Bastard Out of Carolina

Bastard Out of Carolina Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What does Bone’s birth certificate represent?

    Bone’s birth certificate is the physical symbol of her illegitimacy; it represents all the shame and anger that accompanies her position at the margins of society. Anney's deep sense of pride pushes her to persevere until she can acquire an unblemished birth certificate for her daughter. Despite her repeated attempts, the Boatwright family's reputation prevents her from succeeding. Bone’s curiosity about her father and anxiety about her identity reinforce her feelings of illegitimacy and the importance of the birth certificate. At the end of the novel, Anney presents Bone with an unmarked copy, giving her the opportunity to redefine herself.

  2. 2

    What role does family play in the novel?

    The Boatwright family defines Bone’s identity to a large extent, both in the eyes of their community and in her own mind. It is the family’s notoriety that prevents Anney from securing a clean birth certificate for her daughter. Moreover, Bone identifies with the Boatwrights which at times, makes her proud but also scares her. She aspires to be like her no-nonsense uncles and listens attentively as her Grandmother weaves family stories where “everybody seemed legendary” (Allison 26). These legends give Bone a sense of belonging and identity. Though she recognizes the wider community’s prejudice against her family, she feels comfortable with them, happily describing an idyllic summer she spent “sleeping over at one of [her] aunt’s houses as easily as at home” (Allison 22). However, as she ages she begins to feel constrained by her family's legacy.

  3. 3

    Compare Glen's behavior before and after the stillbirth. Is he a good person incapable of dealing with the death or a dangerous person regardless of circumstances?

    Though Glen's rage intensifies after the death of his son, the roots of his abusive nature - a crippling sense of inadequacy and a habit of blaming others for his problems - exist long before the incident. When he proposes to Anney, Glen ignores her actual response and hears what he would like to hear: yes. He reacts violently, pounding the car and screaming with joy. Then, he sexually assaults Bone before he has any knowledge of the stillbirth. This occurs at the moment when, thinking he is about become father to a son, he should be content and full of peace. Granny and Uncle Earle sense Glen's possessive and manipulative nature before the baby's death, both asking Anney to question her choice to marry him. Ultimately, the death of Anney and Glen's son only intensifies certain toxic tendencies in Glen's personality that have been present for a long time.

  4. 4

    Why doesn't Anney protect her daughter from Glen's abuse?

    There is no concrete answer to this question but there are hints throughout the text that can potentially explain Anney's bad parenting choices. First of all, she is only fifteen when Bone is born and twenty-five when Glen first beats Bone. In many way she is still a child, incapable of being the supportive and independent adult that Bone needs. Like Glen, Anney is desperate for love and affection - especially after Bone's father ran off and Lyle Parsons died. Aunt Alma quips that Anney needs Glen like "a starving woman needs meat between her teeth" (Allison 41). The novel reveals that Granny "always loved her boy children more" (8) and indicates that Anney's father was distant and rarely present in his childrens' lives (125). It is possible that Anney never felt fully loved as a child and that Glen's adoration is addictive, finally providing her with the attention she craves. This does not excuse or even fully explain Anney's behavior but provides an idea of how she comes to be so willfully blind to her daughter's abuse.

  5. 5

    Is Bone's interest in religion genuine?

    Bone's emotional upheaval is certainly genuine; she often finds herself moved to tears by religious music. Feeling as though she may have found a place where she fits in, she immerses herself in the religious community and attempts to convert her family members. However, she is more interested in receiving positive attention from the religious community than in the words of the gospel. For Bone, religion helps her get in touch with some of the emotions that she has been desperately trying to suppress. When the emotions and attention wane, though, she is left feeling empty and abandons the church. Ultimately, religion does not give Bone the answers or validation she is looking for.

  6. 6

    Describe the role of race in Bastard Out of Carolina.

    Much like class, race functions as a dividing line in Bone's world. Bastard out of Carolina takes place in the pre-Civil Rights South, where many white people, including Bone's family members, freely express their racist opinions. Racial slurs appear several times in the novel, spoken by both sympathetic and unsympathetic characters. Ultimately, the novel treats racism as a form of discrimination much like classicism or sexism. However, Allison does not delve into the specific politics of racism because Bone, the young white protagonist, has not yet explored this aspect of her society. She observes the racial dynamics and voices her dissent when Shannon uses the n-word, but there are not many African American faces in her day-to-day life.

  7. 7

    Describe the effect of Shannon Pearl on the narrative. What is her significance in Bone's life?

    Shannon Pearl is a deeply disturbed person. During her short life, she is preoccupied by thoughts of revenge and hatred for those who have rejected her, just like Bone. She relishes stories where young children die, mocks her mother, and spouts racially insensitive commentary. Yet her spite is a defense mechanism against a world that has been decidedly cruel. Bone is drawn to Shannon's darkness, because it shows her defiance against the dehumanizing treatment she has suffered all her life - by her peers, her family, and even strangers. Bone recognizes and identifies with Shannon's pain and the resulting anger. However, Shannon's death is a wake-up call to Bone, who realizes that she cannot let her hatred consume her. Later, Bone removes herself from her toxic household, refusing to let Glen's past abuse define her own future.

  8. 8

    Why does Bone think of herself as ugly?

    Glen's continued physical, emotional and sexual abuse has twisted Bone's self-perception. The abuse reinforces feelings of worthlessness that become manifest in Bone's assessment of her physical appearance. Yet Bone also associates ugliness with poverty and beauty with wealth. She scrutinizes the bodies of the Boatwright aunts and decides they are figures "born to be worked to death, used up, and thrown away" (Allison 206). She doesn't find them pretty or beautiful like the well-groomed middle and upper class women Bone envies. She resents not looking like Glen's "pretty" nieces and is jealous of their expensive dresses (Allison 206). The effects of abuse and poverty combine to warp Bone's sense of self.

  9. 9

    Why does Bone insult Raylene after she helps bring Glen’s abuse to light?

    As a result of her abuse, Bone has a tremendous amount of anger; in the aftermath of the wake, Raylene becomes a target for that anger. By discovering and publicizing the abuse, Raylene causes irreversible shifts in Bone’s world. After Glen is beaten, Bone is forced to leave her home. More traumatically, Anney isolates her from extended family and treats her coldly. Bone resents these developments and Raylene, in turn, for causing them. She also vents her anger at Raylene because she knows her aunt is a safe target, unlike the people who actually hurt her. Glen is too dangerous for Bone to confront and Bone is not yet prepared to sever her relationship with her mother. Raylene, who absorbs Bone’s abuse without becoming angry or unstable, is the perfect target for Bone's rage.

  10. 10

    What do you think happens to Reese at the end of the novel?

    Reese's fate is unclear but attentive readers have several clues as to her potential future. Her sexual behavior earlier in the novel indicates she may already be a victim of Daddy Glen's abuse. Moreover, the novel ends by confirming the cyclical nature of family history. If Bone's cycle of abuse has come to an end, perhaps Reese's is only beginning. Despite his attempt to blame Bone for his abuse, Glen has a pathological need to vent his general anger and sexual rage. If he no longer has Bone to assault he will look for another victim and Reese is a likely candidate. Moreover, Anney has yet to accept that Glen is a cold and violent psychopath and pedophile. Over time, she may start to trust him to be alone with Reese.