Study Guide

Bastard Out of Carolina Love

By Dorothy Allison

Love

Love, at least love for a man not already part of the family, was something I was a little unsure about. Aunt Alma said love had more to do with how pretty a body was than anyone would ever admit […] (3.1)

So, this is the first moment in Bone's life where she is acknowledging that there are different ways of loving a person, and it's also a PG-rated nod toward sexual desire. The problem is, we know that Glen is never going to develop the paternal love for Bone that he should, and that instead he is going to sexualize his stepdaughter—merging two kinds of affections that really shouldn't be merged... assuming he is capable of feeling love to begin with, which is highly questionable for someone as narcissistic as he is.

"Yeah, Glen loves Anney. He loves her like a gambler loves a fast racehorse or a desperate man loves whisky. That kind of love eats a man up. I don't trust that boy, don't want our Anney marrying him." (4.5)

Trust the Eustis aunts. What exactly is "that kind of love"? Can you describe it without an addiction metaphor? Why might that be the kind of love that Glen feels for Anney, given what we know about Glen?

"She needs him, needs him like a starving woman needs meat between her teeth […]" (4.6)

Okay, maybe this isn't an addiction metaphor (or addiction simile, as it were), but still, there's this weird sense of need, or desperation, or necessity, or whatever you want to call it. But is it a happy need? What kind of love is it that can't be described positively?

It was mushy. Mama and Daddy Glen always hugging and rubbing on each other, but it was powerful too. Sex. (5.68)

Bone is realizing that sexual attraction is, to use her great choice of words, "powerful." Anney's love for her children versus her love for Glen is going to become the central conflict later in the novel, and this is important set-up that helps us understand that Anney is pulled in both directions.

"I just don't understand sometimes, Bone, how things got so messed up, the simplest things—me and Teresa, Mama and Daddy, your mama and Glen. Hell, even Ruth and Travis. You know, Travis left Ruth once when their kids were little, just took off for two months and never said a thing. And anybody can see how he loves her. Sometimes I just don't understand." (9.54)

Picture this: two people love each other. Simple, right? Well, maybe if you live in a vacuum. Lots of things can stress out a relationship, as we have seen from Exhibit A: The Boatwrights. What makes these relationships so difficult? All relationships have problems, but what about these problems?

"Still, I look at Glen and I can see he an't never been loved like he needed to be. But the boy's deeper and darker than I can figure out. It's you I worry about. I know the kind of love you got in you. I know how you feel about Glen. You'd give your life to save him, and maybe that'll make it come out right, and maybe it won't." (9.98)

See Glen's "Character Analysis" for more on how a lack of fatherly love has caused him some serious daddy issues. That aside, what we're encountering here is the scary possibility that love won't be enough to save the situation. Anney, on the other hand, seems to hang on to the belief that love will hold everything together. Talk about a sticky situation. How is the novel trying to reconcile love with violence? Or is it?

When she spoke again her voice was fierce, desperate. "He loves her. He does. He loves us all. I don't know. I don't know. Oh God. Raylene, I love him. I know you'll hate me. Sometimes I hate myself, but I love him. I love him." (17.126)

Is Anney in denial here about Glen loving Bone? What do you think her perspective is on all of this? Do you think that Anney wants to love Glen? Does she love in him spite of herself? Does she truly understand what is happening?

"Girl, you are seriously confused about love. Seriously." (18.53)

We cheer pretty much every time Raylene says anything, and we're going to do it again. Raylene knows a thing or two about love and the trouble it causes. Bone certainly is confused about love. Then again, who in this novel isn't?

"You don't know how your mama loves you," she had said. "You can't even imagine." Like Alma loved Annie, maybe, like Ruth loved her sons D.W. and Dwight and Tommy Lee, so much that she made Travis swear not to bury her until they got home. I chewed on a fingernail and watched Mama walk away, wondering if she still loved me and what I would do when we went back to Daddy Glen. (18.74)

All right, so here we get to what has at this point become the central conflict of the novel: familial love versus romantic or sexual love. By familial love, we are specifically referring to the love between parent and child. It has kind of become a competition at this point, especially for Anney, who is already torn in two directions.

"Oh, but that's why I got to cut his throat," she said plainly. "If I didn't love the son of a b****, I'd let him live forever." (19.35)

If Alma didn't care about Wade, then she wouldn't what he did or with whom he did it. She says she needs to "cut his throat" because she can't handle Wade cheating on her and being mean to her. Alma, like Anney, experiences love as an overpowering emotion that overrides other considerations, such as the bad behavior of the men they love.

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