Study Guide

Bastard Out of Carolina Guilt and Blame

By Dorothy Allison

Guilt and Blame

"An't nobody says nothing to my little sister, an't nobody can touch that girl or what's hers. You just better watch yourself around her."

You better. You better. You just better watch yourself around her. (1.68)

This, folks, is what we call foreshadowing. If we took the quote by itself, we might not recognize it as such; but we know there's something up based on the creepy echo Bone gives us afterwards. It's like the memory of the statement itself takes on a different meaning in light of what happens in the novel.

It seemed our disbelief 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. Money would get tighter and Daddy Glen would stare at us like we cost him cash with every breath we took. (6.46)

It looks like Glen has a little problem with accountability. Wait, little problem? We mean absolutely, totally enormous problem. This becomes especially true when he has to account for hurting Bone. "I went crazy" (8.19, 20.87) seems to be his favorite way of shirking blame, but he has tons of others. In Glen's eyes, nothing is ever his fault.

What had I done? I had run in the house. What was she asking? I wanted her to go on talking and understanding without me saying anything. I wanted her to love me enough to leave him, to pack us up and take us away from him, to kill him if need be. (8.17)

Does Anney actually blame Bone for Glen's behavior, or does she act the way she does simply because it seems easier than confronting the fact that Glen is an abusive parent?

I lived in a world of shame. I hid my bruises as if they were evidence of crimes I had committed. I knew I was a sick disgusting person. I couldn't stop my stepfather from beating me, but I was the one who masturbated. I did that, and how could I explain to anyone that I hated being beaten but still masturbated to the story I told about myself? (8.45)

Bone harbors a lot of guilt, but what do we make of the fact that she's opening herself up like this to us? It's clear that her fantasies are part of the reason why she feels like she can't tell anyone about what Glen is doing: she feels that somehow she will also be implicated or even blamed for the whole thing. Why would she think that? Do you think that it is a realistic fear (especially given some of the things that Anney says to her after Glen beats her)?

"I have sinned," he'd say, and hold his hands out to me, beg my forgiveness and cry my name. Mama would say no. My aunts would say no. My uncles, Reese, the minister, everyone in the world would stand up and say no. But I would pull myself up from my sickbed. I would look right into his eyes, into the lamps of his soul.

Yes, I would say.

Yes. I forgive you.

Then probably I would die. (8.73-76)

Because Bone is the one who has actually been abused by Glen, she is the only one who can give him forgiveness, even if that forgiveness might kill her. Bone needs solidarity right now, which is part of why her fantasies include other people watching her as she gets beaten. Right now, her abuse is something that she can't talk about—and something she doesn't even know how to talk about. She wants people to know, and to feel outraged on her behalf. Also, this desire that she be the one to forgive Glen—and not anybody else—foreshadows some of the events that will happen later in the novel.

I'd said I could never hate her, but I hated her now for the way she held him, the way she stood there crying over him. Could she love me and still hold him like that? (20.113)

Good question, Bone. We're not going to pretend to have an answer, but the uncertainty here is kind of the point. How are we supposed to understand what is happening in this scene? Do we feel compelled to direct blame at someone? Do we feel angrier with Anney or Glen? Why?

"We do terrible things to the ones we love sometimes," she said. "We can't explain it. We can't excuse it. It eats us up, but we do them just the same. You want to know about your mama, I know. But I can't tell you anything. None of us can. No one knows where she's gone. I can't explain that to you, Bone. I just can't, but I know your mama loves you. Don't doubt that. She loves you more than her life, and she an't never gonna forgive herself for what she's done to you, what she allowed to happen." (22.10)

We're just gonna direct your attention back to the epigraph of the novel for this one: bad actions eventually catch up with you. It may not happen right away, and it may not happen in ways that other people will recognize... but it will happen. Also, we'll point you to the last quote of this theme. Connections, people, connections.

How do you forgive somebody when you cannot even speak her name, when you cannot stand to close your eyes and see her face? (22.20)

Nobody ever said that forgiveness was easy. It's probably even harder when you're twelve. And you've been abandoned. By your mother. After your stepfather raped you. Yeah, forgiveness is not easy. So then how do we read the very end of the novel? Is it forgiveness that Bone feels for Anney?

Maybe it wasn't her fault. It wasn't mine. Maybe it wasn't a matter of anybody's fault. Maybe it was like Raylene said, the way the world goes, the way hearts get broken all the time. (22.43)

Maybe we naturally like to blame people. Maybe it's easier for some reason. Maybe it's not always necessary to blame someone. Maybe holding on to blame does more harm in the long run... Sorry, we were just continuing Raylene's train of thought. But those "maybes" sure are important; do you think Bone believes what Raylene says? Take a look at the line that comes directly before this one in the novel.

I pressed my face into her neck, and let it all go. The grief. The anger. The guilt and shame. It would come back later. It would come back forever. (22.48)

This is a moment when we hear an older, more mature Bone—the one who looks back and narrates the novel from a more seasoned perspective—talks about those feelings of grief and anger and guilt and shame inevitably returning. How does this affect our view of the blame Bone places on Anney? What makes her able to let it go? What will allow her to let it go in the future?

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