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  • Writer's pictureESSMAT SOPHIE

The importance of the role of animals in Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones. You may discuss animals in

Updated: Nov 22, 2023

The important role of animals in Salvage the Bones can be analyzed from an ecofeminist perspective. Feminist efforts are not limited to human connections. One branch of feminism— known as ecofeminism—is concerned with the rights of nature and nonhuman creatures, arguing that animals and humans should be treated equally. From this perspective, women’s oppression and the exploitation of animals and nature are strongly intertwined and mutually reinforcing. Some ecofeminists concentrate on this interconnectedness, arguing that the oppression of both non-human animals and women results from the same logic of dominance.

In Ward’s novel, China is more than a pit bull; she is the clearest symbol of nature’s force. She also symbolizes the power of motherhood and female strength because she is both female and a mother. She exemplifies the dual nature of the natural world by having the capacity to both create and destroy. She also acts as a mirror image of the novel’s protagonist, as the vulnerability, challenges, and problems the dog faces are extremely similar to those of the narrator and main protagonist, a girl named Esch.

Since its characters are marginalized African Americans, the novel also conveys the racial links among humans, nature, and animals. As Christopher Lloyd points out in her academic article on Salvage the Bones, “The link between humans and animals in the South have a long history, particularly in racial discourse . . . Through a racial lens, Ward is unpacking the complex webs of biopower that have long regulated black Americans and animals of various kinds—in different but overlapping ways.”1

As Skeetah, the novel’s second protagonist, states, “everything deserve to live.” As long as we consider nonhuman species as “other” and fail to challenge human superiority or criticize institutions of patriarchal or human control, acknowledging linked oppressions and the connections between the “isms” of domination is difficult. As Greta Gaard said, “when sexism, heterosexism, transphobia, classism, racism, speciesism, ableism, ageism, and the global inequalities produced and exacerbated by industrial capitalism and the legacies of colonialism cease to be a problem, then feminism will have accomplished its goals and outlived its usefulness.”2

1 Lloyd, Christopher. "Creaturely, Throwaway Life after Katrina: Salvage the Bones and Beasts of the Southern Wild." South (Chapel Hill, N.C.) 48, no. 2 (2016): 246-64.

2 Gaard, Greta Claire Gaard. "Ecofeminism Revisited:..." Feminist Formations 23, no. 2 (2011): 43

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