The Book Analysis Of The Narrative In Bastard Out Of Carolina

April 27, 2022 by Essay Writer

According to the National Children’s Alliance, nearly 700,000 children are abused in the United States every year and about four out of five of the abusers are the children’s parents. In a partial-autobiography, A Bastard Out of Carolina, written by Dorothy Allison, abuse surrounds the protagonist, Ruth Anne Boatwright, who is also known as ‘Bone.’ This southern narrative follows the compelling life of the Boatwright family, displaying the challenges the family faces from day to day. Unfortunately, our society has faced the issue of abuse for many years. In A Bastard Out of Carolina, Allison gives the reader a front row seat to the horrifying abuse that the protagonist faces and the rippling effects it causes.

This story, narrated by Bone herself, starts from the very beginning giving the reader vivid imagery of her difficult life. From the moment Bone was born, she was known as a bastard, illegitimate, which was not a fair way to start her life. Just when the reader is led to believe that life is beginning to take a positive turn, another event occurs that damages this false belief. Bone’s arduous journey is depicted in many different situations throughout the story and these situations not only have serious adverse effects for Bone but for her family as well – immediate and extended alike. Of these difficult situations that face Bone daily, abuse is prominently and consistently displayed throughout the entire story.

At many points throughout the story, Bone gives the reader a look into her thoughts, which facilitates the understanding of the effects that abuse has on the victim. Thinking about Daddy Glen, Bone tells the reader, “I became even more afraid of Daddy Glen, the palms that slapped, the fingers that dug in and bruised, the knuckles he would sometimes press directly under my eyes… I wished I was a boy so that I could run faster, stay away more, or even hit him back” (Allison 109). This direct account from Bone helps the reader to visualize the impact of abuse on a person’s mind, body, and spirit. Abuse scars both the skin and the soul. Bone is helping the reader to see how abuse leaves lasting images of trauma long after the actual physical violence has ceased. It leaves behind fear, physical scars, mental pictures that torture the mind, and a shattered identity that longs to be someone else, somewhere else.

People can read stories about abuse in the news or hear stories, but the direct narration leaves more of a lasting impact on the reader. On the other hand, if the reader has been or is currently a victim of abuse, this imagery gives them some way to relate to the fictional character. It helps abuse survivors to not feel alone and to understand what is churning inside their hearts and minds from the trauma.

In addition to this direct narration and its effectiveness, the use of imagery is evident throughout the text. Imagery is very effective when talking about abuse because it helps give the reader a picture of the story. The first real example of abuse is shown when Mama is giving birth and Reese and Bone are left in the car. After Daddy Glen sexually abuses Bone, she tells the reader “the light was gray and pearly, the air wet and marble-cold, Glen’s face was the only thing pink and warm in sight… His eyes had gone dark and empty again, and my insides started to shake with fear” (Allison 47). This picture created shows that the environment was not comfortable or friendly but rather filled with fear. Mentioning that “Glen’s face was the only thing pink and warm in sight” (Allison 47) shows that the abuser was the only friendly sight she was able to see. Bone’s description of him as friendly shows the amount of fear instilled in her. Bone was desperately looking for comfort, yet the only thing she could find was his face. This passage again underscores the impact of abuse on the victim and gives the reader a lasting image to remember.

Throughout the book, Bone’s narrative tells a painful story of three kinds of abuse; physical, sexual, verbal/emotional. All are important for the reader to understand. The most obvious forms are physical and sexual abuse. However, the verbal abuse that Bone faces is equally as damaging. As if having the nickname Bone given to her was not enough, Daddy Glen has to say, “You are hard as bone, the stubbornest child on the planet…Cold as death, mean as a snake, and twice as twisty” (Allison 111). The old saying sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you, could not be further from the truth. Verbal abuse can be just as detrimental as physical and again have lasting effects on the victim. Bone mentions “My shoulder had healed quickly under Mama’s patient, watchful care, but I felt as if something inside me would never be alright” (Allison 118). Physical injuries will eventually heal over time, but verbal abuse tends to stick with the victim and never truly heals. Having the narrator (Bone) show us all of the forms of abuse she faces, again helps the reader understand just how serious and detrimental abuse is on an individual.

The trauma of abuse, as evident in Bone’s story has both short and long term effects. Like a bone that initially breaks – there is a healing period for that bone to mend. But long after the bone has mended, there are reminders of the break such as pains or limited range of motion. In the same way, survivors of abuse are in various stages of healing. Although it is a difficult road no one chooses, their stories can be used to help others and build awareness about abuse to hopefully prevent it for others in the future.

Bone was abused in many ways by Daddy Glen. Her story is used by the author to promote awareness about this serious issue. Abuse is a growing issue and the cause of great concern. Despite this story being fictitious, abuse is a reality for many children in the world. This is also not a new and futuristic issue. A Bastard Out of Carolina was published in 1992 and is set in the 1950’s. This abuse has created a domino-like chain reaction that causes the cycle of abuse to be never-ending. Additionally, a study conducted shows that “the experience of abuse in childhood was reliably associated with an increased risk of disease in adulthood including neurological, musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, and respiratory conditions” (Stetler and Wegman 2009). Not only does abuse have emotional effects that carry through one’s life, but also physical health conditions. It is important for the reader to realize that childhood has lasting effects on the individual and that this is an issue that needs to be corrected.

In no circumstance is abuse justifiable. However, research shows that “certain characteristics have been found to increase [the] risk of being abused” (CDC 2019). These risk factors can include, “non-biological, transient caregivers in the home; family disorganization; social isolation; parental characteristics such as young age, low education, single parenthood…low income” (CDC 2019). These issues, along with others, are all present throughout the story. Daddy Glen is not Bone’s biological father, and being the primary abuser proves these findings to be true. This is not directly causative and there is truly no one true answer to why abuse occurs. Rather, “a combination of individual, relational, community, and societal factors contribute to the risk of child abuse and neglect” (CDC 2019). These factors shed light on the disadvantages that families face that can make abuse more likely to happen. Again, abuse is never okay and should never occur in any circumstance.

The obvious goal is to stop abuse from occurring completely. The solution to abuse may be more complex than this, however. Many factors play into the cycle of abuse and each situation is unique in nature. The CDC has created a list of prevention strategies with approaches to combat this issue. One of these prevention strategies include “strengthen economic supports to families” with the approach being to “strength[en] household financial security; [have] family-friendly work policies” (CDC 2019). With this approach, along with the others listed on the website, in place throughout the novel, would the abuse Bone experienced be nonexistent? Would it be lessened? It is uncertain but creating strategies that can prevent future victims from having the same story as Bone is a step in the right direction.

The novel ends with Mama abandoning Bone for Daddy Glen. The reader has no idea what will happen to Bone and is left with many questions about how Bone’s story unfolds after Mama made this choice. Will Bone be healed from the trauma she experienced? Will Daddy Glen return? Will life finally become a positive experience for Bone? The hope is that Aunt Raylene will take excellent care of Bone and she will begin recovering from the horrific events she has grown up with. Although this story is primarily fictional, there are many people like her in this world. The existence of domestic violence shelters, Child Protective Services, and therapeutic support for survivors aims to prevent, rescue, and restore people like Bone who are impacted by abuse. Once freed from abuse and deep into healing, Bone’s character representative of abuse survivors could turn the trauma of abuse into a beacon of hope and help others escape and heal too. Bone cannot change the fact that she was abused, but she can do something about it. In the process of doing so, healing is magnified. Researchers found in a study that “survivors who use positive forms of coping… experience less distress than those who use negative forms of coping” (Stidham et al. 2012). For a survivor to truly heal from abuse, one must develop healthy coping mechanisms. This could, in turn, be a step in breaking the chain in the cycle of abuse.

Bone’s story may be fictional in nature, but this terrifying tragedy is a brutal reality for many children worldwide, even today. Abuse happens too frequently and this novel helps shed light on this common issue facing many in society. In addition to this, the story helps spread awareness to individuals who have been blindsided to this dreadful reality. Can this abuse simply be prevented with awareness? Or is this inevitable? The hope is that with fictional stories similar to this one, the use of other media outlets, and continued research that the instances of abuse begin to diminish rapidly.

Works Cited

Allison, Dorothy. A Bastard Out of Carolina. New York, Penguin, 2016.

“National Statistics on Child Abuse.” National Childrens Alliance,

“Risk and Protective Factors Child Abuse and Neglect Violence Prevention Injury Center CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 26 Feb. 2019,

Stidham, Andrea Warner, et al. “Altruism in Survivors of Sexual Violence.” Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association, vol. 18, no. 3, Nov. 2012, pp. 146–155., doi:10.1177/1078390312440595.

Wegman, Holly, L., and Cinnamon Stetler. “A Meta-Analytic Review of the Effects of Childhood Abuse on Medical Outcomes in Adulthood’. Psychosomatic Medicine, vol. 71, no. 8, October 2009, pp. 805-812. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0b013e3181bb2b46.


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