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In Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones, the author encapsulates individual’s experiences of discovering who they are and what they are capable of from the perspective of Esch, the story’s main protagonist. During this final chapter, Ward uses the word “salvage” when it comes to rebuilding and starting over. Hurricane Katrina “left us them to salvage”(255) what Esch and her family had left of themselves. All that had remained were their core identities or “bones” that had been buried under the many unimportant and trivial aspects of their lives. Esch and her family now know that it is possible for them to live without these certain distractions and unnecessities after they were destroyed by Katrina.Ward contends that Esch’s journey as a mother and her challenge of accepting the many different attributes that being a mother requires is a way to encapsulate this struggle of discovering one’s bones amongst the many confusing and misleading aspects of life such as marriage and partnership. Esch salvaging her bones becomes a reality, accomplishing this by using her pre-existing experiences with motherhood and following the many motherly role models that she has experienced over her lifetime. Through the means of the hurricane, Esch learns that there is not a set expectation for what a mother can be, and comes to accept many of these important aspects of motherhood, such as strength and caring, as well as independence but not isolation.Throughout her pregnancy so far and up until the storm, Esch has been uncertain of what kind of mother she would become once her baby was born. She was stuck in limbo, unsure whether or not she wanted to be a co-dependent, caring, and loving mother or a harsh, protective and independent one, isolated from the problems of others. Esch was confused by her many motherly role models such as China, Madea, and hurricane Katrina who were all strong and independent mothers. Then there was Mama who was kind and caring, but not in a way that made her seem weak. Esch didn’t really seem to know which one of these influential women she wanted to model her motherhood experience from. She believed that she would have to choose only one mother figure and incorporate their particular parenting style into what kind of mother she would be, and forget about the others. In this last chapter Esch has finally embraced these two important aspects, strength and caring. These attributes are at the core of the harsh, violent, or weak aspects of motherhood that people don’t seem to be able to look past. To others, if a mother cares for her children she is weak, but if she shows strength and fieceness than she is understood to be some kind of monster. Esch now knows that she can be and is both. She comes to the conclusion that these two characteristics of motherhood are what make it unique, instead of what split it apart. Esch relates to China, another mother, and says that “she will know that I have kept watch, that I have I have fought”(258). She is not only going to watch over her family but fight to protect it as well. Although her child has yet to be born she is the mother of her family, ready to take over in the absence of her mother and China.  Like China, Hurricane Katrina wasn’t just a destructive force of nature, but a mother bringing new life into the world. Esch describes this woman as “the murderous mother who cut us to the bone but left us alive”(255). She was harsh, let them live, stripping away the inessential aspects of these individuals lives, leaving them with their true selves and the opportunity to restart from nothing. Katrina represents one of the aspects of motherhood that Esch struggles to understand how to achieve. She is the brute strength and raw power that mothers are capable of having. Katrina is China in the way that they both act out of the best interest of their children, even if this means that they must use their “merciless hands” which are “committed to blood”(255). Although she is described as “the murderous mother”(255), Katrina’s constant association with blood does not necessarily mean she is a killer. Blood, especially in this novel, is also a symbol of life and in this case birth. This contends that Katrina may not only be a bloody monster but a mother fighting the battle that is giving birth. She is a mother committed to birthing new life from the destruction that she had caused. This life is the new opportunity and sense of self that many of the characters seem to possess. In the aftermath of the destruction Esch has acknowledged her new sense of self and now finally understands the role that she plays in her family. She cares for her siblings and comforts them. She says that “‘We’re worried about you’ I Esch says it because they won’t”(257). She is prepared to care for her family and “I she will watch Skeetah”(285) especially. Esch is prepared to make hard decisions that are in the best interest of her family, even if it means that “Wethey will sit with himSkeetah here, in the strange, insect silent dark”(258). Furthermore, China like Katrina is a strong independent mother with a forceful approach to motherhood, doing what was best for the wellbeing of her puppies. This does not mean making them comfortable, but rather keeping them “alive”. She had harmed and killed one of her puppies earlier in the novel. Out of context, it can be argued that China hated being a mother, and hated her puppies, but this was not the case. China ended the life of one of her puppies because it was sick and she wanted to end its misery rather than watch it die a slow and painful death. This is where Esch’s sense of motherly strength comes from, this outer appearance of harshness that is driven by tough decisions and care. Esch, like these two mothers, was prepared to raise her child on her own. She has come to the terms that her baby, “don’t have no daddy”(254). Esch was ready to be independent, to fight for and protect her child to the best of ability. Esch had come to the understanding that she did not need a man in her life in order to raise her child. Her newfound independence and ability to make hard decisions is what she had taken away from the storm, destruction, and China.  Along with assimilating her independence, Esch is no longer alone in her pregnancy. Big Henry declares that “This baby got a daddy….this baby got plenty of daddies”(255) not taking away from Esch’s newly discovered independence but letting her know that her family is there for her, ready to support her. This newly discovered support from is not a weakness, this is just like how China had Skeetah to help her with her puppies. She did not need him and was capable of taking care of herself throughout her pregnancy, but his help seemed to be well appreciated.  Esch can be independent, without a man in her life like Manny, who was toxic to her well being. This independence is not isolation, but a sense of capability. Esch now understands that being a strong mother does not mean that you must be alone. Esch accepts help from her loved ones and the people that genuinely care for her. This is the kind of mother that mama was. She was the watchful and caring mother in Esch’s life. Esch has embraced these characteristics and is now determined to “watch over Skeetah”(258), to care for him because with the absence of China, he is in need of a mother figure in his life. She is applying what she has learned to her present situation, mothering her family when they are in need of one. Ultimately, Ward conveys to the reader the process of finding an individual’s true identity. Esch’s narrations provide this moment by moment process, making her the best narrator to convey the books main theme of salvaging one’s bones. She is the best example of a person who was capable of salvaging their identity after everything had been stripped away. Ward uses Esch, with her new understanding of her capabilities of being a mother, to narrate the hurricane because she is capable of seeing past the destruction and damage that has occurred and realizes the opportunity for change and evolution of self. Esch ultimately reaches a balance between possessing characteristics of the two intertwined aspects of motherhood, strength and power along with caring and loving. Esch’s struggle with her own identity connects to individuals in the real world who struggle with finding themselves amidst all of the superficial and unnecessary aspects of their own lives.

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