Bastard Out of Carolina

by Dorothy Allison

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  • Topic #1
    Gender differences are prominent throughout Bastard Out of Carolina. Discuss the stereotypes of men and women that are displayed in this novel with respect to the burdens and expected behavior of each gender. Bone admires men, particularly Earle, as well as her Aunt Raylene, who escapes many parts of the female stereotype. Explain Bone’s perception of gender in her family and how she identifies herself within these stereotypes.

    I. Thesis statement: Bone notices that the females are, for the most part, oppressed by their male counterparts, and she eventually ends up identifying with the males and the one female in the novel who is most like them.

    II. The women are burdened with raising large families early in their lives.
    A. Anney is an unwed mother who must struggle to raise her children.
    B. Aunt Alma is very busy with her children while her husband, Wade, is never around, for one reason or another.
    C. Travis is never around to help his wife, Ruth. The children have turned out badly. One, Tommy Lee, is a thief who has stolen from his mother.

    III. The men are often carousing and drinking, leaving the women alone. They are, for the most part, insensitive to their wives emotional needs. Often, husbands and wives briefly separate.
    A. Alma leaves Wade because of his carousing. Later she takes him back. However, after their infant dies, Wade tells Alma that she is too ugly for him to make another child with her. Alma’s subsequent insanity results from this insensitivity.
    B. Glen is incapable of supporting his family. On one occasion, Anney must prostitute herself.
    C. Uncle Earle is separated because he always cheats. According to him, it is not his fault.
    D. Travis, Ruth’s husband, is a drunk.

    IV. Bone develops many male traits.
    A. She burglarizes a Woolworth’s. Most burglars are male.
    B. She develops children’s games in which the female characters get to be as bad as the male characters.

    V. Conclusion: Bone believes men have it much better than women. On numerous occasions, she openly wishes she were a man. She looks up to her Uncle Earle, who embodies the Boatwright male traits. Ultimately, Bone ends up closest to Aunt Raylene, a woman whose closest relationship was with another woman.

  • Topic # 2
    Ugliness, or a character’s perceived ugliness, is a major theme in the novel. Several characters are described as ugly, and Bone thinks that she is very ugly, particularly after Daddy Glen begins abusing her. Make an argument for the role of beauty in Bone’s self-definition. Does it affect her perception of her family? How is class linked to beauty?

    I. Thesis Statement: Bone’s attitudes of social class and low status are linked to her perceptions of physical attractiveness. Ugliness is discussed openly throughout the book, and its constant presence contributes to Bone’s feelings of inferiority.

    II. The women often talk openly about physical beauty.
    A. Little Earle is teased for being ugly.
    B. Alma mentions to Bone that it is good that she is smart so that she can compensate for not being attractive.
    C. Anney talks to Bone, before Ruth’s funeral, about how ugly Ruth was and how she had had children to compensate for this.

    III. Bone befriends Shannon Pearl on the school bus.
    A. Shannon Pearl is an exceptionally ugly child. Even strangers are rude to her and comment on her ugliness.
    B. Bone’s friendship with Shannon may partly be the result of Bone wanting to feel superior; she has found someone uglier than herself.
    C. When the two children argue, the...

(This entire section contains 750 words.)

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  • friendship ends with Bone telling Shannon how ugly she is; Bone feels superior, or less ugly.

    IV. The physical abuse Bone suffers and her own sense of class-consciousness leads her to conclude that she is ugly and that Boatwrights are ugly.
    A. Bone dwells on how unattractive she is. She doesn’t even have a good singing voice.
    B. Bone realizes her mother has lost her looks at an early age.
    C. Bone ultimately thinks the Boatwrights are rather ugly and describes them as such, at least physically, at numerous points in the text.

    V. Conclusion: The constant obsession with ugliness and social class leads Bone to believe that she and all the Boatwrights are rather unattractive. This trait of unattractiveness is related to low social standing. She suffers from low self-esteem and dwells on how others perceive her as low-class and ugly.


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