Bastard Out Of Carolina Summary

Dorothy Allison

Bastard Out Of Carolina

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Bastard Out Of Carolina Summary

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Bastard out of Carolina is Dorothy Allison’s debut novel, and was published in March of 1992. It is a semi-autobiographical novel set in Greenville, South Carolina in the 1950s. Significant themes in the novel are the expectations of gender, mother/child relationships, class, race, sexuality, family, coming of age, love, guilt, suffering and shame. The book was adapted into a film in 1996.

The story begins with a girl being born by the name of Ruth Anne “Bone” Boatwright. She was given this name by her uncle when he noticed the new baby was no bigger than a knucklebone. The Boatwright family is composed of Granny, Anney, Raylene, Alma, Ruth, Earle, Beau, and Nevil. The family is extremely poor but fiercely loyal to each other; many have problems with alcohol and are well-known for their quick-to-fire tempers.

Anney gave birth to Bone when she was just 16 years old. Bone was born in a car accident that induced early labor. Because of the accident, Anney gave birth while in a comatose state, and so wasn’t able to lie about being married to the doctors. Her family, too, can’t name the father, so Bone is given a birth certificate with the word “Illegitimate” stamped straight across it in big, red, print. Anney hates being called trashed, so she spends the next several years petitioning for a new birth certificate without the word stamped across, but to no avail. Eventually this gets around their small town, and Anney is mocked at the diner she works in.

When Anney is 17, she marries Lyle Parsons. She quickly becomes pregnant, and the two are happy together. Lyle even promises to adopt Bone. But Lyle is killed in a car accident, and Anney is left alone to care for her two daughters, Bone and the new baby, named Reese.

Anney begins to date Glen Waddell, the black sheep and youngest son of his family. He is interested in her daughters, and openly devoted to her, and the two are soon engaged and pregnant. During this time, the courthouse has a fire and Anney burns Bone’s birth certificate as celebration.

The night Anney goes to the hospital, Glen molests Bone while they sit in the car and wait for the baby to be born. She doesn’t know what happened; only that it hurt and it made her feel bad. Anney delivers a stillborn, and is told she can’t have any more children.

Glen’s anger escalates quickly after this. He can’t keep a job, the family is poverty-stricken, and Anney has to go back to work after losing her baby. Glen continues to molest Bone. Bone never speaks up because she is ashamed and thinks it is her fault.

Bone begins to hate everything: herself, her life, and her family. She befriends Shannon Pearl, an albino outcast. The two have a fight, but agree to put the past behind them at Shannon’s family barbeque. But Shannon is horrifically burned alive after throwing lighter fluid on the grill. Bone is disturbed by this experience, and thinks about her own death constantly.

Glen beats Bone, taking his anger about other things out on her. He has his own family issues and low self-esteem. He explains his reasoning to Anney, who accepts these excuses. Bone thinks this means Anney is taking Glen’s side in the matter. Reese implies she, too, is being molested by Glen.

Finally, one of the beatings puts Bone in the hospital. Anney sends Bone away to live with her aunts, to keep her away from Glen and let her heal. She also forgives Glen and then takes Bone back home. This cycle continues, until an uncle sees the bruises and blood on Bone’s back at an aunt’s funeral. They beat Glen savagely, and finally Anney moves the girls to an apartment. She is miserable, and Bone tells her to go back with Reese if she wants, but she will not go with them.

Glen comes to visit them before Anney moves back. Bone is home alone, and Glen beats her and brutally rapes her. Anney arrives and drags Bone to the car with Glen crawling behind them. He begs Anney to kill him. Bone passes out, but not before being disgusted with the attention her mother is giving Glen, while ignoring her. Bone stays awake long enough to see her mother throw her arms around Glen once more.

Bone wakes up in the hospital. Anney does not come to visit, and this haunts Bone. Her Aunt Raylene brings her to her home, and Bone is furious, but appears calm. Anney finally arrives, and begs for Bone’s forgiveness. She never thought Glen would hurt her, but she still loves him. Bone feels she has lost a mother, and Anney tells her how much she loves her, and then leaves. She leaves behind a letter with a new birth certificate for Bone: one without the word stamped across the bottom.