In Rumble Fish, how is the main conflict resolved?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

S.E. Hinton never does actually resolve the main conflicts of her novel Rumble Fish.  Rather, she ends her story of alienated youth with the story's most heroic figure, Motorcycle Boy, dead at the hands of a police officer and the story's main protagonist, Rusty-James, alone and despondent, his best friend, Steve, having left with his former girlfriend, Patty.  Motorcycle Boy is Rusty-James' older brother and the younger boy looks up to his frequently-absent role model, whose mobility and experiences provide the only sources of wisdom to which Rusty-James is receptive.  In one passage, Rusty-James, 14 years old, describes his fealty to his older brother:

"He was the coolest person in the world. Even if he hadn't been my brother, he would have been the coolest person in the whole world. And I was going to be just like him."

Rusty-James' life is one of day-to-day survival, his mother having long abandoned the family and his father a disengaged alcoholic with no inclination towards raising his sons to be responsible adults.  Still, Rusty-James is not without hope, at least not initially.  He hopes that Motorcycle Boy's philosophy of life, summarized in the following quote, can be a model for his own future:

“I made up my mind that I'd get out of that place and I did...I learned that if you want to get somewhere, you just make up your mind and work like hell til you get there. If you want to go somewhere in life, you just have to work till you make it.”

That Motorcycle Boy ends up dead and Rusty-James alone speaks to the enduringly-pessimistic tone of Hinton's novel.  If one wishes to provide an answer to the question "how is the main conflict resolved," one can only conclude that it is resolved when the novel's most admirable character lies dead in the street and a 14-year-old boy is left alone.