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Analysis of “The Ark of Bones” Story

“The Ark of Bones” is a short story written by African American author Henry Dumas. The setting of the story is in the 1900s at the shores of the Mississippi River, a place with myths and misconceptions among the African Americans and the whites as well. The story involves two main characters who experience incomprehensible and peculiar encounters at the Mississippi River. Dumas employs an extraordinary style that incorporates both Christian religion and African traditional magic that includes supernaturalism and objectifies the African religion in the United States of America. Dumas adopts different types and symbols to convey a hidden meaning of the story discussed in this paper. Some of these themes discussed include moral, political among others.

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The story is symbolic of the life and experiences of a black man in the United States of America. The story intertwines both folk traditions, the Old Testament biblical prophets, and the African traditional witch doctors. Headeye plays a significant role as an African prophet and a prophet in the Old Testament Bible. Dumas uses the biblical story about the valley of the dry bones from the book of Ezekiel and relates it to his root idea, and augments it with Noah’s ark from the book of Genesis. From the biblical point of view, the story of dry bones by prophet Ezekiel conveys hope to the people of Israel. On the other hand, Noah’s ark story gives the idea of salvation, Noah being sent by God to save the Israelites from perishing in the floods. All these biblical stories mirror Dumas African American traditional tale.

“The Ark of Bones” paints the message of hope to the African American from oppression. The Africans in America were oppressed through killing; the author talks about the Dead’s Man Landing from the short story. According to the author, the place was called Dead’s Man Landing because a dead person was found there some time back; the body was rotten and eaten up by the fish (Dumas and Dumas). About the bible story, in this case, Headeye was the chosen African American prophet to bring salvation to the oppressed Africans in Americans.

He is approached by an older man wearing skins and sandals; Fish hounds compare the older man to Noah of the bible he had seen in the books. He finds out that the man is black and not white as the Noah of the bible he knew; he looks further at whether he could see Noah’s sons according to the bible (Shem Ham and Japheth).

Headeye is anointed as the ‘Noah’ of the African American people by the old man to preach hope to the oppressed blacks. Headeye and Fish hound are taken inside a ship by the older man; inside, they meet a crew of black men wearing and handling bones while others were winding a rope as they chant. He also meets a priest reading a scroll; the man later anoints Headeye by pouring oil on his head. He is told to repeat the words after the priest shows that he was the chosen person to redeem fellow black from American oppression. “My eyes shall see only thee. I shall set my brother free. Aba, this bone is thy seal,” (Dumas and Dumas). Headeye repeats words after the priest and swears to set his black brothers free from the oppressing hands of the White American. Fish hounds act as the witness of the covenant made between the priest and head eye.

The idea of the dry bones and the dead man who was found dead in European America with the expectations that they will rise again is considered necessary. Therefore, black men inside the ship heap the bones carefully together and protect them with expectations that they will come again to life. In the book of Ezekiel in the Old Testament, God chooses Ezekiel, who grants anticipation to dry bones. The dry bones shall be blessed, and life will be brought back to them. Likewise, Headeye is anointed as the prophet to redeem the black people in America and an overseer who heeds to the cries of the black man.

Headeye is reborn through anointing by the priest, and he is determined to accomplish the sacred oath to redeem his fellow black. Fish hounds act as the storyteller, so he stands aside to unfold the story of Headeye’s vision and the holy encounter at the river. Headeye, also called Eagle eye of Eyehead, is extraordinary as the name puts it; he has an exemplary vision to see what anyone else cannot see or wish to see.

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The dry bones symbolize the African Americans whose faith and hopes are dead. The white Americans community have rejected them and left them to perish due to adverse weather condition and unfavorable political structure. Headeye is the anointed prophet to restore hope to the black American community who require redemption. The symbol that the narrator sees anointing oil pouring on the head of eyes head shows that the restoration of the spirit of the black people. (Dumas and Dumas). The shield offered to Headeye symbolizes the life of the black Americans. The old priest helps Headeye to bring back the black out of the graves.

Henry Dumas modifies the narration by metaphorically connecting it to the biblical story to maintain a connection between the ancient, the new, and the future. The turning of events in the level corresponds to the biblical account in both Genesis and Ezekiel. Both biblical stories talk about redemption; Dumas addresses the revival of the blacks in America from oppression from the whites. In this case, Headeye is chosen to restore the African identity and be considered necessary in the land of America.

In the book of Genesis, the bible talks about the salvation of the Israelites from perishing in the floods; Noah is chosen to build the ark and save the people of God. The book of Ezekiel addresses bringing life to the dry bones in the valley of death; Ezekiel is appointed as the prophet of hope. The two stories intertwine with harmony to bring about an understanding of the message of the author.

The Dead Man’s Landing at the bank of the Mississippi River is a mythical sacred place for both the black and white Americans. This is a historical place where the Americans and the Africans met to make barter trade. The Africans gave out slaves while they receive goods manufactured by the whites. Fish hounds describe the ark having numbers 1608, 1944, and 1977 successively. (Dumas and Dumas). These numbers stand for the important European events plans to strike the blacks. African countries were constantly attacked and killed by the Europeans.

In conclusion, the native language used in the ark of bones is hard to elaborate on because of the prime virtue. Dumas uses dialect and historical settings to show metaphor and symbolism in the short story. The dry bones in the story represent the black Americans who are crying for oppression from the white Americans. Headeye is the selected prophet to redeem the black people and set them free because he had an extraordinary vision from the rest; the Fish hound is the witness.

Work Cited

Dumas. L., & Henry Dumas. “National Humanities Center.Ark of Bones. Vol. 3, 1917–1968. Web.

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