The Farming of Bones | Study Guide

Edwidge Danticat

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The Farming of Bones | Themes


The Farming of Bones is somewhat fatalistic in theme. Death and destruction are ever-present forces in the central characters' lives. Death is so real and present that it is an inevitability. Those who are next to it but yet to succumb to it experience tremendous guilt, a desire to blame others, and an inability to move on from the death and loss of those they love.

Death as the Inevitable

Death is everywhere in the world of Amabelle Désir. It takes only one slip of the foot off the brake or the hand of the machete in the act of cutting sugarcane for a person's life to be taken. Many lives are lost in very fatalistic fashion. Amabelle's parents drown in the river when the weather suddenly changes. Sebastien's father is killed in a hurricane. Joël perishes when he is struck by a car. Rafi dies of some unknown condition in infancy. Tibon dies when a group of angry Dominicans beats him to death. Wilner is shot by Dominican soldiers. Amabelle kills Odette but not out of malice. She suffocates her only for the greater good that is the survival of the rest of the group. Man Rapadou kills Yves's father but like Amabelle, only to save others. In all of these instances in which characters die, the death is presented as an inevitability. Nothing seemingly could have been done to prevent the tragedy because death is what happens to all people, and those who are caught in its wake cannot defeat it.


Yves is unable to overcome his guilt of surviving when others did not. Joël pushes him out of the way of the car driven by Pico that is headed right at him and saves him as a final act of bravery and sacrifice. However, this act leaves Yves feeling empty and guilty for having survived his friend. Sebastien meets his end at the hands of the Dominican soldiers, and Yves is spared only because he is away selling the half of the wood that was originally to be used for Joël's coffin. Sebastien gave him the wood when it was not needed because Kongo buried his son without a coffin. Once again Yves feels guilty for outliving his friend through chance.

Amabelle and Yves experience guilt over their one sexual encounter. So great is their guilt that they are unable to ever love each other or even find comfort in platonic companionship. They both see their one act of weakness as a betrayal of Sebastien even though he was already dead at the time. This guilt is both misplaced and self-serving. Sebastien's love for Amabelle was genuine, and as such his hope for her future would have been happiness. Amabelle and Yves seem to relish in their guilt. It becomes almost the very life force that keeps them going. They are both unsure of what would happen if they were to release it, so they never do. This clinging to guilt at all costs keeps them feeling secure and comfortable.


At various points in the novel, characters ascribe blame to others for their culpability in the events that lead to their suffering. Kongo, Sebastien, and Yves blame Pico directly for killing Joël after Pico hits and kills Joël with his car. They also blame the system that gives Pico a status that allows him to get away with his heinous act while they are unable to avenge the death of their friend. Later Amabelle lies drifting in and out of consciousness while she recovers from the injuries inflicted upon her by an enraged crowd attacking Haitian-Dominicans indiscriminately. During this time she hears a group of people talking about how Haiti never does anything to protect its people from Dominican brutality. The conversation reveals an even broader entity to blame in the form of the Haitian nation-state. These people believe that Haiti could take a more active role in protecting its people and taking action against the murder of Haitian citizens in the Dominican Republic but does not.

Inability to Move On

Papi cannot move on after Pico kills Joël by hitting him with the car. His guilt consumes him and distracts him from the problems in his own family. Had he not put all his energy into making amends for Pico's actions, he might have recognized his daughter's failing health and inability to sufficiently put the sudden death of her son Rafi behind her.

Amabelle spends 24 years in Cap Haitien with Yves and Man Rapadou before she ever confronts her past or even grieves for the loss of her one great love. She describes the period as simply waiting for Doctor Javier to one day reappear and tell her what became of Sebastien. Amabelle could have sought happiness in her new life with Yves and Man Rapadou, but she instead chooses to live in the past and have a 24-year period of her life defined by a single great loss.

Questions for Themes

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