ANOTHER random essay from my Modern American Fiction class! This was actually one of my favorite books that I read that semester <3.
The image of fire is very prominent throughout Dorothy Allison’s Bastard out of Carolina, especially when referring to the anger that starts to possess Bone as she grows older from the first time Daddy Glen molests her. The first notable instance of it is when she masturbates to a fantasy where she is trapped and a nearby haystack is set on fire. The entire time she imagines vividly the struggle and trying to escape the blaze, a characteristic that becomes central to her life. Until Mama leaves Bone after the final rape, Bone is constantly in a threat of danger around Daddy Glen. She is always struggling to escape by finding a way to tiptoe around his emotions and avoid upsetting him so he will not beat her, or finding a refuge with one of the other relatives so she can avoid his presence entirely. The idea of playing with fire and knowing that it is only in her imagination is something she can entertain, but when it becomes reality and the escape becomes essential it is no longer pleasurable. In her fantasy she has control over living and has the reassurance of knowing that she will survive because she can open her eyes and come back to reality. However, when Daddy Glen attacks her, that danger is her reality and she cannot just open her eyes and escape from it; the real kind of danger is not one that she can control and therefore she cannot find any pleasure in it. When the beatings became more consistent, she no longer dreamed of fire when she masturbated but instead of people watching her being hit. She wanted the compassion and the witnesses, and the idea was exciting to her to know that she could be innocent still when she was always made to feel as if she had done something wrong and her purity had been stolen. She became a sacrifice for the people who were being forced to watch, as if she were being beaten for them, which was another situation that was the opposite of her reality and was something that she could again control. It is again similar to how she has such an attachment to the sharp hook on a chain; she can relate to the chains because she is also attached to something dangerous that she cannot escape. Bone constantly found situations far from her true life that she could control to masturbate to because they were her only escape from the life that she had started to hate.
Another particular reoccurrence where Bone experiences a lot of imagery relating to heat or fire is when she is angry, which becomes pretty often the more Daddy Glen beats the innocence out of her. His abuse becomes so frequent and there is never a reason to it that Bone can comprehend, which drives the pureness of childhood out of her and fills instead with anger. This pain is afflicted upon her and she sees no reason to have any happiness with the realization that the world is unfair and that maybe life is not worth being happy about. “My insides were boiling, and my skin burned. My hatred and rage were so hot I felt like I could have spit fire. When she put her hand on my wrist, I felt the hairs on my forearm tingle and stand up. A cold electric current ran up to the back of my neck” (258). Bone starts to respond to most situations with anger and with the understanding that almost everything will come back to hurt her or there is no good in them to start with. There is no longer a point in trusting because she trusted Daddy Glen and that did nothing positive for her life.
Her friendship with Shannon Pearl also has a lot of fire imagery, especially Shannon’s death where she is literally consumed by flames. Both girls have a lot of negative experiences in life so far and no longer see the use in having a positive outlook. Their innocence has been robbed of them, for Shannon by other people who comment or treat her differently because she is ugly and for Bone by Daddy Glen. When Bone first met Shannon, she expected to be able to have deep conversations with a girl who would have a beautiful personality despite her horrible appearance. However, Shannon ended up just being an ugly little girl that had scary thoughts about murder or torture. This was a reality check again for Bone where the things she imagined and desired were not how the world actually worked. She wanted to have a life where she could control the outcome of her negative situations, where she could escape from pain before it became unbearable, and where an ugly girl had a beautiful insight. However, she is trapped in an abusive household with her stepfather and Shannon Pearl is just as ugly inside as she is out. The fire which drove her rage and eventually focused the way she led her life was similar to how a fire can spread through a dried out area. It will take over the area and keep growing if there is not enough force to stop it, similar to how the abuse of Daddy Glen was not stopped – both events lead to seemingly irreparable damage.