Study Guide

Bastard Out of Carolina Setting

By Dorothy Allison

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.

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