What Exactly Are the Bones?

Greg Gipson and Andy Greenwald (English 27, Postcolonial Studies, Brown University, 1997)

I want to ask the obvious question: what exactly are the bones? If they leave footprints, they presumably aren't merely those white calcified things that give us shape. That said, I want to say that I think they are closely connected with the ancestors, and function in at least one sense as memories of the past and therefore as markers of identity. So, what does it mean when, on p. 67, Marita goes from being dead to being, in the present tense, a teller of stories which come "as easily as she breathes"? (p. 70) Does Marita live on by her stories, and, if so, is she thus one of the bones which are so crucial. TO look at it another way, so far the story has been centered around Marita and her life and quest -- she is the spine of the plot, such as it is. How literal is that metaphor? [Greg Gipson]

The dominant image in the "My Bones Fall" chapter of Bones is the bones themselves. At first they "litter" the plains (45), suggesting something that has now passed, been defeated or rendered irrelevant. By the end of the section, however, the bones have become an image of returning strength and eventual victory, they "will rise/with such power/the graves will be too small/to contain them" (50). The physical presence of the elders, then, can be seen as a source of strength to the Shona people during the pain of colonization. What interests me about this section is how it seems to contrast with certain characteristics of another work, Emecheta's The Slave Girl. In that work, character's strength seems to derive from a reliance on names, charms, customs and locations, as evidenced by Ojebeta's superiority over the other slaves because she has not forgotten her home. Is there an essential difference between these two perspectives, or is something larger occurring? Is the contrast rendered invalid because Emecheta seems to be using her work as a means to undermine some of this reliance (by not having Ojebeta's life necessarily improved by her return to her people, by the general sense of failure about her marriage, etc.)? [Andy Greenwald]

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