Rusty-James isn't book-smart--he relies on his fists instead of his brains. So far whenever he gets into trouble, his older brother, the Motorcycle Boy, has bailed him out. Then one day Rusty-James's world comes apart in an explosive chain of events--and this time the Motorcycle Boy isn't... read more
Set in the ‘Sin City’ in the late 1970’s, S.E. Hinton’s “Rumble Fish” is a period in the adolescent life of two brothers as they struggle to find identity and manhood in the careless absence of parental love in a single parent home. It is a coming of age story that catalogues the consequences... read more (warning: may contain spoilers)
Set in the ‘Sin City’ in the late 1970’s, S.E. Hinton’s “Rumble Fish” is a period in the adolescent life of two brothers as they struggle to find identity and manhood in the careless absence of parental love in a single parent home. It is a coming of age story that catalogues the consequences that the children following the ‘sixties generation’ carry while attempting to resist the inevitable story of failure written through their parents lives. Their father, an out of work lawyer, who has become dependent on the government and booze, fails to replace and provide the much needed humanity and compassion of their missing mother. Suffering the loss of their mother who abandoned them for the California dream, “a beautiful wild kid on heroin, high as a kite and thinking she’s on top of the world, not knowing she’s dying, not believing it even if you show her the marks”, the two boys attempt to prove that nothing can touch their toughened hearts and nothing is going to interfere with their manhood.
Rusty James, a pre-teenage boy worships his older half-brother ‘The Motorcycle Boy’ (who has managed to detach himself from the addictions of his parents, but still succumbs to the temptations of stealing motorcycles to get that ‘freedom’ feeling). Reminiscent of the intellectual Zen like, detached from the rules of society character, played by Jack Nicholson in ‘Easy Rider’, the cult classic of that period, Motorcycle boy is Rusty's half-brother. Rusty determines to follow in 'Motorcycle Boy's' footsteps and to become ‘just like him’. His best friend, Steve, also struck by the talent and beauty of Rusty’s older brother follows Rusty through his harrowing near death experiences on the streets of Las Vegas. Finally sick of suffering the consequences of his friends lead, he warns Rusty that if he keeps following the path of Motorcycle Boy, he ‘will believe in nothing’. After abandoning his brother time and again in a detached state of near psychotic numbness, while seeking his own way to fill the void left by the absence of any parental love, Motorcycle Boy leads his brother by default.
Through gang fights, drunken sleeps, involvement with women, playing pool at the local bars, and brutal jumpings, Rusty is loyal to the character of his brother to a fault. His naïve, ‘I believe in everything’ , decision to follow his brother leads him into expulsion from school, loss of his girlfriend, near fatal physical brutality, loss of his best friend, and his place as the toughest kid in the gangs. Rusty finally sees his brother as ‘the most alone person’, and begs his old friend to help him follow Motorcycle Boy. His real state is witnessed by his brother and symbolized by Hinton at the end of the book while Motorcycle Boy stares at the rumblefish in the animal/pet store. The fish displays a myriad of colors and emotions that show beautifully to an outsider, but that isolate the fish in a glass bowl because the only physical expression the fish knows in community is the instinct to fight. Distinct for its beauty, the rumblefish, aptly brings picture to the characterization of the mistaken hero of the adolescence of that generation and the gangs that still dominate-the rumble fish is the animalization of the human being detached from his feelings, but which show plainly and beautifully to the outside world.
Reaching the epitome of social Darwinism, and the society’s belief in ‘survival of the fittest’, Hinton chooses the rumble fish, a fighting fish that can’t swim in the same tank as the other fish, as the symbolization for the emotions trapped inside our hero. Through her imagery, Hinton humanely captures the unbearable alienation of a kid so free that he’s never caught by the police, so beautiful that his picture is in a magazine, and so smart he gets ‘kicked out for good grades’, but so isolated he can’t get along. Against a cruel historical backdrop and among the myriad of ways that the middle class intellectuals of the ‘tune in and drop out generation’ attempted to find ‘freedom’s highway’, Hinton shows how these two teenage boys struggle with the neglect of their family, one to detach himself from the inevitable feelings of anger, and the other to worship the only adult to not be addicted in his family. Hinton chooses the pre-setting characters aptly, and strongly hints at the need for compassionate intervention as the hero of our story tries desperately to free himself from the unwanted feelings of a family that failed to be his guide.
Taking the brutal consequences for their own ideas about manhood without the guidance of caring parents, detached from his own emotions, Motorcycle Boy, dreams and theorizes that if he can just set the rumblefish (his emotions) free from the glass bubble (his alienation) and place them into the river (community and circle of life), maybe they won’t fight anymore. Clearly, a socially imaginative narrative and historical piece that exposes the philosophical and implemental failures of deconstructivism of the traditional family in the 1960’s and 70’s, and that set the tone for the ‘me’ generation to follow in the 1980’s. In a brilliant story that becomes a desperate critical social commentary on the choices and misuses of ‘freedom’ in the 1960’s and the consequences for the children of the coming age, she perfectly captures the multi-generational consequences to the real freedom of these young boys-as one heads to jail and the other to juvenile hall.
“"Even the most primitive societies have an innate respect for the insane."”Motorcycle Boy
“"Every now and then, a person comes along, has a different view of the world than does the usual person. Notice I said 'usual' not 'normal'. It doesn't make them crazy. An acute perception does notmake you crazy, however, somestimes it drives you crazy."”Rusty-James' Father
“"Blind terror in a fight can easily pass as courage"”Motorcycle Boy
“"I could never understand people being scared of things they didn't know nothing about."”Rusty-James
“"I love fights. I love how I feel before a fight, kind of high, like I can do anything."”Rusty-James
“I get annoyed when people want to kill me for some stupid little reason. Something big I don't mind it so much.”Rusty-James
“California," he said, "is like a beautiful wild kid on heroin, high as a kite and thinking she's on top of the world, not knowing she's dying, not believing it even if you show her the marks.”Motorcycle Boy
“"What strange lives you two lead."”Rusty-James's father
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