Two different types of men : Bone's uncles and Daddy Glen in Dorothy Allison's "Bastard Out Of Carolina"
In Dorothy Allison's novel on the growing up a of an illegitimate child in South Carolina and her being abused by her step-father, men are not really the main and acting figures. They are rather minor characters, even Daddy Glen who causes so much pain. The actual "sovereigns" are the women. But the depiction of men in this novel does not only tell about the nature of men in this family but a lot on the values of society and the critique the author expresses and shall thus be the focus of this work.
First there are Anney's brothers, Bone's uncles. They are all very much alike in their behavior and attitudes, but Earle is clearly the one who is closest to Anney and Bone and so he is the most often mentioned one of the "Boatwright brothers". And this points to the first phenomenon of male characters in this novel: even if the brothers are partially married (like Nevil), they are always referred to as the "Boatwright brothers"; they seem to be an inseparable unit. What is being said about one of them always refers to the others as well: "Your uncle Beau is a drunk. You know that, but so is your uncle Nevil, and so am I, I suppose", Earle tells Bone. But mostly the brothers are being talked about as "they" anyway. Of course this also indicates the importance of family bondage in the Boatwright family, but if one looks at the way Bone's aunts are mentioned and spoken about in the novel, the unity of the brothers is exceptional. Bone as the I-narrator does talk about her aunts in a collective plural some times, but mostly the aunts are being referred to as single persons and are also clearly different from each other in their character and conditions of living. This phenomenon of the brothers only being referred to as a group has other reasons too, but this would lead us very deep into the novel and shall be postponed to a later part of the interpretation.
Before that, there should be taken a more general look at the brothers. When the reader is first being introduced to Bone's family, he already gets to know some crucial things on the male members of the family, even if only Travis, Alma's husband, is involved: "My aunt Alma insists to this day that what happened was in no way Uncle Travis's fault, but I know that the first time I ever saw Uncle Travis sober was when I was seventeen and they had just removed half his stomach along with his liver. I cannot imagine that he hadn't been drinking. There's no question in my mind but that they had all been drinking, except Mama who never could drink, and certainly not when she was pregnant." So the first thing the reader learns about the Boatwright family is that most of its members are constantly drunk. But the irony that Bone as I-narrator mixes into this story of her birth ("...the first time I ever saw Uncle Travis sober...") tells us one other major thing on the Boatwrights: they may be drunkyards, but they never mean bad. They do their best for the family (bring pregnant Anney to the hospital), but they are just the way they are - drunkyards that is. Lateron, we learn more on the brothers, especially on Earle, who stands for all the three of them. When Anney tries for the third time to get an unmarked birth-certificate for Bone and hires a lawyer to help her with that, he of course knows that she will not be able to succeed, but tries to soothe her, thinking "No sense making an enemy of Earle Boatwright's sister." So we know that Earle has a reputation of some kind and is respected by people like a lawyer even. Then, when Glen meets Anney for the first time, the (third-person/reflector-person-) narrator tells more about Earle's reputation, out of Glen's perspective: "He began to feel for the first time like one of the boys, a grown man accepted by the notorious and Black Earle Boatwright,..." and "The man was a Boatwright, after all, and he and his two brothers had all gone to jail for causing other men serious damage. Rumour told deadly stories about the Boatwright boys, the kind of tales men whispered over whiskey when women were not around." So they are criminals, alcoholics, and have a bad reputation for being violent. But again this is said with an ironic undertone ("...causing other men serious damage...deadly stories...the kind of tales men whispered over whiskey when women were not around."), and considering the fact that the general tone of the novel is mostly not ironic, the statement on the "evil Boatwright brothers" is being qualified. Also the crimes they go to jail for or even the fact that they go to jail is being mentioned on the side only, like when Bone says she will miss Earle as he has been "sent to the county farm for busting a man's jaw and breaking a window down at the Cracker Blue Cafe." and that he got his head shaved bald in a fight. Reese, proud that she knows, tells Bone the reason for that as if it was a great thing: "Granny said he tried to cut some fellow's dick off." They may be violent criminals, but no one in the family takes this serious. Rather most of the things they do - or better commit - are not taken serious by the (female) rest of the family. When Bone for the first time tells more about her uncles she says: "My aunts treated my uncles like overgrown boys - rambunctious teenagers whose antics were more to be joked about than worried over - and they seemed to think of themselves that way too." They are more like teenagers who want to show-off than like grown-up men, at least in their behavior. They never have steady jobs, that is they never take up responsibility. Not for jobs. But for other things they do feel resposible, for example Earle has told Bone that he took care of not making any of his girl-friends pregnant. And of course they care for the family a very much and help every member of it that is in need. So they may be childish, but only to some extend, concerning the things that count for society like jobs and not fighting and drinking in public. The fact that the aunts treat them like boys and do not take their escapades seriously also says a lot about the role of men and women in the Boatwright family. Bone about her uncles: "They looked young, even Nevil, who'd had his teeth knocked out, while the aunts - Ruth, Raylene, Alma, and even Mama - seemed old, worn-down, and slow, born to nurse and clean up after the men. Men could do anything, and everything they did, no matter how violent or mistaken, was viewed with humor and understanding. The sheriff would lock them up for shooting out each other's windows,..., and my aunts would shrug and make sure the children were all right at home. What men did was just what men did. Some days I would grind my teeth, wishing I had been born a boy." This does not look like emancipation very much, but if one takes a closer look, it is obvious that in this family the women are the ones who have the reigns in their hands. Men do not play an important role, and when they misbehave, they are being left like Alma left Wade when she caught him "messing around", and Deedee's comment on that is also very significant: "If he was my husband, I'd shoot his dick off." Women are strong in the Boatwright family. They take all the work on their back, but they get the respect of the male members of the family for that and the power to decide. Men have nothing to say in that family, and the only one who tries to be different is Daddy Glen - the effect of that is a disaster. So women have the responsibility and the power in their hands - but they also have to suffer from this heavy burden on their shoulders. As Bone says in the above quoted passage, the women in the family look old from the work and the weight they have to carry by holding the family together. A man's life in this family is easy as they are not expected to make it further than to the next bar, and this has been the same over generations. Earle tells Bone about her grandfather: "Your Mama ever tell you about our Daddy? [...] People called him 'that Boatwright boy' until the day he died. Took better care of his dogs than his wife or children - not that Mama needed much taking care of. Your Granny is tougher than all her sons put together; she sure never needed to expect much out of Daddy. Thing is, I think all of us, we're just like him." Already the grandfather has been more of a child than a man, not taking much responsibility and never being expected to. So his sons - Bone's uncles - are the same way because they have never learnt to be different, and the women in the family have also done their part in it by not putting any expectations into them. And they seem to be satisfied with the way things are as they do nothing to overcome those traditions because they would probably lose their powers then. They simply do not want men to be anything else but (good-hearted) criminals and drunkyards, that is why they never worry about them seriously.
 Dorothy Allison: Bastard Out Of Carolina. Flamingo, London 1993, p. 125. All of the following quotations will refer to this edition
- Quote paper
- Luise A. Finke (Author), 1996, Two different types of men: Bone's uncles and Daddy Glen in Dorothy Allison's "Bastard Out Of Carolina", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/21439