Study Guide

Bastard Out of Carolina Appearances

By Dorothy Allison

Appearances

"Now you look like a Boatwright," she said. "Now you got the look. You're as old as you're ever gonna get, girl. This is the way you'll look till you die." (1.35)

Oh man, if only. Anney is just nineteen when Lyle Parsons dies, so it's pretty unlucky for her that she has already gone through a lifetime of hard times. What effect does it have to have a quote like this at the beginning of the novel, in light of what eventually happens?

I could not have said a word if Great-Great-Granddaddy had been standing there looking back at me with my own black eyes (2.40)

So, Earle seems to think that Bone is bona fide Boatwright material, even if she doesn't enjoy getting into fights that land her in jail. But there is something about her that makes her more like her quiet and gentle great-great-grandfather. What is it about her, then, that makes her Boatwright-y?

"Mama's eyes were soft with old hurt and new hope; Glen's eyes told nothing. The man's image was as flat and empty as a sheet of tin in the sun, throwing back heat and light, but no details—not one clear line of who he really was behind those eyes." (4.13)

Well, now we know what kind of a character Glen is. Or rather, we don't know. Bone's impression of Glen here seems to be one of mistrust. What does it mean that there is "nothing" behind Glen's eyes? Does he have a real personality at all? Does he actually have emotions in the same way that others do? What, if anything, makes him different?

Was it hatred or sorrow that made them look like that, their necks so stiff and their eyes so cold?
Did I look like that?

Would I look like that when I grew up? (9.116-118)

Imagine being constantly confronted with the signs of hard lives. Bone is worried that she might have an early start, and this quote might also suggest that she doesn't see a way out. What really seems to scare Bone, though, is that hatred and sorrow will actually become physically part of her by showing up in her appearance.

Mama was always saying people could see your soul in your face, could see your hatefulness and lack of charity. With all the hatefulness I was trying to hide, it was a wonder I wasn't uglier than a toad in mud season (9.120).

Well, we don't know what a toad in mud season looks like, but we also know that Bone isn't the bad, evil person she sometimes thinks she is. The fact that Bone doesn't look awful may suggest that she's not nearly as bad as she thinks.

Through the steam they both looked older—two worn, tired women repeating old stories to each other and trying not to worry too much about things they couldn't change anyway (12.110)

Okay, we know that people are getting older all the time, but why mention it? Maybe it's because aging happens to quickly and irrevocably for the Boatwrights. Does life ever get easier for the Boatwrights?

I took to watching myself in the mirrors to see what other people saw, to puzzle out just what showed them who I really was. What did Daddy Glen see? Aunt Raylene? Uncle Earle? (14.5)

What does Bone expect to see when she looks in the mirror? She has some pretty negative opinions of herself, both in terms of the person she is inside and how she looks on the outside. But why is she thinking about Glen here? It's easy to forget, sometimes, that Bone might actually want Glen to love and respect her, and that she might care what he thinks about her. He is her stepfather, after all. This makes the abuse that much worse: Bone even wonders if there is a reason Glen has singled her out (that is, she wonders if there is something wrong with her).

The look in his eyes was a match for the one I'd seen in Earle's, the one I imagined in my own (15.31)

Hooray for Boatwright solidarity, even if it's criminal. Right? At this moment, Bone likes that there is something she feels she has inherited from her family. That's not always the case, of course: take a look at the next quote.

I was a Boatwright there for sure, as ugly as anything. I was a freshly gutted fish, my mouth gaping open above my bandaged shoulder and arm, my neck still streaked dark with blood (21.9)

Okay, so if we list the criteria for being a Boatwright, we come up with 1) being ugly and 2) getting into bloody situations. It sounds like Bone is being sardonic here about what her beat-up appearance says about the family she comes from (see our "Writing Style" section for more on what we mean by "sardonic).

Aunt Ruth had told her after Lyle Parson's funeral that she would look the same till she died. "Now you look like a Boatwright. Now you got the look," she'd said. In all the years since, that prophecy had held true. Age and exhaustion had worn lines under Mama's mouth and eyes, narrowed her chin, and deepened the indentations beside her nose, but you could still see the beautiful girl she had been. Now that face was made new. Bones seemed to have moved, flesh fallen away, and lines deepened into gullies, while shadows darkened to streaks of midnight (22.33)

… And we come full circle. This scene is important because it shows us that, even though Anney is leaving Bone, that decision to leave has hit her hard—harder than Lyle's death, and even harder than all of the years spent dealing with Glen's aggression toward Bone.

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