So What I’m a Bastard

One of the important scenes within the first part of the novel is the one in which Molly’s adoptive mother reveals that Molly is an illegitimate child: a bastard.

I decided to look up the word and its origins in the Oxford English Dictionary, and found that the roots of the word (in the context of one born out of wedlock) extends back to 1297, and the quotation provided from R. Cloucester’s Chron was written in old English. Further, there were predominantly reference to religion: “of a woman… are adulterous and bastard officers before God (J. Knox First Blast against Monstruous Regiment Women f. 51)”, and “spiritual law” (T. Fuller Worthies (1662))

I find this interesting because the word’s roots in religiosity are in stark contrast with Molly’s apparent disregard for religious rule: “she gave him that crap about God and how we don’t know what his pans are because we are only people and people are morons compared to God almighty” (p. 24) and “[marriage] is a a piece of paper… it ain’t religion” (p. 32).

Despite its implications being mostly societal and religious, the word bastard manages to prompt an intensely personal and evaluative reaction from Molly.

I think the style of writing is especially important in this scene as well, because most of the novel so far has been written in the past tense recounting certain instances of her childhood; when told about being a bastard however, Molly launches into a sort of rant about her feelings. There seems to be a shift in the tense as well; after recounting the interaction with her adoptive mother in the past tense, the emotional, almost stream-of-conscious prose becomes present tense. To me, it seems almost as if the narrator is STILL affected by the words spoken so long ago, that she is still reliving those feelings and thoughts. The fact that the prose continues to be written in somewhat of a child-like voice (“worms, yuk, I’m not eating worms!” (p.8)) is indicative of a past that bleeds into the present.

Another thing I noticed was the repetition of the words, “I don’t care”. In the span of one paragraph, the phrase is repeated six times. It seems like the author is trying to dismiss the negative connotation, as well as the identity prescribed to her by her adoptive mother. In this context, it seems she is trying to reassure herself, but with every repetition it seems she is unable to satisfactorily appease the impact that the thought of being a bastard has on her. It seems, to some extent, she has internalized the negativity associated with being a bastard, and that is what makes her so uncomfortable. I think this is consolidated by the fact that after having repeatedly claimed she remains unaffected, she asks herself the question: “My mother couldn’t have cared about me very much…why would she leave me like that?” This highlights the insecurity provoked by learning she was an illegitimate child; even though she claims not to care at all, she feels insecure in her own identity.

Discussion questions

  1. How does institution (whether societal, religious, political, etc.) affect identity? Do you think that an individual can maintain an identity completely outside of institution?
  2. Do you think it is possible to completely and cleanly reject a label that society places on you? Or is impossible to get rid of internalized feelings? Can you recall a particular instance in which although rationally you were able to reassure yourself of something, there was still internalized self-doubt?




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