Bastard Out of Carolina is a novel by Dorothy Alison written in 1992. It describes the events that were happening to Bone and her mother Anney in the 1950s. The author tells the story of a little girl, who lived through poverty, and the physical and sexual abuse of her step-father. This little girl, Bone, was eventually left by her mother and remained with her caring aunt. This paper aims to analyze the importance of human interactions to personal growth on the example of Anney, the mother of the main character of the novel Bastard Out of Carolina.
The story is narrated by Bone, a little girl who lives with her mother, Anney. Anney tries to improve her love life by remarrying Glen Waddell after her previous husband, Lyle Parsons, dies in a car accident. The tone of the story is a bit humorous and ironic. Still, the mood of the story is rather gloomy, considering the dreadful events that happen to Bone and the generally unhappy life of the main characters. Bone is a protagonist; other characters include her mother Anney, her aunt Ruth, her step-father Glen, her uncles, and her little sister.
The story starts with the episode of the Bone’s birth and receiving a birth certificate with the red stamp “illegitimate,” which meant “bastard” or “born out of wedlock” (Alison 7). “I was a certified bastard by the state of South Carolina,” says the narrator (Alison 5). The book ends with Anney making a new certificate without the red stamp for Bone, whose real name is Ruth Anne. Anney tries to say ‘sorry’ and ’goodbye’ in such a way before she leaves Bone: “I unfolded the bottom third. It was blank, unmarked, unstamped” (Alison 271). The plot evolves from the first marriage of Anney to Lyle Parsons, who dies in a car accident and leaves her with no means for living, with a second daughter Reese and Bone to care for. Anney waits a few years and then marries again after she gets pregnant; she then gives birth to a stillborn boy, and the doctor says that she cannot have children again.
The life of the family gets gloomy since Glen has troubles with finding a job, as well as Anney. Glen has a problem with anger control; he starts to beat and sexually abuse Bone. After one of the beatings, Bone leaves the family house and starts living with her aunt. Being afraid that Anney will leave him, Glen finds Bone, threatens her to change her mind on him, roaring, “You can’t destroy me so easy,” he said. “Anney’s gonna come back, she told me” (Alison 249). After she refuses, he rapes her and breaks her arm (Alison 251). Anny comes, sees the scene, and stops him by screaming and beating him. But she is still in love with him, and after stopping Glen and hiding Bone, she shows affection for him, which raises disgust in Bone, who understands that she hates her mother.
The importance of human interactions to personal growth can be illustrated by the example of Bone’s mother, Anney, who is disrespected for having had the first child out of marriage. When she works in a café, the visitors show their arrogance due to the rumor that a year after the birth of Bone, she tried to change the birth certificate and remove the red stamp. The female characters, including Anney’s mother, sister, and female friends, support her. Still, it seems that the male characters’ opinions are very important, which is typical of the time when the events of the novel unfold. Not all men are equally imperious and hostile towards Anney and her children; for example, her brothers are fond of girls and care for them, which is evident from the tone of the story.
However, in the marriage relationship, Anney does not have an equal role with her husbands, who see her as a naive girl who cannot settle herself in life and needs them. This social contempt doesn’t stop them from building a personal relationship with Anney, but then, Glen does not respect or fear her enough to worry about the consequences of abusing her child. According to the unwritten laws of the time, Anney needs a husband to survive, find a job, feed her children, and perhaps get the life she dreamed of one day.
There is not much place for Anney’s personal growth and social realization since, at the very beginning of the book, it is said that she did not finish school, and the work at the café was the best thing she could do when she was seventeen. Anney clung to Glen because he was her only ticket to a life in which she was treated with respect and not like rubbish. Perhaps that’s why Anney tells Bone that she ‘loved’ Glen so much that she couldn’t imagine what he was doing to Bone. Anney thinks that the love made her blind, but in fact, that was fear of staying on the sidelines, alone, faced with social disapproval daily.
Anney’s situation is particularly dire, as, in the 1950s, most women were not in the labor force, and the woman’s role was viewed solely as a homemaker. Men of that time treated women who were ‘forced’ to work with contempt and considered them unworthy or incapable of fulfilling the role assigned to them by nature – to be good wives and mothers. Anney is a young girl, and she does not want to fit into any framework; she strives for self-realization, but she has very little room for maneuver since she is a mother of two daughters, and she wants to raise them. Therefore, she is so eager to get married, turning a blind eye to signs of disrespect.
The other women in the novel do not support or judge Anney outside of extreme situations. However, her sister does care for Bone after discovering signs of beatings, and Anney’s brothers also care for her as they beat Glen to stop him. Anney’s mother does not feel responsible for her. She does not seek to interfere in her life, although she allows her to live in her house when the situation with the beating of Bone is revealed. In general, using the example of Bone’s aunt, the author shows that the women of the novel explain the inadequate, disrespectful attitude of men, which hinders the personal growth of women by the fact that they are, in fact, children justifying them in this way.
Thus, the importance of human interactions to personal growth was analyzed on the example of Anney, the mother of the main character of the novel Bastard Out of Carolina. The novel depicts her step-father’s cruel, inhuman attitude toward Bone, the main character, and how little her mother Anney can do to gain independence, the opportunity for personal growth, and free herself from her tyrant husband. Anney is so deprived of social support and is such a helpless figure that she is afraid to part with Glen even after he rapes her daughter. She still has sentiments to him; she still thinks that she “loved” him. In this way, the author of the novel demonstrates that, despite the many human interactions, nothing could change the status of women, especially unmarried women with children in the 1950s.
Alison, Dorothy. Bastard Out of Carolina. Plume, 2011.