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KATHERINE HENNINGER Claiming Access: Controlling Images in Dorothy Allison . . . the very conception "poor white" is an oxymoron. It insists on the irreconcilable nature of its two parts; the unnaturalness of their yoking assumes a world view in which to be white is to be assured of a satisfactory share of personal resources. When whites are discovered deprived of these—as was most dramatically the case in the South—they take on the status of freaks, to be reviled, cured, pitied, accepted, or mocked. Sylvia Jenkins Cook Any fiction that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by northern readers—unless it is really grotesque. Then—it is going to be called photographic realism. Flannery O'Connor Brutally raped and beaten by her stepfather, 12-year-old Bone Boatwright, heroine of Dorothy Allison's Bastard out ofCarolina , emerges bruised and bandaged from the county hospital. A photographer is waiting. Much as "Daddy Glen" has violently asserted his paternal right of access to his stepdaughter, the photographer in taking a picture asserts a public, symbolic access to Bone's "white trash" body. When the photograph appears on the front page of the local newspaper , Bone is thrice brutalized: her young, defiant female body is physically broken, her classed body is symbolically exposed, and, as she internalizes the community's stigmatization of her family, her personal body-image is ravaged by self-loathing. In this self-loathing, Bone is less upset by the public display ofher image than by the knowledge that the photograph will be included in her Aunt Alma's family scrapbook, which then appears to her as a catalog confirming her ugly, grotesque lineage: Arizona Quarterly Volume 60, Number 3, Autumn 2004 Copyright © 2004 by Arizona Board of Regents ISSN 0004-1610 S4 Kathenne Henninger As soon as I saw the picture of me on the front page of the Nevus, I knew it would wind up in her scrapbook, and I hated it. In it, I was leaning against [Aunt] Raylene's shoulder, my face all pale and long, my chin sticking out too far, my eyes sunk into shadows. I was a Boatwright there for sure, as ugly as anything. I was a freshly gutted fish, my mouth gaping open above my bandaged shoulder and arm, my neck still streaked dark with blood. Like a Boatwright all right—it wasn't all my blood. (293) Like a gutted fish, Bone is caught and rent open, exposed and available for consumption. As her own vision conflates with that of the news photograph, Bone sees herself as she imagines herself and her family envisioned, as representative of all that is ugly, violent, and excessive. In this charged episode, Bone becomes, literally, a cultural picture, a something accessible to and accessed by a hegemonic vision that, thanks to a long legacy of southern "white trash" images, knows just where to "place" this little girl's battered body. The power of Allison's novel is that Bone does not remain the "trash" thing her culture would have her represent. Instead through the course of the novel Bone begins to learn, incompletely, her own powers of representation. Bone's growing self-consciousness of the gendered and class dynamics of representational power in the South is developed , in part, around two sets offictional photographs:1 the family photographs Bone "reads" for visible connections between her self and family, and the newspaper photographs collected in Aunt Alma's scrapbook that depict her "white trash" family in various states of drunken, incestuous excess. Contradicting Bone's vision, Aunt Alma insists that the Boatwrights aren't "bad-looking," they "just make bad pictures" (293). As the narrative of Bastard makes abundantly clear, within their hometown of Greenville, South Carolina, the Boatwrights participate in a southern economy ofrepresentation that sets intra-cultural boundaries along lines of class, gender, and race. Within the design of this economy, the Boatwrights—and especially the Boatwright women— will always look "bad," and they will be given to know it. But, as its title suggests, Bastard out of Carolina also participates in a larger representational context, a complex context that yokes together "official" discourses ofpatriarchal and state power, with...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9595
Print ISSN
0004-1610
Pages
pp. 83-108
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-02
Open Access
No
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