Bastard Out of Carolina

By Dorothy Allison

Plot Overview

  • Exposition: The story begins with the protagonist, a young girl, being told by her mother to never be caught stealing. A while passes before the little girl is caught lying to her mother over something she stole, which just happen to be tootsie rolls.
  • Rising Action: After the protagonist is caught her mother begins driving her to the store to pay for the tootsie rolls, all the while giving her a lecture on how she picked strawberries while she grew up. This is her mother's way of teaching her a lesson that she needs to earn things through work and not by stealing.
  • Climax: The climax of the story finally happens when the mother and daughter step into the store. That scene of returning and paying for what the girl had stolen is the climax, because it is the part of the story that everything had been leading up to. The girl is brought in by her mother to tell the storeowner. "He was a big man with a wide face and a swollen belly... I could smell the sharp alcohol scent of after-shave. 'You do, don'tcha, honey?'" (79)
  • Falling Action: While there is not resolution of the story, there is a falling action. This takes place when the girl passes by the store's windows. She is enraged instead of guilty. The protagonist ends the story with "a hunger in the back of the throat, not the belly, an echoing emptiness that ached for the release of screaming." (81)


Every story can be read by a reader in a different way, each reader developing what they believe is the main message or the the theme. "Bastard Out of Carolina," however, has a very blatant theme, which is to not steal. This is because, the protagonist's mother speaks adamantly about doing the right thing, and how she never wants to "catch [her daughter] stealing." (75) The young girl is caught lying and stealing, and has to learn a lesson by going back to the store, apologizing, paying, and also being banned from the store. The idea of not stealing comes up everywhere, and is a subject throughout the story.


The Little Girl: Although this character never receives a name, this young girl is the main character. The story is narrated by her. She is probably around the age of seven or eight, because she knows right from wrong, but doesn't care when she does steal. She is headstrong, and a bit defiant, but she is very respectful of her mother.
Mama: Mama is the little girl's mother, probably around the age of 30 or 40. She is kindhearted and very wise. You can see in the short story that she is also very firm, and is protective of her children and family. This can be seen by the way she acts when speaking about Tommy Lee, who had hurt his own family, which was also her own family.
The Storeowner: This man is described by the Little Girl as a very ugly and dirty man. The Storeowner is most likely a drinker, or alcoholic, because he had alcohol on his breath. He is crotchety, and is harsh.

Main Conflict

"Bastard Out of Carolina" has two major conflicts. One of which is an internal conflict, and the other is an external conflict. The internal conflict is between the Little Girl and herself, a man vs. self conflict. This is a conflict because she is old enough to know between right and wrong, but she isn't focused on morals. Instead, she steals the tootsie rolls, and is struggling a bit due to her actions. The second conflict is man vs. man (external), dealing with mother against daughter and teaching the Little Girl a lesson after Mama learns what she did.


A particularly powerful use of Figurative Language was when Dorothy Allison, the author of the short story, used imagery as they - meaning Mama and the Little Girl - arrived at the store. Throughout the story, the author was not focusing on the picture, but the actual plot. The detail of when the girl first sees the store and its front display windows really helps the reader look at what the protagonist sees through their own eyes. The author chose to do this imagery at this moment because this was the climax of the story, and the detail drew the reader in. If the author was more straight forward it wouldn't be as powerful.

Most Compelling Aspect

I believe the most compelling aspect of the story was just the plot overall. It was interesting, and not exactly the idea you would see in a short story. This story doesn't use much imagery, but it was still captivating in its own way. I am more about things that are detailed, but I still enjoyed "Bastard Out of Carolina" very much.


The author also uses characterization in her short story. The author does a very good job of showing us who these characters are as people through how they act in certain situations, and how they think as well. This is called indirect characterization. It is never directly stated, but you can tell that the Little Girl is headstrong, because of what she does in situations. For example, the girl does what she wants, and is very upset when she gets caught. The author does not use much, if any, direct characterization; which is when the story outright says what this person is like. For example; "she was very tall," is direct characterization.