Bastard Out of Carolina

By Dorothy Allison


When a little girl living in the poor side of the South steals a bag full of candy from a convenience store and her mother finds out, her mother is quick to scold her and tell her stories of her cousin Tommy Lee, who constantly abuses girlfriends, can't keep a job, and steals money right out of his mothers purse. "I can remember when we were just kids and he was always stealing candy to give away. Thought people would like him if he gave them stuff , I suppose." the mother tells her little girl, warning her that Tommy's bad bad lifestyle started with candy theft. Mama also tells her little girl a story about when she and her sister would sneak unripe strawberries into baskets of supposedly "ripe" berries so they wouldn't have to do so much work, but when her own Mama found out, her sister and her were forced to eat 12 boxes of unripe strawberries to learn their lesson. Mama now teaches her own daughter a lesson by forcing her to return the leftover candy and pay for what she had eaten. Now if this if this isn't a consequence as it is, the mean store manager bans the little girl from ever coming in again. Was this too much? Or will our little girl learn to never steal again?


The two main characters in the story are Mama and her little girl

Girl: Our narrator, the little girl is easily influenced, especially by her older cousins Garvey and Grey, who steal from stores and look up to delinquent, Tommy Lee. The little girl cares for her mother and listens to her mother and loves her, but wishes she could have more, which causes her to steal despite her mother saying "No child of mine will ever steal". She listens to her mothers warnings, stories and even follows through with her punishment, but she still has that piece of anger, maybe its because she lives in poverty and feels like she doesn't get enough or maybe its because a mean man banished her from the convenience store she stole from, which may cause her to steal again or do worse. "After that , when I passes the Woolworth's widows, it would come back- that dizzy desperate hunger edged with hatred and an aching lust to hurt somebody back. I wondered if that kind of hunger and rage was what Tommy Lee felt when he went through his mama's pocketbook. It was a hunger in the back of the throat, not the belly, and echoing emptiness that ached for the release of screaming."

Mama: Besides our narrator, Mama is another main character. Mama has been through hard times and wishes better for her little girl, so when she finds out about her little girls theft, she launches into stories about her families and her own wrongdoings, hoping to better her little girl. She punishes her little girl and hopes it is enough, she is hopeful even though she lives a life of poverty. But even after he punishment she worries for her daughter "I could feel the heat from my mama's hand through my blouse, and I knew she was never going to come near this place again, was never going to let herself stand in the same room with that honey-greased bastard."


Exposition: The little girl steals candy from a store, and when her mom finds out she quickly goes into a lecture.

Rising Action: The mother lectures her little girl, and gives her warning stories about her "bad bad" cousin, who leads a terrible life that all started with candy theft. She than tells her own lying story about a strawberry field and how her own mother gave her a punishment. The mother now thinks of her own punishment, returning the candy and paying for what the little girl had eaten. This is the rising action because it builds tension and explains what might happen at the climax.

Climax: The little girl and her mother walk into the convenience store from which the little girl stole and the mother follows through with her punishment. The big mean store manager makes sure to give a creepy lecture of his own saying "I'm gonna do your mama a favor." He smiled "Help her to teach you the seriousness of what you've done." Mama's hand tightened on my shoulder, but she didn't speak. "What were gonna do" he announced "is say you cant come back here for awhile. We'll say that when your mama thinks you've learned your lesson, she can come back and talk to me. But till then, were gonna remember you name, what you look like" he leaned down "You understand me, honey?"" This is the climax because its the biggest and most tense part of the story. The little girl learns the lesson her mother wanted to teach her, but maybe the lesson from the manager wasn't what the mother quite expected.

Falling Action: The little girl is banned from the store until her mother speaks to the man, but the little girl knows that her mother probably won't do this, because of the way the man had treated her. This is the falling action because it brings us back to the little girls normal life.

Resolution: Now every time the little girl walks by the store she stole from she feels a rush of anger and distaste for the store, this is when the little girl goes back to her normal life, despite the what she feels for the store.


Mama, in this story, foreshadows her daughters punishment in her lecture, without the little girl knowing it. While the little girl is listening to her mothers story she makes the statement "You must have hated her!" when she hears the punishment her mother had gotten, and when the little girl hears her own punishment, she's surprised, but understands that her mother has done this for her own good.

Foreshadowing is when an event or character gives leads or is very similar to another event in the future of the story. Usually small aspects of the event change in the future of the story, but you can sense that the story is repeating a former event or saying. The story also leaves you to wonder if mamas first story about Tommy Lee foreshadows the rest of her daughters life (I know mama wouldn't like that!)

Is Punishment Worth the Anger That Comes With it?

In the Bastard Out of Carolina, Dorothy Allison leaves us with the question, how much is too much? Should parents punish their children in embarrassing ways that will make them feel angry at small things, like passing a candy store, or is a strong scolding good enough to change a mind? And most importantly, will the little girl see the error of her way, or will she end up like her delinquent cousin Tommy Lee, who has done much worse than steal candy from a convenience store?

We never find out if our little girl ends up living a life of crime or if she is a perfect angle the rest of her life, all we know is that she feels a certain madness when she passes the store where she was punished by her mother, and lectured by some creepy store manager. She wonders if that madness is the same madness her cousin Tommy Lee feels when he does horrible things. Is it? The same story is repeated every day in real life, by different people all over the world. For example, we saw that mother in Baltimore punish her son physically on live TV when she found out he was rioting by throwing things at police officers. Now thats a very different setting and conflict but maybe this boy feels this feeling of anger for police officers, as the little girl feels for the manager and his convenience store.