Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Rumble Fish contains many elements of the successful Hinton formula, in which a young male protagonist narrates the story of his often violent experiences during a crucial period of growing up. There are few adults or women who intrude on this romantic male stage, where the protagonist—like the reader—learns a number of important lessons about the world and people’s roles in it. The names of the characters hint at the novel’s allegorical mode: “Rusty-James” and “Motorcycle Boy,” respectively, the narrator and the older brother who gives the narrator his lessons. The distinction of Rumble Fish is the intensity of its negative message.
If anything, Rumble Fish is more violent and action-packed than Hinton’s earlier novels, for it includes a number of gang battles, from the early fight between Rusty-James and Buff Wilcox to Motorcycle Boy’s violent death. Rusty-James is stabbed in that first rumble but is patched up by Motorcycle Boy at home, where the reader discovers that their mother has escaped to California and the two boys live with their alcoholic father. Time after time in the novel, Rusty-James has similar violent encounters, only to be saved by Motorcycle Boy, who appears out of nowhere, like a knight from a medieval romance.
Motorcycle Boy is not able in the end to save himself, however: Trying to free the “rumble fish” of the title by taking them from the pet store where they are sold...
(The entire section is 526 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Rumble Fish Summary. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Rusty-James, or Rusty, runs into his old friend, Steve Hays, at the beach. Five or six years have passed since they last saw each other. Steve is in college and Rusty is not long out of the reformatory. Rusty’s memory is not very good these days. When Steve looks at the scar on Rusty’s side, Rusty tells him that he got it in a knife fight. Steve remembers. He tells Rusty he was there when it happened several years before. When Steve mentions that Rusty looks just like someone from their past, Rusty thinks he could have been happy to see Steve again if he had not made him remember everything.
Rusty tells his story. At the age of fourteen, Rusty is hanging around Benny’s, playing pool with his friends when he learns that Biff Wilcox wants to kill him. Rusty is not afraid of Biff and seems to be annoyed that Biff wants to kill him for the comments he made about a girl named Anita. He tells his friends what he said, and when the gang agrees that Rusty is telling the truth, the notion of fighting about it seems silly. Some of the boys, though, are holding on to the past, the days when gang fights were common. Steve tries to impart a warning to Rusty about gang fights, a warning handed down by Rusty’s older brother, Motorcycle Boy, a former gang leader.
Rusty gets angry with Steve for bringing up Motorcycle Boy and makes plans to fight Biff. Rusty kills a few hours before the fight by spending some time with his girlfriend, Patty. He falls asleep while there, nearly missing the fight. Later, Rusty arrives to fight Biff, and is accompanied by his friends Steve, Smokey Bennet, and B. J. Jackson. Biff, too, brings some friends for backup. Biff’s erratic behavior leads Rusty to believe that he is on drugs, which causes him to worry that the fight will not be a fair one. Rusty’s fears are confirmed when Biff pulls a knife. Rusty is able to knock the knife away from Biff and beats him until it appears the fight is over. Motorcycle Boy arrives and announces his return. Rusty is momentarily distracted and vulnerable to being attacked. Biff seizes the opportunity to grab the knife and stabs Rusty in the side. Motorcycle Boy steps in and ends the fight by breaking Biff’s wrist.
Motorcycle Boy and Steve manage to get Rusty home to the apartment the boys share with their mostly absent alcoholic father. They bandage Rusty’s wounds. Motorcycle Boy talks about his recent trip to California. Rusty falls asleep and dreams about his older brother. Rusty is uncomfortable being himself and is preoccupied with becoming just like his brother.
Despite the knife wound, Rusty shows up for school the next day. After school, he steals a set of hubcaps from a car near Benny’s, while Steve talks about his mother’s recent hospitalization. The owner of the car notices the theft in progress and begins chasing the boys,...
(The entire section is 1163 words.)