Study Guide

Glen Waddell in Bastard Out of Carolina

Glen Waddell

Glen, Bone's stepfather and her abuser, sure doesn't do much to earn our sympathy. There aren't many positive descriptors about him either: he's "like a boy," he's got a "reputation for a hot temper," he's got hands "hung like baseball mitts" and "icy blue eyes"… let's be real: Glen is Bad News Bears.

We can hardly think of a single good thing to say about Glen. Seriously. Yeah, okay, his dad didn't love him enough when he was a kid, but that doesn't earn him many points with us. Most characters in this novel have troubled pasts: only one of them beats and rapes his stepdaughter. Without any apparent remorse, at that.

Glen's completely narcissistic and egotistical. He isn't able to think about anybody but himself, and he always makes himself out to some kind of big shot who's never to blame for anything. He reacts to Anney's pregnancy, for instance, by absolutely convincing himself that it's a boy and not considering the possibility of any other outcome—because, you know, his kid would be a boy. He reacts to not being able to provide for his family by getting angry and blaming them. And his favorite tactic whenever Anney gets upset at his actions is to cry to her and say that he didn't mean it, whatever "it" may be.

What else do we know about Glen? We know that his father and brothers are all pretty successful and that Glen… well, Glen kind of sucks at life. One of the very first things we learn about Glen—and first impressions are important—is that Glen "didn't seem like he would amount to much" (1.48)... and as it turns out, he doesn't. So we're guessing that Glen just doesn't know how to deal with his own inadequacy except by taking it out on other people.

That's Glen in a nutshell, but in reality Glen gets a ton of characterization in this novel. While we might not have a whole lot of good things to say about Glen, that doesn't mean he's not an interesting character to analyze.

There's Something Off About Him

Never ignore a description of a character's eyes, folks.

The first Glen's eyes are described, he's using them to stare at Anney: "His eyes bored into her and got darker still" (1.13). Hm, sounds kind of ominous, right? Later, Bone describes how Glen's eyes look in a family photograph: "Glen's eyes told nothing […] not one clear line of who he really was behind those eyes" (4.13). And then, when Anney is hugging Bone, Bone describes how she sees Glen's "icy blue eyes [were] watching us, his mouth a set straight line" (5.4).

So Glen's eyes don't express much in the way emotion, unless those emotions are hard, cold, and dark. That definitely jibes with his character, but the physical descriptions of Glen go further than that.

Everyone seems to think that there is something not quite right about Glen, even though they can't really articulate what it is. So many characters express this that we've lost count of them. And Dorothy Allison keeps cluing us in whenever she describes Glen's physical appearance: when he smiles at Anney at the diner, for instance, Allison tells us that "his smile was crooked" (1.58). Uh-oh. The list just goes on.

Daddy Issues

So now that we've talked about Glen on the outside, let's talk about him on the inside.

Glen is like the ultimate man-child. When Anney is pregnant we are told that "Glen was like a boy about the baby" (4.17); Ruth tells us that "[t]here's a way he's just a little boy himself, wanting more of your mama than you, wanting to be her baby more than her husband" (9.38); when Anney finds him raping Bone, he "whine[s] like a little boy" (20.85) to try and account for himself; and so on.

Considering how the theme of women taking care of men as though they were overgrown boys (see the "Gender" section under "Themes") is really, really big in this novel, it makes sense that the most important male character perfectly embodies this concept. But what else does this say about Glen? That he is immature? That he wants Anney to be his mother? That he is self-centered like a child?

Well, all of the above.

First of all, you'll notice that whenever Glen has an outburst of some sort, his response is usually to literally cry to Anney and say that he didn't mean it—only to have the same outburst later.

Oh, Anney, I'm sorry! (5.102)

And I went crazy, Anney. I just went crazy. (8.19)

I don't know what happened. I was just going to talk to her, darling. I just wanted you to come home, for us all to be together again! (20.85)

Seem pathetic to you? That's because it is. Saying that you lost control is a really weak way of accounting for your behavior, and at a certain point it becomes clear that Glen's apologies are meaningless. Also, notice how Glen always apologizes to Anney and never to Bone; that's really important, because it indicates that Glen really doesn't care what Bone thinks about him (he keeps beating and molesting her, after all) but does care what Anney thinks—when she catches him, that is. Glen doesn't seem too concerned about anything bad he's done unless he's caught.

It makes sense that Glen wouldn't feel any real remorse for his actions, because he doesn't accept responsibility for them:

It seemed our unbelief was what made him fail. Our lack of faith made him the man he was, made him go out to work unable to avoid getting in a fight, made him sarcastic to his bosses and nasty to the shop owners he was supposed to be persuading to take his accounts. (6.46)

Again, blaming others is not a mature way of handling things. It's also totally narcissistic: Glen seems to truly believe that he's not to blame for anything. It's as if he's taken his insecurities and overcompensated by making himself into something big and fantastic—which he's not.

Granny and Ruth think that Glen is possessive of Anney and jealous of Bone, as if Anney were his mother instead of his wife. The fact that he sexually molests Bone certainly makes it seem like he doesn't think of her as his daughter.

It gets weirder, too. Glen's sexual relationship with Anney becomes oddly maternal (she ends up taking care of him as if he were a child), but Glen also turns what should be a paternal relationship to Bone into an inappropriately sexual one. He can't seem to separate sexual and familial attraction. And, because this all isn't Freudian enough, apparently this can all be chalked up to the fact that Glen didn't getting enough love from his father as a child. Glen and Bone are the most "fatherless" characters in the novel, and it's strange how this fact almost brings them together into catastrophe.

Man, this fatherlessness issue just keeps playing out.