Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina follows the story of Bone Boatwright, a young girl who faces physical, emotional, and sexual abuse at the hands of her step-father. Bone's story is an accurate portrayal of the struggles and insecurities that many abused children face. Allison draws deeply from her childhood experience to make Bone an authentic, raw, and multi-dimensional character.
Bone's trauma is disturbingly common in the United States. An analysis of government databases reveals that roughly 1 in 8 American children will be physically, sexually or emotionally abused before the age of 18 (Kaplan). Researchers estimate that the costs associated with child abuse and neglect total $124 billion each year in the United States alone (Kaplan).
Allison's depictions of abuse are not only relevant, but accurate. Bone displays many of the symptoms that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services considers to be reliable indicators of abuse, including "criminal activity" and "depression and social withdrawal" ("Child Welfare Information Gateway"). Bone also demonstrates "defiant behavior" and "loss of self-esteem," which the Mayo Clinic considers to be direct effects of abuse. Like Bone, many sexually abused or exploited children demonstrate advanced sexual knowledge and engage in excess masturbation ("Child Welfare Information Gateway").
Statistics aside, researchers do caution against generalizing the experiences of children who are abused, explaining that victims demonstrate "a range of symptoms" and that "the absence of a history of [known] indicators" should not be interpreted as the absence of abuse ("Child Welfare Information Gateway"). Each child faces an individual trauma. Yet Bone's well-crafted character speaks to many of the experiences abused children share, creating a compelling and recognizable portrait that serves as a voice for many scared and silent victims. Allison has frequently recounted experiences where readers have approached her to say that Bastard out of Carolina has inspired them to speak out about their own abuse.