Rumble Fish (novel)

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Rumble Fish
Rumble fish 1st edition 1975.jpg
First hardcover edition, 1975
Author S. E. Hinton
Country United States
Language English
Genre Young adult novel
Publication date
Media type Print (Paperback)
Preceded by That Was Then, This Is Now
Followed by Tex

Rumble Fish is a 1975 novel for young adults by S. E. Hinton, author of The Outsiders. It was adapted to film and directed by Francis Ford Coppola in 1983.


Rusty-James is the main character of the novel. Rusty-James is 14, and he has already started drinking, smoking, gang-fighting and playing pool for money, however normal this was. Rusty-James says that he and his older brother The Motorcycle Boy look alike (though nobody else thinks so), with the same "odd shade of dark red hair, like black-cherry pop" and eyes. Rusty-James says that his memory is screwed up sometimes; that's why at the very start of the book he has trouble remembering who his old-best friend, Steve Hayes, is.

The Motorcycle Boy, whose real name is never mentioned, is Rusty-James' older brother. He is said to have an obsession with motorcycles and is away from home for long periods of time. On a trip to California, he finds their mother who left home when Rusty-James was very young. Everyone likes him. Rusty-James says that people look at him, stop, and then look again. Towards the end of the book The Motorcycle Boy is in the pet store staring at some Siamese Fighting Fish, which he calls "Rumble Fish", hence the name of the book.

Steve Hayes is Rusty-James' best friend. Rusty-James says that Steve is 14, like him, but looks 12. Unlike Rusty-James, Steve doesn't smoke, drink or fight.

Biff Wilcox is Rusty-James' rival, introduced early in the book when Rusty is told that Biff wants to kill him. They have a knife fight where Rusty almost wins but is distracted by the arrival of The Motorcycle Boy; when Rusty-James looks at The Motorcycle Boy, Biff grabs the knife and slashes it across Rusty-James' side, leaving a long gash. Rusty-James is later expelled from school and placed in Biff's school.

Patty is Rusty-James' girlfriend until half-way through the book when she learns that Rusty-James was seen fooling around with a black-haired girl at a party. She and Rusty's friend Smokey later become a couple. Smokey later admits that he made sure Patty found out about Rusty-James and the girl so that she would date him instead.

Rusty-James' mother lives in California. She left a long time ago when Rusty was only a small boy.

Rusty-James' father lives with the boys but goes out drinking all day so he is hardly ever home; when he is home though he practically ignores Rusty. Motorcycle Boy tells Rusty-James that the reason he can't stand to be home alone is that when their mother left, she took Motorcycle Boy with her and his father went on a three-day drinking binge, and Rusty-James (age 2 at the time) was left alone to fend for himself for that time along.


Among the novel's themes are hero worship, alienation, gang life, and drug abuse.

Hero worship is explored through The Motorcycle Boy, the older brother of the protagonist. The Motorcycle Boy is well respected by most of the youth in the city and finds that it is "[a] bit of a burden to be Robin Hood, Jesse James, and the Pied Piper." Despite this adoration, the Motorcycle Boy feels alienated from society, separate and distanced from them. He believes it is this distance that leads the city's youth to revere him, because "Even the most primitive societies have innate respect for the insane." The Motorcycle Boy's physical barriers to the surrounding world, deafness and colorblindness, are the result of an accident and thus the result of the surrounding world.

The theme of alienation is also explored through the protagonist, Rusty-James. A tough teen, Rusty-James gets attached to people and fears being alone. It is revealed later in the novel that when he was a toddler, Rusty-James's mother took The Motorcycle Boy (who was six at the time) and left Rusty-James with the boys' father. The father then went on a three-day drunken binge, leaving Rusty-James alone. Rusty-James seems to often worry that The Motorcycle Boy will leave him. He believes he loves The Motorcycle Boy, Patty, Steve (partially), and his father (partially), though he is aware he cannot rely on any of them. In the end of the book, Rusty-James's father is proved worthless, The Motorcycle Boy is killed by a police officer, and Patty (his girlfriend) and Steve (his best friend), leave him. In the end, Rusty-James is left alone and alienated.

On the theme of gangs, while The Motorcycle Boy ended gang fights some time before the story takes place, Rusty-James is obsessed with them and wishes to bring them back. He was in the Little Leaguers, the peewee branch of the local gang, the Packers, when he was 11. Rusty-James tends to get upset when people disregard "The Rules," a systematic moral check point for teen fights, such as telling your opponent if knives are going to be involved beforehand, or that fights have to start without insults.

Teenagers are not the only characters with drug problems in the novel. The protagonist's father was once a lawyer but became an alcoholic after his wife left him. The Motorcycle Boy hates junkies, though this is never explained, and Rusty-James is also opposed to drug use. Weston McCauley, former second in command of the Packers, the local gang, is a heroin addict. Cassandra, originally a student teacher, who "thought she was The Motorcycle Boy's girlfriend," also does heroin, although she claims she is not addicted. The Motorcycle Boy doesn't ever drink. Steve was originally opposed to alcohol, but does eventually get drunk after his mother had a stroke. Rusty-James is frequently drunk.

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