Writing the Grotesque in Jesmyn Ward's "Salvage the Bones"
In her work, Jesmyn Ward has revitalized the Southern Gothic tradition and its tropes to better reflect the realities of Black American life in the 21st century. This essay explores the reconfiguration of the grotesque body in Ward's sophomore novel, Salvage the Bones, which follows an impoverished Black family in Mississippi in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina. In contrast to her literary predecessors, Ward defines the grotesque as a state of debility imposed on Black bodies and then deemed uniquely problematic to them as a class and race, rather than the result of centuries of structural oppression. As such, she understands the trope as encompassing far more than bodily or intellectual difference, the way in which it was previously utilized by Southern writers like William Faulkner and Carson McCullers. Instead, Ward theorizes the grotesque as a biopolitical state, in which populations that do not conform to the status quo, and specifically the dominant capitalist mode of production and consumption, are driven to the margins and their lives deemed expendable.
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