Bastard Out of Carolina Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1992

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Bildungsroman

Time of work: Late 1950’s and early 1960’s

Locale: Greenville County, South Carolina

Characters DiscussedBone

Bone, Bastard Out of Carolinathe protagonist and narrator, whose real name is Ruth Anne Boatwright. She is called Bone because at birth she was “no bigger than a knuckle-bone.” Her mother, Anney, was fifteen years old and unmarried when she gave birth to Bone, following a car accident brought about by her brother Travis’ drunk driving.

Anney Boatwright

Anney Boatwright, Bone’s mother. Hardworking and poor, Anney hates the “illegitimate” stamp placed on Bone’s birth certificate. To her, it puts authority behind the labels of “no good,” “lazy,” and “shiftless” that others have attached to her and her family all her life. When Bone is four, Anney marries the sweet, pretty Lyle Parsons and has another daughter, Reese. After Lyle dies when his truck spins off the road, she takes a job as a waitress in the White Horse Café. She meets her third husband, Glen Waddell, at the café when he comes in to eat with her brother Earle.

Glen Waddell

Glen Waddell, Anney’s third husband. the youngest son of the well-off Waddell family, owners of the Sunshine Dairy, Glen is full of insecurities and self-doubt. Although his oldest brother is a respected lawyer and another brother is a dentist, Glen can barely hold a job and moves from one low-paying truck-driving position to another. Glen is neglected by his father, whom he wants to shock and, paradoxically, earn respect from by marrying into the disreputable Boatwright family and proving himself as a man who carries a knife and embraces violence. Despite a small, thin appearance, Glen is known for his enormous hands and his extreme, sudden temper.


Reese, Bone’s younger sister. A pretty child who is never mishandled or abused by Glen, Reese is Bone’s sometime ally and playmate.

Shannon Pearl

Shannon Pearl, Bone’s friend. A short, fat, half-blind albino, Shannon carries with her a rage and resentment not unlike Bone’s. Although her parents pet and adore her, most others find her repulsive.

Raylene Boatwright

Raylene Boatwright, Bone’s aunt. A short, stocky, broad-shouldered woman with closely cropped hair and an affinity for masculine dress, Aunt Raylene lives apart from the rest of the family, alone in a house on the river outside town. the one love of her life, a woman she met while working at the carnival, left Raylene for the sake of her child.

BibliographyAllen, Kimberly G. Review of Bastard Out of Carolina, by Dorothy Allison. Library Journal 117 (March 1, 1992): 116. Sees the focus of the story as the Boatwrights, “a proud and closeknit clan.” Praises Allison for her “rich sense of family.” Allen also mentions the author’s accuracy and sensitivity in revealing the feelings of a sexually abused child.Boyd, Blanche McCrary. “Dorothy Allison, Crossover Blues.” The Nation 257 (July 5, 1993): 20-21. Allison discusses her work, particularly Bastard Out of Carolina, a novel that has been categorized as a “crossover” book, or one that was written by a lesbian author and has been well-received by the mainstream public.Donlon, Jocelyn Hazelwood. “ Born on the Wrong Side of the Porch’: Violating Traditions in Bastard Out of Carolina.Southern Folklore 55 (Fall, 1998): 133-144. Donlon explores the symbolism of the porch in Allison’s book, perceiving it as a space that defines cultural traditions and norms. She discusses the various porches where Bone experiences significant events in her life.Fullbrook, Kate. Free Women: Ethics and Aesthetics in Twentieth-Century Women’s Fiction. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990. The discussion of morality in the work of a number of women novelists provides an interesting background from which to consider Allison’s critique of the family, class, and hypocrisy.Garrett, George. “No Wonder People Got Crazy as They Grew Up.” The New York Times Book Review, July 5, 1992, 3. A highly favorable review by a critic who is himself a much-admired Southern writer. Points to the skill with which Allison incorporates so many details, episodes, and stories into a unified whole. She avoids the dangers of “cuteness” inherent in a Southern setting as well as the sentimentalizing or sociologizing that often tempt those writing about the poor. Perhaps her most impressive achievement is in the use of language, which rings true and yet is as lyrical as a gospel song.Greiner, Donald J. Women Without Men: Female Bonding and the American Novel of the 1980s. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1993. A feminist examination of the complexities of female relationships. Although the book does not include a discussion of Allison, it looks at the work of her contemporaries. The analysis of Mona Simpson’s Anywhere but Here (1987) is especially interesting as it draws attention to the impact of an adolescent, female narrator.Harris, Gale. “Ashamed and Glorified.” Belles Lettres 8 (Spring, 1993): 4-6. Assesses the novel as an “American classic.” One of the major themes of the work is pride, which in excess, as often with the Boatwright men, can be destructive, but which sometimes, as in the case of Bone, is all that enables one to endure. Another theme is human vulnerability, as seen in the universal need for love. Praises Allison’s descriptive prose, her “emotional intensity and honesty,” and her “complex and compassionate” characterization.Hawthorne, Mary. “Born of Ignorance.” The Times Literary Supplement, August 14, 1992, 18. Sees the main subjects of the novel as the “complexity of cruelty,” the product of poverty, “social inequity,” and “the psychosis of the family.” The defects of Bastard Out of Carolina include a lack of unity, excessive “wisecracking bonhomie” on the part of the Boatwrights, and sometimes, particularly in the case of Glen, unconvincing characterization. Finds the book, however, vivid, compelling, and emotionally honest.Horvitz, Deborah. “ Sadism Demands a Story’: Oedipus, Feminism, and Sexuality in Gayl Jones’s Corregidora and Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina.” Contemporary Literature 39 (Summer, 1998): 238-261. Horvitz draws parallels between Jones’s and Allison’s novels, focusing on the trauma enacted on the female body in both books, and emphasizing the need to move into the future without repressing the memory of the sadism of the past.Irving, Katrina. “ Writing It Down So That It Would Be Real’: Narrative Strategies in Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina.” College Literature 25 (Spring, 1998): 94-107. Discusses Allison’s strategy of disavowal in her portrayal of poor Southern characters in her novel. Irving maintains that such a strategy is in keeping with Allison’s self-designation as an iconoclast, influenced by her desire to assert her true sexuality.Kirkus Reviews. LX, February 1, 1992, p. 126.Lambda Book Report. III, May, 1992, p. 42.Library Journal. CXVII, March 1, 1992, p. 116.Los Angeles Times Book Review. August 16, 1992, p. 6.McDonald, Kathlene. “Talking Trash, Talking Back: Resistance to Stereotypes in Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina.Women’s Studies Quarterly 26 (Spring-Summer, 1998): 15. McDonald sees Allison’s novel as a presentation of “an insider’s perception of so-called white trash experiences which help those on the outside understand the reality and diversity of those experiences.” McDonald evaluates Allison’s work from a pedagogical point of view.The New York Times Book Review. XCVII, July 5, 1992, p. 3.Prenshaw, Peggy Whitman, ed. Women Writers of the Contemporary South. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1984. This collection of essays on Southern women writers shows the breadth of their concerns. The checklist of sources at the end provides a bibliography of works by Allison’s contemporaries.Publishers Weekly. CCXXXIX, January 27, 1992, p. 88.San Francisco Chronicle. April 19, 1992, p. REV7.The Times Literary Supplement. August 14, 1992, p. 18.The Washington Post Book World. XXII, May 3, 1992, p. 11.Westling, Louise. Sacred Groves and Ravaged Gardens: The Fiction of Eudora Welty, Carson McCullers, and Flannery O’Connor. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1985. Important comparative themes include discussions of Southern daughters, rural life, and the struggle for freedom.Women’s Review of Books. IX, July, 1992, p. 15.Young, Elizabeth. “Trash Tales.” New Statesman 234 (January 8, 1993): 41-42. Allison’s aim is to portray accurately a social class “that has been neglected and misunderstood by other novelists.” Because of her “force and accuracy,” she is more successful than such notable writers as Bobbie Ann Mason and Carolyn Chute. Young also admires her clean style, which, though avoiding dialect, has captured the “rhythms of Southern speech.”
Categories: Characters