Study Guide

Bastard Out of Carolina Coming of Age

By Dorothy Allison

Coming of Age

In my imagination I was proud and defiant. I'd stare back at him with my teeth set, making no sound at all, no shameful scream, no begging. Those who watched admired me and hated him. (8.43)

Characters' fantasies in literature are often good indicators of what type of things they're lacking in their lives. We can tell from Bone's fantasy that one of the things she wishes is that she were stronger, which indicates that she currently feels powerless in relation to Glen. We also learn, because she wants to be watched, that she wishes someone would acknowledge and understand what she is going through with the abuse.

Growing up was like falling into a hole. The boys would quite school and sooner or later go to jail for something silly. I might not quit school, not while Mama had any say in the matter, but what difference would that make? What was I going to do in five years? Work in the textile mill? Join Mama at the diner? It all looked bleak to me. No wonder people got crazy as they grew up. (12.28)

Bone wants out from her family's way of life. But how does she even begin to imagine what a different life would look like, given what she has been led to believe about herself? Hey, being called trash all of your life doesn't go without consequences.

"I am so tired of people whining about what might happen to them, never taking no chances or doing anything new. I'm glad you an't gonna be like that, Bone. I'm counting on you to get out there and do things, girl. Make people nervous and make your old aunt glad." (12.45)

Raylene knows what we know: our girl Bone has potential. Bone is perfectly capable of growing into an awesome person, but what she needs is some positive reinforcement to undo the loads and loads of negativity that has been piled on her over the years by Glen, the Waddells, and everyone else who looks down on her family. Not everyone is lucky enough to have someone like Raylene to help them through harsh times. What do you think might have happened to Bone without her aunts to help her out?

"But it's different for the kids. Seems like they're all the time wanting just what they can't have, and they've got such a funny does of pride."

"No pride at all or too much, I can't tell sometimes." (12.107-108)

Bone cares a lot about what other people think of her. But what if she didn't? There are the obvious reasons why she might want something that other people have, like a big house or black patent Mary Janes (who doesn't want those?), but she also wants those things so that people can't look down on her. What she has, in this case, starts to define how she thinks about herself. Does she ever learn to just accept herself as she is?

I was locked away and safe. What I really was could not be touched. What I really wanted was not yet imagined. Somewhere far away a child was screaming, but right then, it was not me. (12.134)

You might say that Bone's "happy place" is somewhere where she is not only physically safe, but also where she will not be judged for her feelings and desires.

Everything in my life was just as uncertain. I too could be standing somewhere and find myself running into the wall of my own death. (14. 4)

The realization that you are never too young for death is a hard thing to handle, and it's kind of a game-changer for Bone. She starts to think about her Life-with-a-capital-L and who she wants to be as a Person-with-a-capital-P. Do most kids think this way? Do they have to? Does Bone's early exposure to life's hardships have any positive effects?

"I made my life, the same way it looks like you're gonna make yours—out of pride and stubbornness and too much anger. You better think hard, Ruth Anne, about what you want and who you're mad at. You better think hard." (18.81)

We could point to a lot of things that Bone is well within reason to be mad about. But as Raylene points out, the question she needs to ask herself in order to grow is where that anger is going to get her in the end.

At the hospital when they had left me alone in the bathroom for a minute, I had looked at myself in the mirror and known I was a different person. Older, meaner, rawboned, crazy, and hateful. I was full of hate. I had spit on the glass, spit on my life, not caring anymore who I was or what I would be. I had wanted to laugh at everyone, Raylene and the nurses, all of them watching me like some fragile piece of glass ready to shatter around boiling water. I was boiling inside. I was cooking away. I was who I was going to be, and she was a terrible person. (22.12)

This reminds us of what Ruth says to Anney after Lyle dies: it's hard to imagine that there will be any other event in Bone's life that will hit her as hard. But Bone thinks that means that she will stay stuck that way forever. Is that what it means?

The child I had been was gone with the child she had been. We were new people, and we didn't know each other anymore. (22.45)

Well, this sounds pretty coming-of-age-y, doesn't it? Even though we say it all the time, what exactly does it mean to no longer be a child? Also, why does growing up mean becoming a different person to the people around you?

What would I be like when I was fifteen, twenty, thirty? Would I be as strong as she had been, as hungry for love, as desperate, determined, and ashamed? (22.59)

Here we are, thinking about the future—not even the future as some vague fuzzy concept, but, like, the scary future you measure in birthdays. Why, at the moment that Anney leaves, is Bone thinking about her own adulthood?

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