(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Bastard Out of Carolina is the story of a young South Carolina girl’s childhood, which, though blighted by illegitimacy, poverty, and her stepfather’s abuse, is made bearable by the love of her extended family and even by the love of the mother who seemed to have abandoned her.

The novel is organized chronologically, taking the narrator, Ruth Anne Boatwright, or “Bone,” from birth to her thirteenth year. While her own experiences provide the narrative thread for Bastard Out of Carolina, much of the book’s thematic content can be found in incidents that Bone does not witness but that are related to her by other characters such as her grandmother, the intrepid Granny Boatwright. These stories, many of them from the past, most of them about the members of her own family, become very important to Bone. She absorbs them and reflects on them, making them as much a part of her own world as the events in which she is personally involved.

From the beginning, Bone has problems with identity. She is born while her mother, Anney Boatwright, is still unconscious after being in an automobile accident. Since the relatives do not list a father on the birth certificate, Bone is officially classified as “illegitimate.”

Despite this unfortunate beginning, for a time Bone’s life goes smoothly. Anney marries a sweet-tempered man, Lyle Parsons, and soon Bone has a little sister, Reese Parsons. Then Lyle is killed in an accident, leaving Anney, at nineteen, a widow with two children to support.

While she is working as a waitress, Anney meets Glen Waddell. Even though her family warns her that Glen has a nasty temper, Anney is lonely, and she marries him. From the first, Glen seems to dislike Bone. While he and the two children are sitting in a hospital parking lot waiting for Anney to have his baby, Glen puts Bone on his lap and molests her. From that time on, she fears and distrusts him.

After their baby dies at birth and Glen learns that Anney can have no more children, he seems to become even more violent than before. Because of his hot temper, he loses one job...

(The entire section is 872 words.)