Reading Questions for Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
1. Salvage the Bones opens with China giving birth to a litter of puppies in the shed. What do we learn about Esch and the rest of the Batiste family during this scene? How does each of Esch's brothers react to the puppies' birth? What will Esch learn about motherhood from watching China with her puppies?
2. Esch's summer reading assignment, Mythology by Edith Hamilton, includes the story of the tragic romance between Jason and Medea. How does the myth of Jason and Medea relate to Esch's relationship with Manny? In the end, does Esch betray her family for love, as Medea does?
3. Chart Esch's attitude toward her pregnancy through the 12 days of the novel. How does Esch first realize that she might be pregnant, and how does she react when her suspicion is confirmed? When do we see Esch in stages of denial, fear and acceptance? How do Skeetah and Daddy respond when they discover Esch's pregnancy?
4. Discuss the nature of Skeetah's bond with his pit bull, China. Why is Skeetah so committed to China and her puppies? How does Skeetah negotiate his responsibilities to his family and to his dog?
5. How does Daddy seem to know that a storm is coming before anyone else does? How do his children and neighbors react to his early preparations? Why do Daddy's precautions fail in the face of Katrina's destruction?
6. Esch wonders "if Daddy will feel his missing fingers the way we feel Mama, present in the absence" (247). Discuss the presence of Mama in the novel, even though she has been dead for seven years. How does Mama live on in her children's memory?
7. The fifth chapter has the same title as the novel, "Salvage the Bones." Review the chapter and discuss what the title means. How does the title fit the chapter as well as the novel as a whole?
8. Discuss the depiction of violence in Salvage the Bones. What do scenes of violence— including Daddy's loss of his fingers, China's brutal killing of her puppy and the dogfight between China and Kilo—add to the novel? How do violence and tenderness coexist in this troubled setting?
9. Consider how Manny betrays Esch and her brothers. How does Manny treat Esch before and after he learns of her pregnancy? Why does Manny turn on Skeetah and China and support Rico and Kilo in the dogfight?