The Farming of Bones | Study Guide

Edwidge Danticat

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The Farming of Bones | Symbols



The word "parsley" has a different pronunciation based on whether the speaker is a Spanish-speaking Dominican or a Kreyòl-speaking Haitian. As Amabelle Désir who is the narrator of The Farming of Bones explains, she and her countrymen refer to parsley as pesi. Dominicans refer to it as perejil. The word parsley thus became the "test" that those who sought to identify Haitians could use. Those who were presented with a sprig of parsley and pronounced it perejil were deemed "true" Dominicans who rightly belonged in the Dominican Republic. Those who pronounced it pesi were viewed as interlopers who had to be forcefully deported back to Haiti. Parsley took on a role as the great "test" of national identity and the signifier of who was seen to belong and who was seen as the detested other.

The Wood

The wood that Amabelle takes from Papi to provide for Joël's coffin is a multilayered symbol. In the beginning the wood is a symbol of Amabelle's desire to make Joël's life have a greater meaning than just a sugarcane worker who was violently struck down in a hit-and-run accident. Her taking the boards for Sebastien to use for the creation of Joël's coffin shows her desire to see to his proper burial. It also shows her belief that his life had value even though Pico did not ascribe much value to it in his actions.

The wood takes on a different meaning as the novel progresses. Sebastien never uses the wood and instead gives it to Yves to sell. Yves just happens to be out selling some of the wood the night Sebastien and his sister Mimi are captured. The wood thus becomes a symbol of fate in this context. Just as it was Joël's fate to have been struck by the car and not Yves's, it was also Yves's fate to not be captured with Sebastien. Yves has difficulty dealing with the reality of his fate and is plagued by guilt over his own continued safety in light of the death of his close friends.

The Coffee Bean Bracelets

Mimi and Sebastien's mother Man Denise gives her children each a bracelet of gold-painted coffee beans strung together at some point prior to the events of the novel. It is not much in terms of monetary value, but it is very meaningful in terms of the bond between family members. Though Mimi and Sebastien must immigrate to the Dominican Republic and leave their mother behind in Haiti, they continue to wear a symbol of their familial connection. Man Denise also wears this symbol as a reminder of the bond she has with her children and the hope she has to someday reconnect with them. When her bracelet breaks, she keeps three of the coffee beans in her pocket. She eventually buries these beans which symbolizes her acceptance that her children are dead.


Señora Valencia laments the absence of her mother's face from her memory because her mother died when she was so young. The same situation arises with her own son Rafi when he dies in the first week of life during the period that Doctor Javier says infants lack the ability to see faces. Joël's face is remembered and memorialized in a papier-mâché death mask by his father Kongo. The image of the human face in art comes up again in Amabelle's memory of her deceased father. She recalls that her father rejected her idea to memorialize his own face in art. He explained to her that he believed it would be vanity to recreate his own image in a lantern.

These situations reveal various associations with faces. For Señora Valencia a face is the memory of a person and the preservation of that person within the human memory. In her situation, because the face is not remembered, there is fear that the person is not either. This contrasts with Kongo's preservation of Joël's face in the mask. Amabelle's father has a different perspective on the human face and sees it as something that cannot be preserved or retained no matter how much humans might want to do so.

The River

The Massacre River that divides the Dominican Republic and Haiti is a real border but also a symbolic place where changes occur. The river can bring death as in the case of Amabelle's parents and Wilner and Odette. It can also bring rebirth and renewal in the case of Amabelle's ritual bath in the river at the conclusion of the novel. The river is a moving, flowing, ever-changing entity. It sweeps away the old through death in preparation for the new.

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