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:
- Anney gives Bone a new, unstamped birth certificate.
- Bone wonders what kind of person Anney had been before she had Bone, and what her life had become afterward.
- 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.