Rumble Fish records the experiences, friendships, and conflicts of a group of Oklahoma teen-agers. Hinton's most ambitious work, it focuses on the character of Rusty-James, through whom the reader confronts a disillusioning vision of life as an empty, pointless experience wholly controlled by destiny.
Hinton traces the evolution of Rusty-James's personality by comparing him to the book's two other central characters: his brother, the Motorcycle Boy, whom he emulates, and Steve, an emotional, shy, and awkward teen-ager whom he nevertheless considers his best friend. As Rusty-James steps further away from his troubled but self-regulated life, he achieves a greater understanding of his world, and the full meaning of Hinton's dark image of adolescent despair emerges.
Rusty-James assumes a tough exterior to mask his vulnerability and loneliness. He admits that he is afraid to be alone, obsessed with appearance, and dependent on the company of others. Rejected by the school authorities and his girlfriend, he gradually "burns out" and succumbs to the disturbing family traditions that have helped shape his negative outlook on life. Unable to identify with the gang that once boosted his sense of self-importance, he gravitates toward the "cool" but self-destructive model of the Motorcycle Boy.
Rusty-James's mother abandoned the family when he was two years old, leaving his father to sink into alcoholism and the Motorcycle Boy to grow estranged from virtually all of humanity. Rusty-James himself is unable to overcome his family's legacy; his fate echoes Greek tragedy, which asserts that humanity behaves primarily according to biological necessity and destiny. The fighting "rumble fish" for whom the book is named, as well as mythological figures such as Prometheus who dare to resist this determinism, are inevitably destroyed.
Rusty-James's father and...
(The entire section is 773 words.)