Bastard Out of Carolina

by Dorothy Allison

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Chapters 17-22: Summary and Analysis

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New Characters
Dwight, D. W.: Ruth’s son who is late for her funeral.

Tommy Lee: Ruth’s son, a thief who is absent from her funeral.

Butch: Ruth’s youngest child who is a year older than Bone and who Bone can relate to.

Sheriff Cole: Questions Bone at the hospital. Bone does not trust him because he reminds her of Daddy Glen.

SummaryChapter 17: Anney’s family (Daddy Glen, Reese and Bone) prepares for the funeral. Bone poignantly remembers the conversation where she was too ashamed to admit to Aunt Ruth the extent of Daddy Glen’s abuse. Although Anney tries to keep Bone away from Daddy Glen, Bone is home for the funeral preparations. Daddy Glen finds a reason to vent his rage on her, drags her into the bathroom, and beats her with a belt while Anney remains screaming outside. During the severe beating, Bone does not scream. As has become typical in the cycle of abuse, Anney remains in denial and takes her husband’s side. “Why honey? Why did you have to act like that?” she asks Bone.

Bone spends the night at Aunt Ruth’s place with Aunt Raylene. The family prepares for the funeral the next day. Deedee, Ruth’s daughter, talks to Bone about music and, later, tells Aunt Raylene that she doesn’t want to go to her mother’s funeral. An argument ensues. Raylene slaps Deedee and orders her in the car.

Earle is released early for the funeral. He shows up drunk and with a “girl” (not a “woman”) who is very, very young and dressed like a tramp. Earle and Uncle Beau drink in Earle’s truck.

The funeral is temporarily delayed while Travis, Ruth’s husband, waits in vain for their wayward son Tommy Lee to appear. While his brothers eventually do, Tommy Lee is absent from his own mother’s funeral.

Later, after the funeral, the Boatwrights return to Aunt Ruth’s. Outside the house, Bone starts drinking—she has never had alcohol before—with Butch, her cousin who is close to her in age. The two proceed to get drunk as Butch reminisces about his mama. Suddenly, Butch gives Bone a tongue kiss. Bone leaves to go back to the house. She does not realize how drunk she is, although she is staggering. She finds her way to the bathroom and collapses on the toilet. Aunt Raylene finds her there and discovers the fresh wounds from yesterday’s beating by Daddy Glen. Irate, Aunt Raylene shows Earle, Nevil, and Beau the wounds.

Bone’s uncles then administer a savage beating to Daddy Glen—he will need to be taken to the hospital. As they beat him, Bone, Anney, and Raylene huddle together listening to the blows. The description chillingly illustrates the effects of abuse. Anney is in denial and Bone feels guilty. Anney directs rage at Raylene but then admits that she is ashamed. Bone says, “I made him mad.”

Chapter 18: The chapter begins with Bone’s heartfelt statement, “Things come apart so easily when they have been held together by lies.” She then illustrates the dissolution of trust and family bonds caused by the discovery of the extent of Daddy Glen’s abuse.

Anney moves the children (Bone is not yet thirteen) away from Daddy Glen to a cheap, dumpy apartment in the city. The events after the funeral have caused severe discord. Anney is estranged from her family over the incident; she won’t talk to Aunt Raylene. Bone continues to wallow in guilt, falling under the mistaken rationalization that she somehow deserved the beating. Daddy Glen appears one evening at dinner to talk to Anney, but she is not ready to...

(This entire section contains 2705 words.)

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speak with him. Anney and the children have now been away from Daddy Glen for over a week, and Bone realizes that this is a long time by Boatwright standards; she also realizes that her Mama will inevitably forgive Daddy Glen. Bone feels unloved. She can tell by her mother’s behavior that Anney subconsciously blames her for the events that have passed. As a result, Bone continues to wallow in a state of self-loathing. She relives the beatings in her mind and realizes that they sexually gratified Daddy Glen. Although not stated openly, it is clear that Bone is damaged and needs help. She masturbates to images of fire.

The situation in the apartment is intolerable. One day Bone leaves and walks all day to Aunt Raylene’s from the apartment in the city. Uncle Earle is staying with Aunt Raylene after experiencing problems with the woman he brought to the funeral. Raylene comments, disapprovingly, on Earle’s penchant for young women. Bone is confused and ashamed to be a Boatwright. Raylene talks to her, and both are ready to cry.

Bone stays at Raylene’s for three days but then returns to Anney’s place in the city. A couple of days later, Alma’s sickly child Tadpole dies. The event causes Bone to think about the love of a mother for her children. During these thoughts, Bone realizes that her mother will go back to Daddy Glen and wonders whether her mother will still love her then.

Chapter 19: Time passes. The following spring, Bone is in school and reading a lot. One Monday, when she returns to her apartment, Anney is in a frenzy because something is wrong with Alma. Little Earle has called. Anney and Bone drive over to Alma’s because Alma has gone crazy.

Little Earle meets them up the road. He is afraid. Alma has torn her place up and strewn belongings all about. Everything is disheveled and broken. Alma is bloody and waiting for her husband, Wade, to reappear so that she can cut his throat. Wade had insulted Alma during an argument, saying that she was ugly and that he didn’t want to give her another baby. Anney consoles Alma, who is under terrible strain, both from the death of her infant and from the callous behavior of her husband. As the sisters have a heart-to-heart talk, Uncle Earle comments to Grey and Garvey about how crazy women are.

Eventually Alma goes to sleep. Anney and Bone finally have a heart-to-heart talk, the first since Daddy Glen was beaten, and Bone confesses that she is waiting for Anney to go back to Daddy Glen. She also makes it clear that she will not join her mother when this eventuality occurs. Instead, she will live with one of her aunts. The conversation between mother and daughter is quite sad and illustrates the effects of the abuse. As Bone falls asleep, Anney cries.

Chapter 20: With the family’s help, Aunt Alma’s household gradually returns to normal. Although Uncle Wade has not reappeared, Bone and Uncle Earle help get things back in order. Bone stays at the household to help Alma recover. Although she misses school in order to do this, she is peaceful and content. One day, Daddy Glen shows up unannounced when Bone is inside alone. Aunt Alma is in the garden out back, unaware that Daddy Glen has arrived.

The situation is ominous and threatening; the resulting confrontation is the culminating moment in the novel. All of Daddy Glen’s pent up rage and fury explodes. At first he just wants to talk with Bone. In his typically uncouth manner, he tells Bone what she has to do: “You’re gonna have to tell her you want us all to be together again, he says. Bone refuses, and Glen becomes violent. Completely deranged, he beats Bone badly. Bone tries to stab him, and the violence escalates to a level that has only, until this point in the novel, been hinted at.

Daddy Glen’s rage is overtly sexual. Not only does he severely beat a child who is not yet thirteen, he rapes her. The rape is described from Bone’s perspective in graphic, sickening detail.

Anney appears and witnesses the end of the horrific incident. Chaos ensues. Anney pulls the confused, frightened, and badly wounded Bone from Glen as he makes up excuses. As she tries to drive away with Bone, Glen knocks himself senseless by battering his head repeatedly into the car door. Anney holds Glen back from hurting himself more. Even with this violent climax, Anney cannot renounce Glen. Bone is appalled that her Mama could console Glenn at such a moment.

Chapter 21: After the sheer, overt violence of the previous chapter, all that remains is an epilogue, in the form of the final two chapters. These serve to tie together the loose ends of the narrative. The beating and rape are so violent that there is no way to escape the scrutiny of the law. Anney drops Bone off at the hospital but disappears before even leaving her name. Bone has a dislocated shoulder and broken wrist, among other injuries. She has passed out and doesn’t know what happened to her mother or Daddy Glen.

A deputy and Sheriff Cole soon appear in order to ask Bone some questions. Bone instinctively distrusts Sheriff Cole, whom she calls a "Daddy Glen in a uniform." "The world was full of Daddy Glens," she continues, "and I didn’t want to be in the world anymore.” Feeling completely abandoned and distrustful of the Sheriff, Bone refuses to say anything. Her inner rage is directed against Sheriff Cole. The “interrogation” is cut short by the arrival of Aunt Raylene, who yells at the sheriff for cornering the child in such a manner. Raylene protects Bone from the sheriff and promises to get Bone home.

Chapter 22: Raylene stays with Bone overnight and brings her back to her place the next day. The assault has made the local papers, and journalists photograph Bone as she leaves the hospital.

Later, back at Raylene’s, Bone and Raylene talk. Raylene admits to having had a female lover in her younger days. She philosophizes on love, bracing Bone for the news that no one in the family knows where Anney is. The conversation makes clear that Raylene expects Anney to disappear with Glen: “Bone, no woman can stand to choose between her baby and her lover, between her child and her husband,” Raylene tells Bone.

Bone remains full of hate. “I had seen my whole life in Sheriff Cole’s eyes, contemptible, small, meaningless." Although Bone hates her Mama, Raylene assures her that one day Bone will forgive Anney.

Bone convalesces at Aunt Raylene’s. Her uncles visit. However, no one knows where Anney and Daddy Glen are. One night, Anney finally appears. She looks haggard and aged. The two hug and cry. Nevertheless, there is a sense of estrangement and loss of trust. Anney tells Bone that she loves her, gives her an envelope, and leaves suddenly as Aunt Raylene appears. The implication is that Anney is leaving the state with Daddy Glen and that she had come to see her daughter one last time.

The envelope contains Bone’s birth certificate, which she had always heard so much about, but never seen. Bone is left abandoned by her mother. At that moment, Bone is only a couple of years younger than her mother had been when she first became pregnant. She ponders the circular nature of human existence and wonders about her own future.

Analysis
Until Ruth’s funeral, much of the novel illustrates the abuse from which Bone suffers and the resulting lack of trust in her mother. The revelation of the extent of the abuse causes the novel to carom towards its violent and heartbreaking conclusion. Previously, the family, particularly the recently deceased Aunt Ruth, had an inkling of abuse. However, Aunt Raylene’s discovery of Bone’s wounds makes Anney’s feeble denials and rationalizations (“‘Why honey? Why did you have to act like that?’”) even more pathetic.

Bastard Out of Carolina is a remarkably accurate chronicle of abuse, both of the child and the parent who is in denial. Anney is a very complex character, a very young mother who buried one husband and chose badly the next time around while yearning stability. While it is easy to condemn Anney, it is important to remember that one parent often doles out abuse while the other remains willingly blind to the situation. Anney’s behavior is very sad, but ultimately realistic. Her rejection of Aunt Raylene—“Don’t touch me. Don’t” – is chilling. At some level, Anney blames her sister for spilling the beans. According to Anney’s skewed values, Raylene has betrayed her rather than protected Bone.

The inescapability of the situation becomes clearer in the last few chapters. There is no adequate resolution or compromise. Even with the extended family aware of the situation, no beating short of murder will prevent Glen from abusing Bone if he has access to her. As a result, the emphasis, after Ruth’s funeral, is the breaking of the mother-daughter bond, the renunciation of trust and love. Bone is very mature for her age. She realizes her mother’s predicament and ultimately accepts that she will no longer live in the same household as Daddy Glen, even if that means leaving her mother. This decision is aided by the presence of the extended family around Greenville and the crisis at Alma’s, which provides Bone with an excuse to leave home.

Though predictable based on the sexual gratification that Glen experienced during the earlier beatings, the violent confrontation between Daddy Glen and Bone is utterly shocking in its brutality and depravity. While previously the abuse had been due to Glen’s pathological character—something which Bone finally realizes after the incident following Ruth’s funeral (“It had nothing to do with me or anything I had done. It was an animal thing, just him using me,” Bone says.)—the final confrontation is exacerbated by Glen’s desire for revenge. The result is a rape and beating of such violence that everything that occurs after it appears as mere epilogue.

Ultimately, Anney cannot renounce her husband, even when she sees him atop her daughter. The image of Anney cradling and comforting Daddy Glen after he bashes his head against the car door is probably as disturbing to Bone as the rape itself. Although she is still in shock from the rape and her injuries, this is the moment that Bone realizes that she has lost her mother. She is an abandoned child. With this in mind, Anney’s actual abandonment of Bone is just the literal confirmation of the psychological abandonment that occurred with each rationalization of a beating and, finally, with the comforting of Glen despite his horrendous crime.

Bone is left alone in the hospital. From her perspective, the law does not protect her. Rather, she feels that Sheriff Cole preys on her, much the way Daddy Glen would. He is yet another in a long succession of male characters, not simply “white trash” men, who treat Bone as an outsider. Bone has nowhere else to go but back with Aunt Raylene, the self-sufficient female Boatwright. Raylene’s subsequent admission to a lesbian affair comes as no surprise, based on the descriptions of her throughout the novel. Raylene becomes the wise protector, aiding Bone in her recovery and bracing her for the inevitable moment when Anney will choose Glen. The final meeting between mother and daughter confirms that Bone is on her own.

Although Dorothy Allison ties up most of the loose ends in the two post-rape chapters, the reader is left wondering as to the fate of at least one character, Reese. While it is implied that Anney and Glen leave the state, Reese is never mentioned. Is she with them?

One criticism of the book is that some of the characters are stereotypical. While Uncle Earle is described in great detail, Beau and Nevil are vague stereotypes of the “white trash” Southern male. Likewise, Reese is not described with much detail. We do learn something of her sexual development, but ultimately we do not know much about Reese. This is odd because the circular theme of the last chapter implies that she is also to become a victim of Daddy Glen.

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Chapters 12-16: Summary and Analysis