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 The idea of someone being legally considered illegitimate is pretty outdated now, and it's not like it was a rare thing for people to be born out of wedlock even back in the day.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.