Rumble Fish: A History of Violence, Hero-Worship, and Abandonment

S.E. Hinton. Rumble Fish. New York: Laurel Leaf, 1989.

external image a6644310fca019bdc1eb9010.L.jpg "Well, I had to worry about money, and whether or not the old man would drink up his check before I got part of it, and whether or not the Motorcycle Boy would pick up and leave for good, and I had a cop itching to blow my brains out" p 63-64.

Looking back on his childhood, Rusty-James finds few memories come easily. He runs into his old friend Steve who acts as a catalyst to spur painful memories from his troubled young adulthood. He doesn't want to remember these past troubles caused by neglectful parents and poor role models. When Steve insists on delving into details of the olden days, Rusty-James finds the memories come rushing back, whether he wants them to or not.

"The Motorcycle Boy didn't have any friends, I realized when I got over being sad about Weston. He had admirers and enemies, but I never heard anybody claim to be his friend" p 66.

14-year-old Rusty-Jame lives in a world where strength is determined by physical prowess and one's ability to manipulate the world around you. Everyday life involves fighting, bloodshed, emotional entanglement, and constant struggle to find one's place in life. His father is an ex-law-student, a drunk, hardly home, and disconnected from his children's lives. Rusty-James' main role model is his older brother, the Motorcycle Boy, who is a misguided individual himself. The mysteriously unnamed Motorcycle Boy is a loner and a rebel who bounces from place to place with reckless abandon, unthoughtful to the bridges he burns and destruction he leaves in his wake. In his father's absence, Rusty-James uses the Motorcycle Boy as a stand-in for a parental figure. When around, his father does not understand him. When Rusty-James is stabbed in a fight, his father simply tells him to be more careful and hands him a few dollars--a prime example of the disconnect between father and son.

"'What's the matter, honey?' I said.

'You said you were going to quit fighting all the time.'

'Since when?'

'Since you beat up Skip Handly. You promised me you wouldn't be fighting all the time.'

'Oh, yeah. Well, this ain't all the time. This is just once.'

'You always say that.' She was crying..." p 17-18.

Rusty-James is constantly fighting with his peers in a struggle to prove his supremacy. When called out by his rivals, Rusty-James disobeys the wishes of his girlfriend and deliberately fights all challengers. This constant battle that Rusty-James willingly take parts in takes a toll on his well-being, resulting in physical and emotional scars that will last a lifetime. He threatens children, drinks alcohol, lies, skips school, goes to adult films, goes unsupervised to his girlfriend's house, and spends school nights partying into the morning.

" 'What a funny situation,' said the Motorcycle Boy after a long silence. 'I wonder what I'm doing here, holding my half-dead brother, surrounded by bricks and cement and rats' " p. 98.

The book details how blind hero-worship can lead to the downfall of one's existence. Throughout the book, Rusty-James is constantly battling not only the word around him but also himself. He uses violence as a crutch; for Rusty-James shedding tears is more painful than shedding blood. All of these aspects of his life come together in a dramatic fashion that shape the rest of Rusty-James' life.

Rumble Fish for Teachers

Have you taught The Outsiders one too many times? Yeah, we know it’s hard to stay golden. Why not try something new? S.E. Hinton's third book might be a perfect alternative to teaching The Outsiders. Rumble Fish tackles many of the same issues as The Outsiders, like poverty, relationships, and honor. But Rumble Fish goes deeper--dealing with self esteem, alienation, abandonment, and hero-worship. The book is Hinton’s shortest, making it a good book to slip in when there is a gap or when a unit does not go as long as intended. This book could easily be done in a week or stretched to 2 weeks.Teachers can tackle a lot of issues with this text it might be especially useful in schools located in lower socioeconomic area. In these districts issues such as single parent homes, where the younger children are raise by older siblings is going to be relatable to the students . Substance abuse and neglect are also issues that the book explores and are that ripe for discussion. While a focus of the book is gang life or as the kids like to call it “thug life” might be a little dated, it’s kind of like using Westside story to teach about gang violence. It might be used to start discussions, ie. How is gang life different today then when the book was written? There is a lack of female characters in the book, but the ones that we do get are the polar opposite of each other. One is weak the other is strong, but both are welling to be used by the men in the book. the one woman that isn’t willing to be use has to abandon the main characters to do so. This is interesting fodder for discussion, or papers. Rumble Fish is a little darker than The Outsiders with a more nihilistic outlook, which gives the teacher a chance to introduce and explore the topic of nihilism in literature. Rusty-James and The Motorcycle Boy are both characters that have a lot going on under the surface. These characters are deep wells of materials for class discussion; for example why is Rusty James comfortable in a clinic but deathly afraid of going to the hospital? or is the Motorcycle boy really color blind and deaf? Was Motorcycle Boys death suicide by cop? There is also a movie version, but it is rated R, so it should be viewed by the teacher before a class viewing to deem it’s appropriateness (so you might not have the coveted week of book, week of movie experience). Rumble Fish is thought to be Hinton’s best work by many, going beyond The Outsiders in complexity and character development. It gives teachers and students a chance to be challenged by the material in a way that The Outsiders doesn’t. Rumble Fish is not for the faint of heart or those that are looking for the straightforward easy teaching material. For those that want to take on a bit more heady material without totally turning off your students, Rumble Fish is a great choice.

About Susan Eloise (S.E. for short) Hinton


Susan Eloise Hinton was born in Oklahoma in 1950. She wrote her first book, The Outsiders, when she was only 15. She virtually founded the young adult literature genre. S.E. Hinton has gone on to publish 4 other YA books after The Outsiders, but has also authored children’s picture books and adult fiction. Movies based on 4 of her books have been made. Hinton, has acted in, wrote, and, scouted locations for some of the films. Hinton’s first book The Outsiders is the second best selling young adults book of all time selling 13 million copies and continuing to sell 500,000 every year. Hinton is infamously private with her picture kept from her books. Hinton still lives in Oklahoma with her husband and son. Hinton’s books continue to resonate with young readers, tackling complex issues that matter in teen’s lives. The American Library Association awarded her the first Margaret Edwards Young Adult Author Achievement Award for her work in 1988. (Sources S.E. Hintons Site. An Interview with S.E. Hinton S. E. Hinton Biography S.E. Hinton Wikipedia

Multimedia (Video or Audio)

Take a look at the trailer for 1983 film based on the book. The screenplay was co-written by Hinton with Francis Ford Coppola. While the movie was not as good an adaptation as The Outsiders, it captures the spirit of the book, dealing with adolescent relationships, hero-worship, and trying to live up to others and one’s own expectations.

Additional Resources:

Teaching Rumble Fish,

Rumble Fish worksheets/ Aims and Objectives, Discussion Questions and chapter quizzes.

A novel Study Of Rumble Fish.Vocabulary, Chapter questions, and Enrichment exercises, while not everything here is “useable” there are still some good ideas and activities.

Rumble Fish Book report Form/ - This site has a lot of questions and quizzes that can be used when teaching Rumble Fish.

Teaching Ideas for Rumble Fish - A simple sheet that can be used as cognitive check. including Thematic Connections and Interdisciplinary Connections.

Rumble Fish Reviews, wiki,

Rumble Fish library Good reviews including one with suggested Read Alouds, and Discussion Questions.

Rumble Fish Wikipedia -Encyclopedic entry on the book.

Rumble Fish (film) wikipedia Wiki on the based on the book.

S.E. Hintons Site. Book and Author info.

An Interview with S.E. Hinton -A 2005 NY times Interview.

-- Jake Cagle, Don Ivers, Derek Ochodnicky, and Blaine Sparling