Bastard Out of Carolina

by Dorothy Allison

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Chapters 7-11: Summary and Analysis

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New Characters
Aunt Ruth: Anney’s oldest sister who Bone is sent to help out and live with because Aunt Ruth has cancer.

Tommy Lee: Aunt Ruth’s son, a thief who is not present but is mentioned to Bone as a bad example.

Deedee: Ruth’s oldest daughter, a complainer who comes home to take care of Ruth when Bone has to go back to school but does not seem to love her mother.

Shannon Pearl: An exceptionally ugly schoolmate and friend of Bone’s whose parents book gospel and country music singers and run a Christian bookstore.

SummaryChapter 7: Anney tries to scare Bone with stories of Tommy Lee, Aunt Ruth’s oldest son, a petty thief who is constantly in trouble. However, Bone becomes a petty thief herself and steals candy from the Greenville Woolworth’s. Anney discovers the theft and accompanies Bone back to the Woolworth’s, forcing her to return all the articles. During the confrontation in Woolworth’s, rage develops in Bone. Her fury is directed at the store's manager and those who treat her and her family with condescension because they are working class. Bone is barred from Woolworth’s as punishment for her offense.

Glen is increasingly in trouble for his bad temper and fistfights. He gets fired often. The class difference between the Waddells (the "haves") and the Boatwrights (the "have nots") is further illustrated at a double birthday celebration at the Waddells. Anney’s family is clearly out of place and made to feel inferior. For instance, two of the Waddells refer to Boatwright's transportation as "nigger trash."

Chapter 8: At ten years old, Bone has more responsibility around the home than ever. With Bone’s increase in age and responsibility comes an increase in blame for one offense or another directed at her by Daddy Glen. He starts beating her, and this physical abuse becomes a regular occurrence. During the confrontation after the first beating, Glen lies and apologizes to Anney. Anney forgives Glen and they end up having sex. A regular pattern develops: Anney turns a blind eye to the abuse and then forgives Glen for his transgression.

Although Bone tries to avoid Glen, his hours are too irregular and the home too secluded for successful evasion. Glen often finds Bone alone. He derives sexual gratification from the beatings he doles out, and he molests her as well. “And he did love me. He told me so over and over again, holding my body tight to his, his hands shaking and moving restlessly, endlessly, over my belly, ass, and thighs,” Bone says.

The regular beatings cause Bone to feel guilty and helpless: “I knew that it was nothing I had done that made him beat me," she says, "It was just me, the fact of my life, who I was in his eyes and mine. I was evil.” Bone begins having masochistic and erotic fantasies.

Eventually, the beatings become so severe that Bone must be taken to the hospital. The doctor immediately suspects abuse. Neither Anney nor Bone admits this. The doctor is an outsider, and Bone, possibly as a result of fear or love of her mother, will not confide in him. However, his accusations serve to wake Anney up a bit. Anney has a confrontation with Glen in the hospital parking lot, takes the children, and leaves him.

Chapter 9: The separation from Daddy Glen is very short-lived. Anney moves back to him with the children two weeks later. The pattern of abuse continues. It is only a matter of time before Glen begins beating Bone again.

Bone becomes a storyteller and begins relating very morbid...

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tales to Reese and her cousins. The abuse is having a psychological effect. Anney tries to keep Bone away from Daddy Glen and takes Bone to work with her. Bone also hides in the woods, reading books, when school lets out.

During the summer, Anney sends Bone to Aunt Ruth’s. Ruth has cancer and can use Bone’s help around the house. During this time, Bone bonds with her dying aunt. Ruth tells her stories—along with Black Earle, who visits often—from the family history. Ruth also tries to understand the severity of Bone’s situation with Daddy Glen. Ruth has her suspicions. “Bone, has Daddy Glen ever … well … touched you?” Ruth asks Bone. Although Bone trusts her aunt, she doesn’t tell the truth. However, Ruth figures it out from Bone’s body language. Anney continues to deny that the abuse will continue, although she is taking steps to minimize it. Glen will not change, despite now being employed at his father’s dairy.

A gospel revival tent goes up close to Ruth’s house. Bone, amidst all sorts of thoughts on beauty and on her own perceived ugliness, becomes very attracted to the music that emanates from the tent.

Chapter 10: Bone starts listening to the “Sunrise Gospel Hour” on the radio. She has a deep attraction to gospel and country music and wants to sing, although she doesn’t have a very good voice.

When Bone has to go back to Mama’s in order to return to school, Deedee, Aunt Ruth’s callous and complaining daughter, comes to take care of Ruth. She is mean and bitter and complains about her mother incessantly. Bone cannot understand Deedee’s hatred and tries to comfort herself with gospel music.

Bone wants more than anything else to sing, but she has a poor voice. Back at home, Bone must be very careful around Daddy Glen. More and more she escapes into a personal world of gospel music. The family—including Granny and Alma—is tolerant of Bone’s gospel, Christian phase. Bone even tries to convert her family, particularly Earle, but she stands no chance. “Sometimes in his arguments," Bone says, "Uncle Earle would get Teresa, the Catholic Church, and the county marshals a little confused. Given enough whiskey, he’d start talking about the way they had all united to blight his life.”

Bone becomes more and more religious. Eventually, Anney takes her to a church for baptism. Bone catches a cold from the submersion and recovers while reading the Book of Revelation. The damage from her childhood now manifests itself in religion. “I liked Revelations, loved the Whore of Babylon and promised rivers of blood and fire," she says, "It struck me like gospel music, it promised vindication.”

Chapter 11: Bone befriends the exceptionally ugly Shannon Pearl when other children are making fun of her on the school bus. As one churchgoer later comments, “The Lord didn’t intend me to get nauseous in the middle of Sunday services. That child is a shock to the digestion.” Only Shannon’s mother and Bone seem to be able to stand this child. Shannon isn’t nice and often tells morbid stories. She is vindictive and hates those who hate her.

Through Shannon’s parents who book and seek out local talent, Bone gets to meet various country and western and gospel singers. Bone also gets to accompany Shannon on tours of local halls and churches where there are performances. Bone realizes that the Pearls are rather strange, and she doesn’t really like them or their daughter but hangs around because of the connection with musical personalities. Bone does sense that the Pearls, much like the Waddells, have contempt for the Boatwrights. Again, Bone is made to feel her low social class.

The deeply religious parents of Shannon turn a blind eye to all the “sin” perpetrated by the performers on the gospel and country and western circuit. Unlike Bone and Shannon, they don’t notice all the drinking and carousing.

Once again, Bone is very introspective about her own lack of singing talent. She recognizes a good musical voice and is disappointed that she doesn’t possess one. However, she enjoys accompanying the Pearls as they search rural areas for new singing talent. During one excursion, Bone and Shannon stumble across a church with beautiful singing, but it is a “colored” church. Bone and Shannon have a disagreement over Shannon’s use of the word “nigger.” It strikes Bone the same way her Aunt Madeline uses the word “trash” as derogatory and rude. In reply, Shannon calls the Boatwrights “a bunch of drunks, thieves and bastards.” Bone retorts by emphasizing how ugly Shannon is. This quarrel—over class and racial differences—effectively ends the friendship.

The themes of lowself-worth and the realization of low socio-economic status become more prominent as the novel progresses. Bone’s low self-esteem and feelings of guilt are intricately associated with Daddy Glen’s abuse. As the abuse continues, she begins to actually feel as if she is to blame. As she writes, “I knew that it was nothing I had done that made him beat me. It was just me, the fact of my life, who I was in his eyes and mine. I was evil.”

Anney’s utter inability to confront Glen and the situation in any lasting manner only exacerbates the problem. Anney’s forgiveness of her husband indicates that Anney—still a young woman herself—is incapable of protecting her child. The result is Bone’s gradual loss of trust in her mother and a magnified sense of her own inferiority. Bone thinks she is evil, stupid, and deserving of the beatings. These are classic symptoms of this type of victimization. Bone’s perceptions and development are now affected by her sense of low self-worth and guilt. She remains acutely aware that her fate would be better if she were a boy. As she remarks, “I wished I was a boy so I could run faster, stay away more, or even hit him back.”

Additionally, as Bone grows up, she becomes increasingly aware of the low status of the Boatwrights within society. The difference between the Boatwrights and Waddells is evidenced by the contempt with which the Waddells treat the Boatwrights at a family gathering. “I pushed my black hair out of my eyes and looked in at one of my wide-mouthed cousins in a white dress with eyelet sleeves looking back at me, scratching her nose and staring like I was some elephant in a zoo—something dumb and ugly and impervious to hurt.” Of course, by this time, Bone does feel dumb and ugly.

The rage which Bone harbors as a result of the abuse and the realization of her own “white trash” status becomes sharper as a result of the confrontation in Woolworth’s. The situation is typical enough: a parent (Anney, in this case) makes a child return stolen merchandise in an attempt to cause the child to be ashamed of her actions. However, in this case, it backfires. Bone is instead outraged at what she perceives as the haughty superiority of the clerk. While the confrontation is a normal part of childhood, Bone’s reaction indicates that something is awry.

Although Anney ultimately cannot face the damage being done to her daughter, she does find ways to get Bone out of the house. She sends Bone to stay with Aunt Ruth, who is dying of cancer. The scenes at Ruth’s are quite touching; they show how the bond that should naturally develop between mother and child is shifted to Ruth. Subconsciously, Bone does not trust her mother, and the time at Ruth’s is reminiscent of the closeness that Bone should have with her own mother. However, Bone remains obsessed with her own perceived ugliness. “If I kept worrying about not being a beauty," she says, "I’d probably ruin myself.” And despite the closeness between her and Ruth, Bone is unable to admit the extent of the abuse that she suffers.

Bones friendship with Shannon Pearl is very telling at a psychological level. Although Bone senses that she is ugly, she can comfort herself because she is not as ugly as Shannon Pearl. In this sense, Bone receives some positive confirmation through her relationship with Shannon. However, before long the question of class again rears its ugly head. Shannon’s use of the word “niggers” reminds Bone of the way a Waddell Aunt calls others, like Boatwrights, “trash”—the two terms are synonymous in both meaning and in the pitch in which they are uttered. Ultimately, the fight between Shannon and Bone is a result of the similarity between racial and class slurs. In this instance, Bone is no longer hiding her rage at those who would call her trash, as in the case at Woolworth’s. Rather, she freely lashes back.


Chapters 1-6: Summary and Analysis


Chapters 12-16: Summary and Analysis