Salvage the Bones
The Complexity of Junior
Although Junior in Salvage the Bones is only 10 years old, his character not only is complicated but also provides complexity to the rest of Ward’s novel. His birth resulted in the death of Mama, which leaves the rest of the family motherless and alone to fend for themselves in the Pit. Without a mother or even peers close to his age, the youngest of the Bastiste siblings was forced to grow up more quickly than the average 10-year-old. Despite this, Junior’s brothers and sister still view him as a baby, and never seem to recognize that he has experienced horrors that have forced him to grow far beyond his years. During the majority of the novel, Junior is constantly trying to prove to Randall, Skeetah, and Esch that he is, in fact, mature enough to be involved with their lives. However, when Katrina hits the Pit, there is a clear retraction of the brave and mature boy that Junior has proved to be, leaving the reader with a only a scared shell, traumatized by the stormy waters.
Junior has a much deeper understanding of his surroundings than his siblings are aware of. When all of the Batiste siblings decide to go to the basketball game to support Randall, for example, Junior is quick to realize Esch’s distress after the incident in the bathroom with Manny. In this moment Esch describes Junior’s actions, “I want to let Junior go ahead of me back around the building to the gym, so I walk slowly, but then he walks slower so he doesn’t leave me, and it takes us 10 minutes to walk around to the front” (147). She goes on to say, “He loops his arm around my elbow like he is escorting me” (147). Although Esch expects Junior to run off with the other children in the gym, leaving her alone, he does not. He is acutely aware of the pain that Manny had put her through only a few minutes prior in the bathroom, and although Esch may not think of him as mature, he clearly is able to pick up on what is happening around him.
Junior’s short life has been riddled with adversity, as he has been exposed to much more than an average 10 year old boy. Daddy, who is often drunk and uninterested in Junior’s upbringing, sheds the burden of his youngest son’s life onto the older children. As a result, Junior has not been protected from many of the more mature activities that his older siblings participate in. While the family and Big Henry are on the way to Randall’s basketball game, Esch narrates, “I am glad to be sitting in the backseat by the window in the car, Junior’s bony rump squirming in my lap, Skeetah in the middle of pulling at the blunt, Marquise next to him at the other window, opaque through a cloud of smoke” (140). Esch’s nonchalant description of the events seems to mask the strange reality that, rather than protecting Junior from illegal substances, they are open to smoking marijuana within feet of him inside of a closed car. Despite all of this, Junior is still considered the baby, and is treated as if he is oblivious to the happenings in the Pit. In one of the most eye-opening moments in the novel, after Junior finds Daddy’s severed finger with the his wedding band still in place, he exclaims, “‘I know about his hand and the beer and his medicine… I saw it when he smashed it. I found it… I see things!’” (185). It is clear that this moment resulted from mounting frustration on Junior’s part due to his family’s belief that he is simply a naive child, with no ideas or concerns about what is happening around him.
Hurricane Katrina brings out a different side of Junior, as he no longer tries to be mature, but is clearly petrified by the storm and dependent on his older siblings. While the siblings are braving Katrina, just barely holding onto survival, the usually talkative and opinionated Junior says next to nothing throughout the entirety of the chapter. In the days following the hurricane, when they have finally made it out of the flooded Pit and found safe haven at Big Henry’s house, Junior is still so traumatized by near-death experience that he is unable to let go of Randall. On their trip to see the destruction in St. Catherine’s, the neighboring town, Esch narrates, “Junior is scrambling onto Randall’s back again, and Randall loops and knots his arms under Junior’s legs. Junior’s cheek brushes against Randall’s: I haven’t seen him set Junior down since the hurricane” (251). It is clear that the hurricane caused a retraction of Junior’s “mature beyond his years” persona. In just one day, the relentless, stubborn, and brave character that the rest of the novel describes is suddenly transformed into a frightened child. In the final two chapters of the novel, it is evident that not even Junior’s difficult life could not prepare him for the horrors that Katrina posed. Though he may have more life experience than a typical 10-year-old, he is still just that, a young boy.
Junior’s siblings treat him unfairly throughout the duration of the novel. They constantly expose him to events meant for people much older, failing to realize that their actions are inappropriate for a small boy. As a result, Junior is forced to grow up exceedingly quickly, as even Esch describes him as her “shield” (140). By the end of the novel, Junior shows strong signs of becoming a more mature protector; however, Katrina demonstrates that he is still a young, and very scared, boy who may not necessarily be ready for responsibility to be placed upon him.
Woman’s Best Friend: Esch’s Responses to China in “Salvage the Bones”
Throughout Savage the Bones, Jesmyn Ward places considerable emphasis on growth and change within Esch — whether the multiple descriptions of Esch’s pregnant belly, or how she sees herself as a fighter who breaks the stereotypical male-female dynamic by becoming the stronger, more mature party in her affair with Manny. This focus is interesting because her growth is in direct relation to China in almost all cases. Particularly in the case of Esch’s journey into womanhood. In this essay, I will show that China’s role in the novel is to be a direct guiding presence to Esch. Through many paradoxes within China’s life, Esch is able to relate and learn.
We first see evidence of China having a direct impact in Esch’s life in the very first page of the novel. As China is in labor to deliver her puppies, Esch immediately correlates this to the death of her mother. Esch’s mother birthed all four of her children in their Mississippi house, like China and Esch, her mother is described as a fighter. Her mother was determined not to go to the hospital even as she hemorrhaged blood after Junior’s birth, and as China is giving birth in the very same “pit” Esch relate herself to China while relating China to her mother. Esch tells the reader how when she was child, her father often compared her to her mother, describing them both as “fighters” (Ward, 2) and later Esch referred to China as a fighter while the she endured childbirth. Being the only other female around after her mothers passing it is easy for Esch to allow China to fulfill a motherly role in her life emotionally. As if fighting is an inherited trait, Esch makes it seem like fighting runs in the family and if her mom has it, as well as China, Esch sees them as one of the same.
This notion is exemplified when Esch personifies China during her birth. Esch takes note of how Skeetah gives China feminine traits, especially when it comes to needing help. While preparing for Juniors birth Esch recalls how she and her father were “no help, although Daddy said Mama told him she’s didn’t need any help”(Ward, 1-2) this is exactly like Skeetah coaching China through delivery, as a husband would, not only focusing on her “like a man focuses on a woman when he feels that she is his, which China is” (Ward, 3), but also like Skeetah telling Esch that China “don’t need no help pushing”.(Ward, 4) In this way, China becomes equivalent to Esch’s mother, and Esch relates directly to her mother spirit through China. This is when Esch first begins to realize she can learn, compare, or take actions similar to China as she would when following her own mother’s footsteps.
In chapter two, we see an extended description of China guiding Esch to find the delights of pregnancy. The chapter beginnings with Esch, being led into a shed that holds China and her puppies, they are nursing from her, and Skeetah refers to them as miracles. This is one of the joys that come with motherhood, and almost immediately followed by Esch’s memory of looking for eggs with her mother. This is one of the ways Ward correlates Chinas actions to Esch’s mother so that Esch can uncover something new about herself. Esch searching for hen eggs in her yard becomes a symbol of the confusion, she feels about her body and her, not known to her yet, unborn child. By allowing Esch to see China’s “miracles” (Ward, 21) right before the memory of her mother helping her find eggs, Ward hints that since she no longer has her mother, and is longing for her mother, China is something to fulfill this absence. By the end of the chapter Esch learns of her pregnancy and instead of thinking of ways to fix the problem or hid it, Esch embraces the fact that for the first time that there is something or someone inside her. With China just having children of her own, and because she sees parts of her mother in China, Esch uses China as a guide in her own exploration into motherhood.
Another direct correlation where China guides Esch through a point in her life is in regard to sickness and health. In chapter three Esch says she is “Sick from the moment I open my eyes,”(Ward, 37), this is right before the reader learns that China is refusing to allow her puppies to nurse, because she is sick. Esch is the one to point the idea that China doesn’t want her babies to catch the virus, and this is one of many verifications that Esch is making feminine connections with China. Esch is learning that being a mother is going to be hard and that she must do things that may hurt her but are for her children. Esch not only had to struggle to keep her food down, but must endure throwing up over to smells that she is used to. China also shows her solidarity within this chapter by snarling at Skeetah. Skeetah tried to make her puppies nurse, which would end with their deaths. China shows that a mother must be a mother no matter the circumstance. This is enforced when Esch is rejected by Manny at the pond. Esch envisions that she is a fetus in a womb, trying to sink deeper away. This can be compared to China’s exterior after rejecting her puppy from feeding. Esch described her as “eyelids droopy, and suddenly she looks tired. She is a weary goddess”(Ward, 40). After the pond scene Esch realizes she may have to be a single mother, also like China, and it takes a toll on her. Both China and Esch seem to want to escape and take a break from the tolls of motherhood. But, like China who puts on a brave face and allows the rest of her puppies to “pull on her swollen breast”(Ward, 40) Esch returns to the surface knowing she can’t hide and must be a mother no matter her situation.
More evidence where China has a direct impact on Esch’s life is in regard to rebelling against motherhood. In chapter five when Esch recalls hearing girls at her school list ways to force a miscarriage, and considered the “throwing yourself on something hard and metallic.”(Ward 102) option. Esch thinks she may be able to find something to jump on, like the dump truck hood or a washing machine rotting in the yard.(Ward, 102) Following these thoughts the next chapter brings the death of a puppy. China lashes out at one of her puppies and bites at its neck until the puppy is mangled. This scene is parallel to the mutilation of Esch’s father’s fingers, and as Ward describes the blood on the “pulpy puppy in China’s mouth” (Ward, 129) and “the meat of his fingers” being “red and wet as China’s lips” (Ward, 130) the scene is to be symbolism for if we’re to decide to throw herself against the truck. But, as Esch notes hearing Skeetah begins wailing, “Why did you?” the symbolism is confirmed. Once again looking to China for guidance, Esch personifies China again as she is “bloody-mouthed and bright-eyed as Medea,”( Ward, 130) and asks, “Is this what motherhood is?” (Ward, 130). This is an affirmation that Esch wants to not only learn from China, but also that China is willing to teach her. China showed Esch what the death of an innocent looks like and from the bloody death of her child she taught Esch and that being a mom is hard but you just can’t give up or stop trying. This is not only shown by China, killing her puppy, but by her brother mutilated her father, proving that a child can hurt you just as much.
China impacts Esch again, and perhaps the biggest impact on Esch, appears in chapter eight, where China fights her puppies father and, what might be considered as a lover, Kilo. Through this not only does Esch imagine China is talking to her but, it is also a lead up to more important events in chapter 10. Through this dog fight China leads Esch to realize that she doesn’t need Manny to love her, like her, or be in her life. Constantly throughout the novel Esch compare and relates her life to China, and when Esch notices Manny telling Rico, “She ain’t shit, ain’t got no heart” about China (Ward, 173), Esch feels as if he’s saying it about her. It is after this that China viciously rips out a part of Kilos neck proving to Esch that although they the father of their children and lovers, ultimately, they do not matter. Furthermore, not only as women they strong, but that as mothers can rise above anything, even those who took a part in making the child. This dogfight served as a proxy for Esch’s relationship with Manny, and China has now allowed Esch to realize that she doesn’t need nor want Manny anymore. In chapter ten when Esch says she is “on him like China,” (Ward, 203) it is the first time, Esch sees the strength that her father, China, and her mother say in her. Esch gets into a fight with Manny, and in full force rakes her fingernails into Manny’s face and drawing blood, much like China in regard to Kilo, Esch attack Manny with no regret. Esch has a full understanding about the power she has as a woman, and by stating that “tomorrow…everything will be washed clean” (Ward, 205), she acknowledges that she will follow Chinas lead and go through childbirth without the father, because she doesn’t need him. Through physical violence Esch relates to China once again, and she learns that it is okay to be a “raging woman” if after you move on and learn your past mistakes. It took her watching China rip her lover’s throat out and walk away to realize that she had emotions of jealously, anger, and envy because she couldn’t have Manny and that it only hurt her more. Ragging women who stay mad can’t forget their pain and end up hurting themselves. Esch wants to be a strong woman, like China, so she decides to better herself and move on from Manny.
Following Esch’s final revelation hurricane Katrina comes, and although a violent storm, it washed away a previous Esch along with China. Ward specifically killed off China much like Esch’s mother, unexpectedly. This was needed because it allowed Esch to realize that she doesn’t need to face things alone, but if she did she has the strength within her. When Esch’s mother died, she sought guidance through her dog because she believed she couldn’t face the world without some sort of woman to look up to. China was beloved, but Esch needed to recognize the mother with herself, and understand that instead of searching for someone to be her mother figure, she needed to learn to be one for her baby. With all this in mind, the final way Esch can relate to China is by realizing that her family will always be there for her. China had Skeetah helping her and loving her throughout the whole novel, much like Esch has her family that were looking out for her whether she noticed or not. With all that has been discussed in this essay, one can see how Esch has finally grown and matured in the way that she needed. She now embraces the burgeoning of motherhood, she has defeated and gotten over Manny, and she has opened her eyes, much like a newborn baby, and realized she is not alone in her journey to motherhood. Chinas guiding presence is confirmed to the reader with the final image of the book has Esch imagining China’s return and thinking, “She will bark and call me sister . . . she will know that I am a mother.” (Ward, 259). This proves that Esch is truly ready to be a mother, and she acknowledges China as the same.
The Absence of a Mother in Salvage the Bones
Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones depicts the Batiste family, a poor, black family in southern Mississippi living in a crater in the earth called “The Pit.” Plagued with an invading red tint‒similar to that of hell‒and disarranged structure, The Pit is reflective of the Batiste family’s life: dysfunctional and deplorable. The mother of the family is not physically present, yet the father of the family, though physically present, offers no parental guidance to the children. In any case, the family’s true issue is the absence of a mother figure. Throughout the novel Ward takes a psychological approach to present symbols for the different types of mothers in the world. In her novel Salvage the Bones, Jesmyn Ward offers insight on the negative effects an absent mother places on families.
Ward utilizes different characters and animals in her novel to demonstrate that without a mother, family relationships are tarnished and, ultimately, ruined. A study conducted by Qingbo Xu, a doctor of gender studies at The University of Helsinki found that children with an absent mother “s[a]nk into [a] nonchalant and avoidant state [due to] anxiety, terror, rage, or desolation due to their mothers’ disappearance (Xu 150).” Xu also claims that motherhood is not a natural instinct. He claims that, although a woman’s body undergoes many physical changes during pregnancy, these “do not automatically induce motherly devotion and nurturing behaviours (Xu 157).” First, she employs the sole daughter of the Batiste family, fifteen year old pregnant Esch, to symbolize mothers who are unsure of how exactly to be a proper mother. Without the guidance and advice from a mother, Esch must attempt to understand motherhood on her own through observing the characteristics of mother figures around her. Then she must make a decision as to whether or not these characteristics are feasible for her own child with no example of which are best to choose. Likewise, new mothers observe, read books, and research on how to properly take care of their first child. China, the Batiste’s dog, is another example of the aggressive type of mother. This type of mother, though protective and caring toward her children, is quick to anger and disciplines harshly. This type of mother is exemplified when mothers are stressed or sick and their children bother them. The mother gets angry and aggressive toward the child, although they do still care for and love the child. However, without this type of mother, children do not experience both a disciplinarian and a comforter in a parental figure.
The chickens on the Batiste farm are yet another symbol for motherhood. These represent the over-protective mother. The chickens attempt to hide their eggs, to keep them from the outside elements. However, Esch and her family still find them and cook them up when they feel like it no matter how well the chickens have hidden them. This is representative of the mother who attempt to shield their children from the harmful and/or dangerous situations in life. No matter how hard they try, they cannot tuck their children away from the experiences of life. This symbolizes the sense of duty in mothers to protect their children at all times. Without this type of mother, children are deprived of the true parental guidance needed to become a successful and productive adult. Hurricane Katrina is another object that represents the concept of motherhood. The hurricane is described as a nasty monster and “snake that has come to eat and play” (Ward 227). But, in the end, the storm ended up being the very thing that brought the Batiste family together, the thing that forced them to align with each other as a family as they should have been doing in their time of trial. This is symbolic of the mothers that are seen as mean or unfit in the eyes of their children and families. Ward, with this instance, argues that all mothers, no matter the type, possess a characteristic that is unity. Without a mother in the home, families fall apart, as exemplified by the Batiste children’s expedited maturity and their attitudes towards their father. Ward insists that a mother acts as a liaison of family affairs. Her job is to keep the family in one piece and mediate disagreements, either with love, care, and tender affection or with aggression, violence, and stern discipline.
Throughout the novel, Ward presents readers with evidence that mothers must be physically present in order to have any real effect on children. Throughout the novel, Esch recollects memories of her mother whenever she needs advice or has a problem she does not know how to solve. However, no matter how much she remembers how beautiful and strong her mother once was, she cannot attain these characteristics without the aid of her mother’s presence and influence. This comes to fruition early in the novel when we learn that Esch “does not consider herself pretty (Locke 16).” Although she resembles her mother closely, Esch has a low self-image because she lacks the influence of a confident woman in her life. It is for this reason that Esch allows the boys in The Pit to have sex with her against her own wishes. Because all those close to her are males, Esch was robbed of the opportunity to learn about womanhood and lessons on how to possess self-confidence and to respect herself as a woman. She began having sexual intercourse at the young age of twelve, but Locke suggests, “Who was there for her to learn about sex and its consequences…? (Locke 16).” Her mother being there for a section of her life is, according to Locke, not an acceptable amount of mothering to produce a knowledgeable, competent woman. Esch’s memories of her mother were simply not enough to sufficiently instruct her on how to be a woman. Also, Randall, the oldest Batiste son, is another victim of the absent mother. We learn early on in the novel that Randall dreams of becoming a college basketball player. However, he is burdened with the task of being caretaker of the youngest Batiste, Junior. Randall is hindered from carrying out his dreams because he must set them aside to take care of his family, a duty innately prescribed to mothers. In this way, the physical absence of a mother has ruined a child’s chance at a dream, his chance at a decent life. The last of the novel’s three epigraphs reinforces the value of this concept with the dialogue of “I said what you wanna be? She said, ‘Alive.’” (Outkast) This parallels to how Esch feels as though she was misfortunate in the fact that she only got to experience the love of a mother for a short time in her life. She is hopeful that she does not deprive her child of the same love and affection. So, Esch’s dream is simply this: be alive and physically present for her child’s life, a feat unaccomplished by her own mother. Not once was a fond memory of her father mentioned in the novel. This shows that Esch’s father will never offer her the things her mother will. Her mother was her only chance at love, understanding, and connection. Esch is left alone to Salvage the Bones of what is left of her mother’s memory in order to piece together the perplexing puzzle of womanhood.
Not only do children sans a mother not receive the proper guidance provided by her, but they also experience expedited maturity. When their mother died, the children’s father slipped into an alcoholic depression that rendered him useless as a parental figure. Therefore, Esch and her brothers were left to fend for themselves. They began to help each other steal, they took care of their father, and they took care of each other. The Batiste children had no choice but to grow up way too quickly to ensure survival. When Skeetah cuts himself stealing from the white family’s barn and has a gash across his stomach, he tells no one and treats his own wounds. The Batistes do not receive the medical attention, which a mother would demand due to their “tend[ency] to be more invested in their children than fathers (Kestler, Paulins 315)”, from their father. A study conducted in 2015 showed that “children of single father are less likely to have a routine place to receive medical care (Krueger, Jutte, Franzini, Elo, Hayward 6).None of the children are even of 18 yet, however they all use profanity freely and often. The children also leave the house without alerting their father, underscoring the incompetence of fathers to raise children. Even the youngest child, Junior, is not shielded from this. Though he does not curse, he is exposed to adult concepts and adult situations throughout the book that his siblings attempt to screen him from, but he ends up undergoing anyway. For instance, when Junior shows curiosity at where his siblings are going after one of Skeetah’s puppies gets Parvo, Esch replied with, “He doesn’t need to know that the puppy is dying. He doesn’t need to know that young go, too (Ward 42).” In this way, Esch does show characteristics of a mother toward Junior, in that she attempts to shield him from the world’s corruption.
The epigraph from Gloria Fuertes describes Junior and the Batiste children perfectly when it states, “For though I am small, I know many things, And my body is an endless eye Through which, unfortunately, I see everything. (Fuertes).” Though this quote describes all the Batiste children, Junior is the most curious with an “endless eye.” He always wants to know what his siblings are up to and how he can get involved in adult situations. While Esch’s attempt at showing mother-like qualities is a valiant effort, though, her inability to preserve Junior’s innocence underscores the necessity of the authentic mother figure in the home. The most obvious example of hastened development is seen in fifteen year old Esch’s pregnancy. When she finds out she’s pregnant, Esch shows shock, yet naïveté. She does not understand the true consequences and responsibility that accompany her situation. A study done in 2013 found that “women’s earnings are likely to be lower preceding a birth (Goldsceider, Scott, Lilja, Tinkew 1634).” Esch’s family is already impoverished, with no chance of escalation. Yet, her childish mind thwarts her from realizing that another child would only exacerbate her desolate situation. It has been supported in a scientific study that single mother homes experience larger limiting conditions than cohabitating and married homes (Ziol-Guest, Dunifon 432). Esch and her father and brothers already occupy a space unfit for living, eat dry noodles, and steal to gain the rest of their belongings. Esch does not recognize the financial and emotional strain that a baby brings because she has not witnessed motherhood enough. This is the largest consequence of Esch’s lack of a mother because not only does it affect her, but it also affects the life of her child, whom has done nothing to deserve the life it will be brought into.
Ward implies through text that without the stern hand of a mother, families are ruined. Hurricane Katrina is the mother that uses a stern hand to discipline her family and, in turn, strengthens the bonds between its members. Esch explicitly states, “She left us to learn to crawl. She left us to salvage (Ward 225).” The “she” Esch refers to is Katrina. Throughout the novel, the storm builds up as long as the family is undergoing struggles and conflict. All at once, though, the storm becomes the family’s worse nightmare when it comes and ravages the family’s home and sweeps away China in its watery jaws. During the storm, the family reveals their secrets to each other and reveals their feelings to each other. Afterwards, the family is more united and considerate of one another because they realize that their family, however dysfunctional, is a family indeed, and each of its members deserves respect. China being hauled away by the ravenous storm was an integral component of the family’s unity afterwards. This served as a punishment for the family bonds being so severely severed. This incident parallels to China’s final dog fight after Rico had been taunting and bullying Skeetah. Manny asserts, “Take a lot out of an animal to nurse and nurture like that. Price of being a female (Ward 96).” Although China was not at full health, she fought a strong, male dog in order to gain retribution for Skeetah, whom was going to end up victimized in the fight. Rico had been belittling China because of her gender and also had a physical altercation with Skeetah, with whom China shared a special relationship. As punishment, China took the only thing Rico had to be proud of, his dog Kilo’s streak of winning his dog fights. China’s “jaw…snapped shut around the mouse of Kilo’s neck… [and she] takes away part of Kilo’s throat (Ward 176).” China was forced to inflict this ghastly punishment on Kilo to vindicate not her own, but her beloved Skeetah’s honor. She did this regardless of her current state of health because she was fed up. Likewise, Esch lost her temper after she told Manny that he was the father of her unborn child and he denied it. She began “slapping him, over and over, [her] hands in a flurry, a black blur… [she drew] blood (Ward 204).” This was his punishment for betraying her love in this extreme manner. Esch had gotten fed up with Manny’s deception towards her, so she had to punish him him by taking away something that made him feel arrogant: the fact that he had been having sex with Esch and still had no attachment to her. All these examples are parallel to mothers who hold their tempers for as long as they can.
Whenever things get too hectic, though, mothers must punish, usually by taking away something that their children love. Without this tough love, however, children never realize what it means to appreciate things, or what it means to actually be chastised. If not chastised for wrongdoings, children develop believing that all their actions are proper, and thus become ignorant citizens. The Batiste family witnessed this first-hand when they had no mother to chastise them about how they were treating each other and others. No mother was there to tell Esch that sex is for adults. No mother was there to tell Randall that he should try to raise his own money for basketball camp. No mother was there to tell Skeetah that he should control his temper. No mother was there to tell all the children that they should be more kind to their father because he is undergoing a trying time in life. No mother was there to tell the father that drinking is not the way to solve his problems, and that he should take better care of his children. This tactic of harsh punishment is exactly the tactic used by the mother symbols in Salvage the Bones. This tactic is also noted in mythology and stories such as Euripides’s Medea. In the story, Medea’s husband Jason dishonors their marriage when he has an affair with the princess of the kingdom. In response, Medea has the things that Jason loves the most, his children, kill the thing that he is soon to marry, the princess. Then, she makes the punishment even more severe by murdering her own children in order to gain retribution for them from her husband. This courageous act shows the lengths to which mothers will go to gain retribution for their families, even if it means committing acts considered immoral.
Not only does this show mothers’ affinity for effective, harsh punishment, it exposes another element of mothers: intense anger. For this reason, most hurricanes are named after women, such as “Camille, Elena, Agnes, Gloria, Isabel, Katrina, Rita, Wilma, and Sandy (Locke 13).” Hurricanes are aggressive in nature, as are women and mothers. However, mothers can be described perfectly by Deuteronomy 32:29. It reads, “I kill and I make alive, I wound and I heal, neither is there any can deliver out of my hand (Deut. 32:29).” This expresses mothers as nurturer and disciplinarian. They rule with a stern hand, but also love unconditionally; their aggression stems from their love. However, when mothers are angry, no one can escape their wrath. Just as mothers possess fury, mothers can be compared to mythological Furies also. These were the mythological creatures assigned the task of punishment. They “punished criminals and were impossible to look upon because of their appearance (Locke 12).” Likewise, mothers punish the “criminals” in their families, their children. Esch’s mother, however, was not impossible to look upon because of her appearance. Instead she was because she was passed on. However, the Furies proved an integral part of the mythological realm. Without them, criminals would run amuck and no justice would be served. This is the same concept as the mothers’ role in the family: a police force.
The absence of a mother figure in Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones proves to be the underlying root of all the Batiste family troubles. When the mother of Hurricane Katrina hits, however, the family unity is tested and tried. It is this “mother” that brings the family back together, creating a stronger sense of family unity in the characters. With this, Ward reveals the importance of a physical and authentic mother in the home. Not only are mothers nurturers and comforters, but they are also police and can take on the paternal role of disciplinarian. Mothers are truly man’s greatest asset.
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