Study Guide

Bastard Out of Carolina Chapter 11

By Dorothy Allison

Chapter 11

  • And so we meet Shannon Pearl.
  • Bone has seen Shannon and her family at the revival tent: her father books singing acts for the gospel circuit, and her mother works at a campy religious memorabilia store.
  • When Shannon gets on the bus, all the other kids mock her or shy away from her. Bone recognizes the rage in Shannon's eyes and lets her sit next to her and Reese.
  • There is an awkward silence between them before Bone can introduce herself to Shannon, because she has to wait until the whispered insults of the other kids dies down.
  • Through it all, Shannon sits quietly and cleans her glasses; she has a tendency to do this when she needs a quiet moment, or when she wants to ignore the cruel world.
  • Shannon is albino, and her mother is constantly crooning over her and calling her an angel of God. Bone waffles between being in awe of Shannon's hardness against the world and being disgusted by Shannon's spoiled smugness.
  • Still, Bone feels the urge to fiercely defend Shannon from her tormenters, who in this case is pretty much everyone.
  • Literature has taught Bone that a person who is ugly on the outside is beautiful on the inside, and she expects that of Shannon.
  • Talk about a rude awakening: Shannon's favorite pastime is telling gruesome stories about children who fall in front of farming equipment, and she "simply and completely hated everyone who had ever hurt her" (11.20). So much for familiar tropes.
  • Shannon's parents are equally grotesque: both of them are short and pale, and look "like children dressed in their parents' clothes" (11.21). Mrs. Pearl generates most of the family's income by sewing and embroidering costumes for gospel performers, but they still have to take up collections from sympathetic congregations in order to pay for Shannon's medical bills (something that Bone can't imagine doing).
  • But hey, Bone is not one to miss out on free gospel concerts, and so she travels with the Pearls.
  • Shannon, on the other hand, makes fun of preachers and choir singers. She also makes fun of the many ways her mother has of saying "God" and "Jesus." Mrs. Pearl is very religious and likes to talk about how everything is a blessing, but Shannon and Raylene prefer talking about Mrs. Pearl's non-existent sex life.
  • Shannon and Mrs. Pearl say polite things about Bone's family, but Bone senses that they still have a sense of superiority. It reminds her of Glen's family's attitude about the Boatwrights.
  • At the gospel shows, Mr. and Mrs. Pearl are somehow oblivious to all of the very conspicuous drinking and sex that goes on backstage among the singers. Even when Shannon gets tipsy and falls onto Mrs. Pearl's sewing machine, Mrs. Pearl blames the weather. When someone spills whiskey on Mrs. Pearl's sleeve, she just talks about how frail souls need a little help.
  • Shannon and Bone go under the stage to listen to music, and suddenly the smell of whiskey and the loud noise makes Bone sick. She crawls out and starts to puke.
  • As Shannon is comforting Bone, a man sees them and exclaims. Shannon tells him that Bone is fine, but the man stares at Shannon and calls her the ugliest thing he has ever seen.
  • Bone lets loose a slew of impressive curses at him, until Mrs. Pearl shows up and everything gets really awkward really quickly.
  • The man is one of the gospel singers, and Mrs. Pearl is very impressed by him. Bone looks into Shannon's face and sees terrible hate. She thinks that if there is a God, then there will be justice for all the people who have hurt Shannon and herself. As they're walking back to the car, Shannon and Bone whisper "someday" to each other.
  • Mr. Pearl goes to small towns to hear prospective singers, and though many of them are sub-par, Bone is envious of the ones that are good and wonders why God hadn't made her a gospel singer.
  • One day, on a particularly boring trip with the Pearls, Bone and Shannon are out in the woods when Bone hears a churchful of beautiful gospel voices. She says that they need to go back to tell Shannon's father, but Shannon angrily replies that the sounds are coming from a black church and that her father "don't handle colored" (11.114).
  • Shannon uses the n-word, and this makes Bone furious, remembering how she herself feels when Aunt Madeline calls Bone "trash" when she thinks she can't hear.
  • Shannon goes on to call Bone's family "a bunch of drunks and thieves and bastards."
  • Uh-oh, there's that word again.
  • Some fierce name-calling ensues, and Bone almost hits Shannon on more than one occasion before stopping herself.
  • Finally, after Shannon has called Bone "trash" and Bone has tripped and hurt her hand on a clay pot, Bone brings out the big guns and calls Shannon ugly. No going back after that.
  • Needless to say, the friendship is over.

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