Study Guide

Bastard Out of Carolina Analysis

  • Tone

    Reflective, Sympathetic; Desperate, Helpless, Frustrated

    We know those aren't happy words, but don't despair. This novel might not be cheery, but it's not as much of a complete downer as you'd think. Keep in mind that the book is told from the perspective of someone looking back on the not-so-happy events of their life not because she is angry and vengeful but because she wants to understand why her mother might have done the things that she did.

    That's what we mean when we say the tone is reflective (it looks back with new insight) and sympathetic (it tries to understand, not judge), especially when it comes to Bone's view of Anney.

    Bone definitely has some strong feelings about other characters, but Narrator-Bone is all about allowing emotions and observations to speak for themselves. For instance, at one point, Bone wonders, "How long had it been since I had seen Mama not tired, not sad, not scared?" (14.14). Through this thought, we get a sense that Glen's aggression toward Bone is not unnoticed, or unfelt, by Anney.

    At the same time, Bone goes through a whole lot of dark times, and it wouldn't be a good book if we didn't get a sense of that through the text. Here's just one example:

    To say anything would mean trying to tell her everything, to describe those times when he held me tight to his belly and called me sweet names I did not want to hear. I remained silent, stubborn, resentful, and collected my bruises as if they were unavoidable. (8.38)

    Talk about no way out. The tone here is trying to capture Bone's state of mind at the time—and trying to explain the reasons why she feels she can't tell Anney about the abuse. As readers, we too feel some of that frustration, as we witness a situation we can't do anything about. Yes, we want to curl up in a ball and not face the world. Yes, we want to pound our fists on something and ask "Why? Why?"—but that's the point.

    Bone is in a situation where she can't reach out to the people around her, and as readers, we're in a situation where we can't reach through the text to help Bone. See what we mean when we say the tone here is "helpless" and "frustrated"?

  • Genre

    Coming-of-Age; Family Drama

    Does thirteen count as "of age"?

    Hey, why not? "Of age" doesn't necessarily mean when you turn eighteen and get to do fun things like vote; it's really about a moment of transition to some kind of maturity. So yeah, even though a character in a standard coming-of-age novel like, say, Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye, is seventeen years old, the truth is that people leave childhood behind at different ages. Thirteen may not be that old, but Bone sure comes to some serious adult realizations by the end of the novel.

    Bastard Out of Carolina covers an important period of growth for Bone. Over the course of the novel, she literally grows up, for sure; but more importantly, she gets toward a place where she can actually understand the adult world—even if she hasn't, you know, stopped growing by the end.

    In most coming-of-age novels, there's something like a point of no return. Once characters reach this point, they are unable to go back to the childlike understanding of the world they started with. It's sort of like what happens when you figure out (major spoiler alert!) that Santa isn't real. Nothing is quite the same after that.

    You might argue about exactly when Bone crosses this point of no return, but she definitely does cross it. More than that, though, we see her heading in what seems like the right direction by the end of the book. Even though she's barely thirteen on the last page of the novel, she's pretty declarative about her future:

    I was already who I was going to be. (22.60)

    Now, this could go a couple of different ways. Maybe it means that Bone's on track to becoming herself; maybe it means she's just dead inside. We're going more for the first interpretation, since Bone has been so tough and conscientious up until this point, and we're rooting for her. Either way, this gives Bone's journey a kind of finality, as if she has arrived at something, and we don't have to worry anymore.

    But hold on a sec, because this story isn't just about Bone. It's also about Anney—who does some serious growing of her own—and the entire Boatwright family. Bone's own dramas are totally tangled up in her family's drama: we're not sure if we can name a single major event in the novel that doesn't involve the extended Boatwright clan, in some form or another.

    The issues that the other Boatwrights face—like Raylene's isolation, Ruth's cancer, and Alma's breakdown—also shed light on Bone's own life and help her grow as a person, so we think it's safe to say that this novel a family affair.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    Our first question is: which Carolina? We'll get to that in a minute. First, let's focus on the word that really draws our attention.

    Bastard Out of Carolina is a pretty harsh title. If you came across it in a bookstore having never heard of it, what would you think that the novel was about? What sorts of images does the word "bastard" bring up? Would you necessarily picture a girl like Bone? The idea of someone being legally considered illegitimate is pretty outdated now, and it's not like it was a rare thing for people to be born out of wedlock even back in the day.

    For Anney and Bone, "bastard" is another label, just like "trash": it's a way for society to look down on them. (See our analysis of Bone's birth certificate in our "Symbolism" section for more on this idea.) "Bastard" is still used as a derogatory term for someone we just don't like (it's even used that way in the novel on more than one occasion) or for someone (usually a dude) who's nasty and unpleasant, so clearly there is still some lingering stigma attached to the word.

    But why didn't Dorothy Allison call the book Trash Out of Carolina? After all, Bone gets called trash way more often than she gets called bastard, right? It must mean that bastard-ness defines Bone in some ways. Think about it: Bone has issues with identity (she doesn't know where half of her genes come from), with belonging (society sees her as a bastard), and with love (the man who is supposed to be her father abuses her).

    "Bastard," like "trash," is a label, and it's a label that Bone hates wearing. So we can imagine that this novel is also about living with the labels that people attach to one another.

    And to answer our first question, it's South Carolina. Not important, you say? We beg to differ. The culture and problems of the American South run deeply throughout this entire novel. Bastard Out of Dakota just wouldn't be the same novel.

    See our "Setting" section for how we interpret the Out of Carolina part of the title.

  • What's Up With the Ending?

    When looking at a book's ending, it's a good idea to also take a look at the beginning. Makes sense, right? They're two of the most important parts of the book, after all.

    In Bastard Out of Carolina, the beginning and the ending are both about Bone and Anney, and the way their lives are intertwined. This frame helps remind us that the novel isn't just a story about Bone; it's really about the relationship between Bone and Anney.

    So, three things happen at the end of the novel:

    1. Anney gives Bone a new, unstamped birth certificate.
    2. Bone wonders what kind of person Anney had been before she had Bone, and what her life had become afterward.
    3. Bone decides that she already is a Boatwright woman like her mother.

    How did we get from #1 to #3? Bone isn't a whole lot of help here. All she says is: "I knew nothing understood nothing" (22.59). Thanks, Bone.

    Let's give it a shot, anyway. First of all, there's a bit of irony here: right when Bone finally loses the stigma of fatherlessness, she loses her mother. We know that the "ILLEGITIMATE" stamp was very important to Anney, but Bone herself never really mentions it. Anney seems to be setting Bone free (see our analysis of the birth certificate in our "Symbolism" section), but from what?

    Bone is as perplexed as we are, and that's what makes her think about what kind of a person Anney is to perform this last act of devotion before leaving.

    Bone does come to the solid conclusion that Anney has devoted her life, up to that moment, to her daughter. That's what Bone is getting at when she says, "Once I was born, her hopes had turned and I had climbed up her life like a flower reaching for the sun" (22.59). A flower growing toward the sun is a pretty positive image of her relationship with Anney, and it makes Anney's decision to leave all the more confusing.

    It seems as if the ending is trying to complicate our view of Anney and prevent us from all-out condemning her. We might still see Anney's decision as selfish or wrong, but now, at least, we also know about Anney's struggles. If Bone can forgive her, why shouldn't we?

    Finally, let's talk about the very, very end: "I was who I was going to be, someone like her, like Mama, a Boatwright woman. I wrapped my fingers in Raylene's and watched the night close in around us" (22.60). In the end, Bone wants to be like Anney. Maybe she doesn't want to be like her in every possible way, but we get the sense that Bone identifies with who her mother is on a deep, basic level.

    But wait, wasn't Bone just talking about what a soul-crushing life of hardship Anney led? Well, clearly she sees something good in the person Anney is. Maybe it's her strength and resolution in the face of that hardship that attracts Bone. That seems to be part of what it means to be a Boatwright, after all.

    The final image of Bone's own resolve, standing strong against the night (which, in this case, seems to represent the end of something), definitely leads us to believe that Bone is tough enough to withstand anything—a lesson she learned from Anney.

  • Setting

    Greenville County, South Carolina

    Stop us if you've heard this one before: "'What's a South Carolina virgin?' 'At's a ten-year-old can run fast.'"

    Oh, you've heard it? Probably from Bone (9.44). Go on and figure that one out for yourselves; we'll just say that there are some less-than-flattering connotation associated with being from South Carolina in this quote.

    South Carolina was the first state to secede during the American Civil War, so you might say that it takes its Southernness pretty seriously. It doesn't get much more Southern than this, y'all. Now, we know that Southernness is a big deal in the novel because it's right there in the title. This isn't Bastard Out of Alaska or Bastard Out of Manitoba, right? Bastardness and Southernness are totally related in this novel.

    Now, there have been enough books written on the historical and literary depictions of the American South to fill a whole library, but for the sake of your sanity, we'll just point out that the South has tended to be associated with some pretty negative stereotypes—with things like racism, poverty, incest, and lack of education. Seriously, go read any almost any book that takes place in the South and you'll see what we mean:

    (Seriously, folks, we're just getting started.)

    So it's not too shocking that Bone has to deal directly with a lot of big bad issues as she is growing up. In fact, a big portion of the book is about Bone dealing with the fact that she's constantly being called trash, which is short for "poor white trash." That's a term that has its origins in the South and is associated with that region. Yes, we know: those are big generalizations and derogatory stereotypes, but Bone has to deal each and every one of them.

    If we're dealing with so many generalizations, though, how is it that Bone escapes being written off as a trash stereotype—as the illegitimate child of a teenager who can barely pay the rent and whose stepfather abuses her?

    Well, the answer is the entire novel. After you've been confronted with the complex and nuanced life of a person, it's hard to reduce them to a stereotype or label. Bone is perceptive, intelligent, tough as nails, and she's well on her way to being a strong Boatwright woman. Is she just a bastard out of Carolina? Maybe society sees her that way, but the reader certainly doesn't.

  • What's Up With the Epigraph?

    People pay for what they do, and still more, for what they have allowed themselves to become. And they pay for it simply: by the lives they lead. —James Baldwin

    Technicalities first: this epigraph comes from James Baldwin's book No Name in the Street, which is a book-length autobiographical essay on race, Western society, and the Civil Rights Movement.

    Bastard Out of Carolina is, in some ways, about the bad characters not getting their comeuppance: Glen gets beaten up by the uncles once, sure, but that doesn't stop him from raping Bone and getting Anney back afterwards. In the end, Anney, too, while she clearly suffers, still gives up her daughter to be with her lover, and she's not even a bad guy.

    Poor Bone, the victim of all of this, is the one left motherless. Naturally, we the readers want to cry out, "Where's the justice in that?"

    That's where the epigraph comes in. No, a satellite isn't going to fall from the sky onto Glen as a symbol of divine justice to make us feel better. Baldwin's quote says that nobody really gets away with things, even if it might seem like they do. A person who does bad things will not lead a happy life, plain and simple.

    We don't even have to take it that far, actually. Take Anney, for example. She doesn't really do "bad" things, at least not intentionally, and not to the extent that Glen does. Even so, she has to live with the decisions she's made, and we can tell that's not going to be easy for her; she'll probably never forgive herself. That's a pretty bad punishment in and of itself.

    Glen, a guy we really want to see punished, can't keep a job, can't take care of his family, is a failure in the eyes of his father, and has permanently polluted his relationship with Anney by beating and raping Bone. He'll probably never get past this; he'll always be stuck in a world severely limited by his bad acts and bad choices.

    This novel shows us how important it is not to become someone who will be incapable of leading a good life. Even Bone risks becoming a hateful and judgmental person (see the "Foil" section under "Character Roles" for more). Doing bad things, or letting negativity overtake you, makes it difficult to find happiness and live well.

    If Glen and Anney were to ride off into the sunset smiling and laughing, then we might think: "Gee, I guess sometimes bad acts go completely unpunished." If their car were to go off of a cliff at the end of the novel, we might think: "Gee, the idea that bad acts always have a punishment is really over-the-top and unrealistic." Instead, the epigraph helps us understand that that there is punishment, but it is punishment that needs to be quietly understood rather than shown.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (2) Sea Level

    The most difficult time that you'll have with this book will probably be keeping all of the Boatwrights straight (there are always new aunts and uncles and cousins cropping up to keep track of) and resisting the urge to eat biscuits and bacon every time there's a mouth-watering description of Southern food. Other than that (and the occasional 1950's South Carolina idiom), this book is really accessible as far as structure and language are concerned. Sometimes, scenes will shift within the same paragraph—for example, one character will say something and then Bone will switch to what another character says on the same subject—but it happens pretty intuitively.

  • Writing Style

    Colloquial, Declarative, Sardonic

    Think about the first sentence of the book: "I've been called Bone all my life, but my name's Ruth Anne" (1.1). Kind of a strange way for a person to introduce herself, right? A "Hello" would be nice. But it does get us straight to the point: we know right away who is going to be telling the story—and who the main figure of the novel is going to be, no bones about it. (Sorry, we had to.)

    The point is: Bone's statements tend to be pretty blunt, and she uses really straightforward language. She doesn't have long, windy sentences that go on for pages, and she doesn't use words that send your running to a dictionary.

    Bone makes lots of simple statements of fact that don't dance around the point: "Reese and I hated the honeymoon" (4.10); "In Daddy Glen's family the women stayed at home" (7.39); "I loved her praise more than the money, loved being good at something, loved hearing Aunt Raylene tell Uncle Beau what a worker I was" (12.42). You see what we're getting at? There's nothing wishy-washy, nothing you could argue with—just facts, plain and simple.

    Sometimes Bone will tell us about a situation by being sardonic, which is a good word to have in your back pocket. Basically, it means being funny but also kind of mean; it's a bit like sarcasm and irony. Here's an example: when Bone is comparing Reese's paternal grandmother to Granny Boatwright, Bone compares them like this:

    Mrs. Parsons wore blue gingham aprons and faded black dresses with long sleeves she would roll back to her elbows. My granny wore sleeveless print dresses that showed the sides of her loose white breasts and hitched up on her hips. (5.21)

    Bone is not just poking fun at her Granny for our amusement; she's also exposing her self-consciousness about how embarrassing and un-granny-like Granny is.

    When people are sardonic, they're usually showing why they are unhappy about a situation, but in a kind of funny way. It's kind of like saying "good for you" when you really don't mean it. Bone uses it when she gets into the newspaper and describes herself as "Like a Boatwright all right—it wasn't all my blood" (21.9); she makes this sardonic comment to show her exasperation at getting caught up in Boatwright shenanigans.

  • The Birth Certificate

    Let's see, here: Bastard Out of Carolina begins and ends with a birth certificate, So yeah, it's probably safe to say that it's worth a second look. What's going on with the stamp of illegitimacy on Bone's birth certificate, you ask? Well, one thing's for sure: it's not a badge of honor.

    That birth certificate is basically a way for Greenville society to judge people. (They didn't have reality TV back then, so they had to make do.) See, the state makes it its business to know if a person is married when they have a child. And when they don't? That stamp is a weirdly legal and official way of saying: "Hey society! These are some low-class people!" The birth certificate is the tangible object that shows how condescending Anney and Bone's community can be.

    But that doesn't mean that Anney isn't overreacting about a silly stamp. At least in the beginning of the book, it seems like the good people of Greenville County don't judge Anney so much as tease her about how much she cares about something that won't change what everyone already knows, anyway. Granny certainly thinks so, and she tells Anney that she should just drop the whole subject:

    "You intended to frame that thing? You wanted something on your wall to prove you done it right? […] The child is proof enough. An't no stamp on her nobody can see. (1.9)

    She's got a point, so why does it bother Anney so much? Throughout the book, no one ever mentions the fact that Bone is a bastard—and yet this silly birth certificate issue keeps cropping up. Why?

    Okay, so we know that Anney hates being called "No-good, lazy, shiftless" (1.10). We mean, who doesn't hate that? Anney sees the stamp on the birth certificate as a confirmation of her status as Grade-A Trash (or would that be Grade D?), even though it's a stamp that no one can see and that legally doesn't change anything. So, really, it's a personal thing for Anney: it's sort of like an embarrassing tattoo you can hide but still know is there. And, even though it's a stamp on Bone's birth certificate, it really reflects on Anney, because she is the one who got pregnant out of wedlock.

    So really, Anney is the one who is trying to escape a label by changing the birth certificate. Weirdly, though, despite the fact that she is obsessed with it for the first few years of Bone's life, Anney seems to forget about the birth certificate after the first chapter.

    What happened?

    Well, what actually happens after the first chapter? Anney meets Glen. If her motivation to change the birth certificate is that she wants to be seen as respectable, then it makes sense that she would at least temporarily let the birth certificate issue go when she got married and found a father for her girls. That's plenty respectable. Knowing that she's found a new husband, Anney doesn't need to worry so much about the community sees her.

    Simple, right?

    Well, not quite. Just when you thought the whole birth certificate issue was dead and buried, lo and behold: it crops up again a few paragraphs from the end of the book, when Anney gives Bone a new certificate without the word "ILLEGITIMATE" plastered all over it.

    Now, if the birth certificate issue is really all about Anney, then it stands to reason that giving Bone the birth certificate as a parting gift is kind of like when you buy your sibling a gift that you secretly want to use. (Like a bowling ball, maybe?) Maybe Anney gets some closure from it, but Bone just seems kind of confused. What's the real point of all this?

    But the birth certificate definitely closes a chapter in Bone's life: the "bastard" chapter, you might call it. During this period, Bone's not only been a literal bastard, she's also had a messed-up, totally confused relationship with her stepfather. She doesn't know who she is, she doesn't know whom she belongs to, and she doesn't know who she wants to be. She's been struggling all this time to figure out a way to fight back and to find her own voice.

    When she gets the new, "legitimate" birth certificate, it's sort of like Bone is reborn. She's fought back, she's found her voice, and though nothing is going to be easy, the new certificate opens up new possibilities for her. Her life will definitely be different now that Glen is out of the picture, for one thing.

    With this new and improved birth certificate, the novel's ending is surprisingly hopeful. In a way, Anney is setting Bone free and giving her a clean slate to make a new life without an ugly label. It's a symbolic act for sure, and it might not change anything in reality, but it indicates that Bone is like a newborn, with a fresh start.

  • The Hook

    So, yeah, about that mountain-climbing hook... Or was it a hook used for trawling dead bodies? Or was it... Wait, we never really do find out what that hook is actually supposed to be used for.

    What we do know is that it's a symbol for the angry, defensive, delinquent exterior Bone puts on in response to Glen's abuse. How did we come to that conclusion, you ask? First of all, for all thrown-out trash that Bone happens to find in a river, the hooks really capture her imagination. The aspects of the hooks that fascinate Bone are pretty odd:

    I wanted one of those hooks, wanted it for my own, that cold sharp metal where I could put out my hand and touch it at any time. (12.78)

    It's not that Bone just likes shiny objects (who doesn't?); it's that she finds a kind of safety in the scary dangerousness of the hook. That makes sense when you think about the way she wraps the chain around her as if it offered some sort of protection, right? "But wait," you might ask. "How does masturbating with a chain offer any sort of protection?"

    Well, folks, that's where the "symbol" part comes in. Let us direct your attention to Exhibit A:

    Up there it was safe and out of sight, a talisman against the dark and anything that waited in the dark. It made me stand taller just to know it was there, made me feel as if I had suddenly become magically older, stronger, almost dangerous. (13.1)

    See, this passage tells us two things: the first is that Bone feels the need for some kind of almost symbolic protection against some kind of danger or evil (see analysis of "Booker's Seven Basic Plots" for an account of how Glen is a "dark power"); the second is that the hook will protect Bone by making her feel "older, stronger, [and] almost dangerous"—which tells us that right now she feels young, weak, and whatever the opposite of dangerous is. The hook is thrown-out trash—like Bone—but it's thrown-out trash with an attitude, which is what Bone would like to be.

    The hook protects Bone by allowing her to become a more courageous—and more dangerous—person. The added courage the hook gives her allows her to do some things she wouldn't otherwise do, like break into Woolworth's.

    Why does Bone break into Woolworth's, by the way? Well, no matter how much courage she gets, there's not very much Bone can do about Glen, or about James and Madeline Waddell and all the other people who call her trash. She's still a child, after all. She can't escape these people no matter how hard she tries.

    So what does she do? She goes after another one of her enemies, instead, one who is easier to target. In this case, it's Tyler Highgarden, the dude who banished her from Woolworth's after she stole some Tootsie Rolls. In the grand scheme of things, of course, Tyler Highgarden is small fry, but he gives Bone the chance to act out some much-needed revenge. It's no surprise that the Woolworth's chapter ends with Bone thinking about pulling up the Waddells' rose bushes. Her revenge hasn't just been against Woolworth's; it's really been against everyone who puts her down.

  • Narrator Point of View

    First Person (Central Narrator) / Bone Boatwright

    It's pretty clear that Bone is telling the story of her childhood from her point of view, but here's a question to get you thinking: how old is she as she's telling it? We know that she talks about the events of the book in the past tense, and with some foreshadowing of things to come, so we assume she's in some future time.

    Okay, big deal, literature does this all the time, right? But the narration in Bastard Out of Carolina works on two levels at the same time: Bone both a) looks at the events of her childhood from the vantage of adult understanding and b) tries to convey how she perceived these events as a child. Here's what we mean:

    Let's compare two quotes. In the first one, Bone is inhabiting her ten-year-old voice while trying to find the words for what Glen does to her when Anney isn't around:

    It wasn't sex, not like a man and woman pushing their naked bodies into each other, but then, it was something like sex, something powerful and frightening that he wanted badly and I did not understand at all.
    (8.26)

    We know that our narrator is in Ten-Year-Old-Bone Mode, because obviously Mature-Narrator-Bone has a better understanding of sex than "a man and a woman pushing their naked bodies into each other." In fact, she is using naive language precisely to show us how confusing the situation was for her at the time. A better way to describe what's going on here might be that Mature-Narrator Bone is channeling the language and thoughts of Ten-Year-Old Bone.

    Now look at what she says when she is "looking back" on Glen and Anney's courtship:

    More than anything in the world, Glen Waddell wanted Earle Boatwright to like him. (1.53)

    Now, Bone wasn't even present for this event, and she certainly wasn't inside Glen's head reading his thoughts. Even Ten-Year-Old-Bone interpreting the story of Glen and Anney meeting probably wouldn't be able to read this much into Glen's character, so the insight must come from Mature-Narrator-Bone.

    So really, think of it as two Bones: the child in the story, and the adult narrator. The point is to pay attention to the moments when Bone gives us her child-judgments and her narrator-judgments, because the novel is subtly balancing the experiences of childhood with the understanding of adulthood.

    This is especially important when you think about the fact that this is a novel that deals with children not knowing how to react to or talk about sexual abuse: it's important that we get a sense of Bone's helplessness through her language (or lack of it) and her limited understanding of the situation.

    • Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis

      The Heroine Falls under the Shadow of a Dark Power

      The heroine is Bone and the "dark power" is Glen. Easy, right? But it isn't immediately clear that Glen is a "dark power" until he molests her; in fact, Anney seems to think that Glen will help them all become a big happy family.

      Things Seem to Go Reasonably Well

      In this case, the threat of Glen never really goes away. After Bone ends up in the hospital and Anney leaves Glen for the first time, it seems like maybe things will change, but we find out pretty quickly that they don't. Bone finds other ways of dealing with the abuse, mostly by staying away from home, going to her aunts' places, and hanging out with Shannon Pearl—but the danger posed by Glen is always looming in the background.

      Eventually it Approaches Again in Full Force until the Heroine is Seen Imprisoned in a State of Living Death

      Glen's temper seems to get worse and worse. Anney at first seems to stand her ground and protect Bone when Glen hurts her, but then as time goes on, it seems like she is more interested in protecting Glen than Bone. Glen also seems to get more savage with Bone, as he learns that Anney will tolerate it and that Bone won't tell Anney.

      When it Seems that the Dark Power Has Completely Triumphed…

      The real moment when it seems like Glen has triumphed is when he rapes Bone, because even her family's knowledge of the abuse doesn't seem to be able to save her from Glen.

      But Finally Comes the Miraculous Redemption

      Well, redemption is one way of describing it. It's miraculous in the sense that Anney is finally made to confront what she has avoided confronting. Bone also does get away from Glen for good, so she is at least released from the dark power. Of course, in doing so, she also loses Anney, which is heartbreaking, but Bone handles the loss of Anney with a saint-like degree of understanding.

    • Plot Analysis

      Exposition (Initial Situation)

      Meet the Family

      The first four chapters of the novel set the scene for what is going to become the escalating conflict of the story—Glen's abuse of Bone. We meet Anney, we learn about her life and everything she went through up until meeting Glen (which is a lot for a twenty-one-year-old), and we learn how and when the abuse started. Bone herself is very young in these chapters, and is narrating to us through hindsight. Even though Bone is present here and figures into the action, these chapters are really more about telling us about Anney and Glen and giving us some background.

      Rising Action (Conflict, Complication)

      Never Father of the Year

      This section, which lasts until Chapter 20, gets all sorts of messy. Not only does Glen's behavior become worse and worse, but a pattern is established of him acting out, Anney leaving, Glen crying to her that he's sorry, Anney taking him back, and the violence resuming. It happens again and again. It's more dramatic each time, but even as Glen's physical abuse of Bone comes out into the open, there still doesn't seem to be a clear way out of this for Bone.

      Climax (Crisis, Turning Point)

      Face the Facts, Finally

      The real Point of No Return for this novel is when Anney sees Glen raping Bone. Even though she has witnessed him beat her before, there is no way for her to begin to justify this action. It's the moment when Anney is forced to make the decision she has been avoiding all this time: does she stay with Glen and lose Bone, or does she leave Glen for good?

      Falling Action

      It's All Over Now?

      Bone doesn't know where Anney is. The tension is thick. No one knows if Anney has left for good, and no one knows whether or not she is with Glen. All the dust that has been unsettled by Glen's assault is still clouding the air, and no one knows what things are going to look like when it resettles.

      Resolution (Denouement)

      Love Hurts

      Well, the action resolves, and Anney makes her decision, even if it's not the decision that we—or Bone—wanted her to make. But one thing, maybe, that the novel has tried to do is get us to the point where, when Anney does make her decision, we are more sympathetic to her predicament than we would have been, even if we don't agree with what she ends up doing.

    • Three-Act Plot Analysis

      Act I

      Act I in this case is the same as Exposition, so it lasts up to the point when Glen molests Bone in the hospital parking lot. This is the moment when everything changes forever, and there is no coming back from it.

      Act II

      Act II is a little trickier. We're going to say that Act II ends after Ruth's funeral, when the family sees the blood on Bone's legs, and her uncles beat the tar out of him. That's because this incident is preparing us for an even greater catastrophe, one that will compel the plot to wrap up by forcing Anney to make a decision.

      Act III

      This is when what we've been waiting to happen—Anney finding out about Glen's sexual abuse of Bone—happens, and we know that something major is going to have to change. You know how they say that a gun introduced in the first act will be fired in the fifth? Think of the abuse as that gun: when it goes off, we know that it won't be getting any worse. So, naturally, after things have gotten as bad as they can possibly get, we know that resolution is going to come quickly.

    • Allusions

      Literary and Philosophical References

      • Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind (14.7)

      Pop Culture References

      • Kitty Wells (2.7, 10.1, 10.14, 22.29)
      • Teresa Brewer (10.14, 10.16)
      • June Carter (10.1, 10.16, 10.70)
      • Johnny Cash (10.1, 11.22, 14.30)
      • Al Dexter and the Troopers (10.2, 17.87)
      • Patsy Cline (10.14, 22.29)
      • Vivien Leigh (14.7)