Rubyfruit Jungle

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature, Critical Edition)

The Work

Only Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness (1928) surpasses Rubyfruit Jungle in fame as a lesbian coming-of-age story. The titles of both books have become code words for homosexuality; a reader in a strange city, seeing a sign that read “Rubyfruit Books,” could expect to find a good selection of gay and lesbian literature. Rita Mae Brown was a member of several groups in both the gay rights and women’s movements in New York City. Mainstream women’s groups such as the National Organization for Women (NOW) considered her too radical, while many lesbian groups thought her not radical enough. Brown has since written several mysteries and historical novels, as well as other books with lesbian heroines.

Critics often compare Rubyfruit Jungle to Mark Twain’s juvenile heroes. Molly Bolt has the same uncertain parentage, colorful lifestyle, enterprise, cheerful self-regard, and ability to get into scrapes as Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. The character of Molly, however, differs in important respects. Unlike Huck or Tom, she must confront gender issues in each of her escapades. Brown handles these problems as wittily as Twain, but with more of a ribald twist. Molly’s growing awareness of her sexual orientation is but one way in which she differs from other people in the small town of Coffee Hollow. None of these differences shakes her appealing innocence or her firm belief that society’s ideas are wrong, not her own.

Bibliography

Abel, Elizabeth, Marianne Hirsch, and Elizabeth Langland, eds. The Voyage In: Fictions of Female Development. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1983. This valuable collection of essays examines developmental novels by women writers. Rita Mae Brown and Rubyfruit Jungle are discussed at length in Bonnie Zimmerman’s “Exiting from the Patriarchy: The Lesbian Novel of Development.” Zimmerman’s 1990 book The Safe Sea of Women expands many ideas from this essay.

Alexander, Delores. “Rita Mae Brown: ‘The Issue for the Future Is Power.’ ” Ms. 3 (September, 1974): 110-113. In this article, published shortly after...

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Rubyfruit Jungle Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Rubyfruit Jungle, Rita Mae Brown’s first novel, is semiautobiographical. Its heroine, Molly Bolt, is described with considerable admiration and sympathy by her creator. Molly grows from a rebellious child into a “self-actualizing lesbian”—an unprecedented validation of lesbian existence.

Born illegitimate and adopted in infancy, Molly learns at an early age the meaning of the word “bastard.” Her sense of not belonging serves as a catalyst for her subsequent determination to carve out an identity for herself independent of class, gender, and family. Young Molly defies many small-town social expectations: She fights like a boy, locks her mother in the cellar, and engages in sex play without inhibitions. By the time Molly’s family moves to Florida, where she attends high school, Molly has formulated a clear goal: to escape. She has also learned that one must “play the game” in order to accomplish the goal. For this reason, she makes high grades, excels at sports, joins the right clubs, dates the right boys (and a girl or two), generally keeps her nose clean, and earns the all-important full scholarship to college. Although Molly gets off to a promising start socially and academically, the University of Florida does not turn out to be her ticket to independence and success. She and her roommate fall in love, and both are expelled when their affair becomes known. Rejected by Carrie when she tries to return home, Molly heads north to...

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Rubyfruit Jungle Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*New York City

*New York City. Largest and most cosmopolitan city in the United States that has long symbolized the highest challenge for American artists and entrepreneurs and the ultimate “escape” destination for individuals disaffected by the prejudices and limitations of their hometowns. Expelled from the University of Florida in Gainesville because she refused to renounce her lesbianism and denied a home with her mother for the same reason, Molly Bolt hitchhikes to Manhattan, determined to succeed there on her own terms. Although liberating in its anonymity, in many ways the city is a hell for Molly because she has so little money. She meets other women with her sexual orientation and shares part of her life with some of them, but has no intention of settling down with a man.

The other film students at New York University are all men, and neither they nor the professor say a word to Molly when she shows her film of Carrie talking about her life. She graduates with academic honors, yet the film companies, even the underground filmmakers, stereotype her as someone who could only be hired as a secretary or in some other traditionally female capacity. Molly notes that there is a new women’s movement beginning to protest such patriarchal attitudes, but she knows that some of those same women would expel her from the movement for being a lesbian. She does stay in New York, however, and remains determined to make movies her way....

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Rubyfruit Jungle Historical Context

1973
Rubyfruit Jungle was published in a very tumultuous year in American history. The U. S. military was integrated by...

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Rubyfruit Jungle Literary Style

The Picaresque Novel
Rubyfruit Jungle is considered a prime example of a picaresque novel. This form of literature dates...

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Rubyfruit Jungle Literary Techniques

Rubyfruit Jungle depends on its plot for its strength. In this case, Brown uses the first-person narrative allowing Molly to tell her...

(The entire section is 205 words.)

Rubyfruit Jungle Ideas for Group Discussions

Rubyfruit Jungle was published in an era of confrontation and controversy and has the distinction of being one of the most celebrated...

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Rubyfruit Jungle Compare and Contrast

1973: Gays and lesbians begin to form support groups and lobby to raise public awareness of the important roles of gays and lesbians...

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Rubyfruit Jungle Topics for Further Study

Research the defining characteristic and history of the picaresque novel. How much does Molly conform to or diverge from the traditional...

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Rubyfruit Jungle Literary Precedents

Rita Mae Brown claims to have been most influenced by Aristophanes, Euripides, and Mark Twain. The influence of Aristophanes is certainly...

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Rubyfruit Jungle Related Titles

While Rubyfruit Jungle is not part of a series, Six of One, Brown's second autobiographical novel, draws on the same sources...

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Rubyfruit Jungle Adaptations

Brown's own screenplay for Rubyfruit Jungle was sold to Iris Films, which has never produced the movie. The author is said to be...

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Rubyfruit Jungle What Do I Read Next?

Six of One (1983) is Rita Mae Brown's novel about love, war, and sibling rivalry.

Brown's novel, Sudden Death...

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Rubyfruit Jungle Bibliography and Further Reading

Sources
Terry Curtis Fox, in a review in The Village Voice, October 9, 1978.

Annie Gottlieb, "Passion and...

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Rubyfruit Jungle Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Abel, Elizabeth, Marianne Hirsch, and Elizabeth Langland, eds. The Voyage In: Fictions of Female Development. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1983. This valuable collection of essays examines developmental novels by women writers. Rita Mae Brown and Rubyfruit Jungle are discussed at length in Bonnie Zimmerman’s “Exiting from the Patriarchy: The Lesbian Novel of Development.” Zimmerman’s 1990 book The Safe Sea of Women expands many ideas from this essay.

Alexander, Delores. “Rita Mae Brown: ‘The Issue for the Future Is Power.’ ” Ms. 3 (September, 1974): 110-113. In this article,...

(The entire section is 661 words.)