to engage Manny in sex while swimming in the red lake behind her house, learning for the first time that he has no romantic feelings towards her; in the same scene, Randall warns Skeetah about the water moccasins (i.e. snakes) below the surface. Esch also likens the water in her own pregnant belly to the waters sailed by Jason and Medea, who met tragic fates. Later, the hurricane will explicitly justify these accumulating fears about water as a sinister force.

Pit (Symbol)

The Pit symbolizes doom and punishment, in tune with the Biblical imagery of pits of vipers, lion's dens, and especially Hell. At the novel's climax, the Pit's low elevation becomes a literal punishment, as the family realizes their house is flooding faster than they expected.

Eggs (Motifs)

Eggs become an important motif in the novel as Esch attempts to understand her changing, pregnant body. For her family, eggs are also a staple food, and the corresponding image of Esch searching for hen's eggs in her yard becomes a symbolic proxy for the sense of mystery she feels in relation to her own womb. The image of Esch and her family consuming eggs also takes on a mythological significance in this way, since Medea is famous for killing her own children.

Blooming (Motif)

Esch often likens vaginas and the act of giving birth to blooming flowers. At the start of the novel, for example, she remembers Mama giving birth to Junior, who looked as "purple and blue as a hydrangea" (2). She contrasts this with the way in which China gives birth, but she still incorporates words like "bulb" to set the scene, lending a sense that bringing new life into the world constitutes its own springtime and symbolizes renewal.