The Farming of Bones: the Symbolic Portrayal of Water's Relation to Death vs. Life

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“Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.” (Norman Cousins) Death comes to us all, for some it marks the end of a life, for others it reveals the road to a new path in which the soul travels. However it leaves behind a trail of darkness regardless for those who have experienced the loss. Through enduring the death and tragedies of those around us, we are tested by our emotions. The character Amabelle experiences the trauma of death and tragedy many times through water in her journey and Danticat shows us how it affects her in the novel. In a time where there was much death and tragedy, Danticat’s depictions gives us insight into just how horrific the events were that took place during the period of the novel. In Edwidge Danticat’s The Farming of Bones, water is viewed upon as a symbol of death vs. life and is a common theme in the novel especially in reference to the Massacre River.

The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat revolves around the true events that occurred in 1937 in the Dominican Republic. The dictator at the time was a man named Rafael Trujillo who ordered his troops to massacre as many as 15,000 Haitians living in the Dominican Republic. The killings were brutal and left survivors with psychological trauma after experiencing the massacre. (Hewett 123) In The Farming of Bones, Danticat does an exceptional job with supplying the reader with details of just how horrific this massacre was, giving us an imagery of death by Trujillo’s soldiers and the brutal acts done upon Haitians living in the Dominican Republic. The character Amabelle shares her story and sorrow through her memories and present as she makes her way to the border in hopes of surviving the struggle.

The loss of Amabelle’s parents in the Massacre River is the first hint Danticat gives us to support that water has a negative symbolism in the novel. As the narrator in the novel, we as the reader get a more personal in depth understanding of how the Massacre River has brought sorrow and death into her life. Amabelle dwells a great deal on the death of her parents. She has many memories and dreams that are thrown into the story and give us a greater insight to the development of her as a character. Her dreams are recollections of her mother and father drowning in the river that is on the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. She watches them drown but does not cross the river in which they are taken from her. “The ongoing trauma of her parents drowning manifests itself in recurring dreams about these events as well as Amabelle’s attitude towards water-rivers, waterfalls, and lakes, which can be understood not just as a symptomatic repetition of loss but also her own desire for a place of safety.” (Heather Hewett) We can see how water here plays a role in the book as a symbol of death through Amabelle’s experiences. Danticat repeats this theme of water being the bringer of death throughout the story.

Danticat symbolizes water once again as a means of death when Trujillo’s soldiers have Haitian captures at the edge of a cliff, with jagged rocks and the sea beneath them. The bodies that lay motionless at the bottom of the cliff, scarred and torn with cuts, men and women cried in terror for their lives, for if they did not meet there end at the bottom of the sea, they surely would by the soldiers machetes. The choices that had to be made were far greater than anything most of us could understand, however Danticat gives us verbal imagery of just how horrific it must have been to make such a decision and knowing that one way or another, death was on the way.

Dealing with the death of Odette, and taking her life to save her own, Amabelle’s character was forever changed. In some aspects, Amabelle never made it out of the river herself because she is forever changed after the trauma. She takes the life of Odette in order to save her own when crossing the river. There are guards...
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