One of the most interesting life lessons displayed in the book is whether or not individuals can transcend their environment. Motorcycle Boy and Rusty- James are characters that are attune and aware of their environment and its shortcomings. The question left with is whether they will be able to escape or rise above these conditions, or whether they are hopelessly trapped in them. Given that the backdrop of the story is one of limited economic means, this acquires even greater significance regarding whether individuals can overcome their environmental predicaments. Upon reading the story, one is left pondering whether the work indicates what life is or attempts to articulate a vision where the reader must strive to ensure their condition does not resemble such a predicament. This might be a life lesson in the novel as this is a scenario applicable to many.
Susan E. Hinton's teen novel, Rumble Fish, tells the story of Rusty-James and his older brother, The Motorcycle Boy, a pair of gang members whose life on the streets lead them into one violent encounter after another. Although The Motorcycle Boy has attempted to leave gang violence behind him, he finds that he must keep an eye on Rusty-James, who leads his elder brother's old gang. He saves Rusty-James from severe beatings on several occasions, but The Motorcycle Boy falls back into his own bad habits as well. Among the lessons the boys learn are
- That violence solves very few problems.
- It is better to rely on your brains instead of your fists.
- There is something to be gained by attending school.
- Alcohol will not solve your problems.
- Fighting can lead to permanent injuries, even at a young age.
- A man is a product of his environment.
- Animal instincts are not enough to survive in the human world.
The book "Rumble Fish" just like many of Hinton's books is about adolescents who have difficulty fitting into society. The boy, Rusty James, is a street thug. He spends most of his time in the book trying to become "his brother." He identifies his brother's previous thug ways (his brother has disappeared) as being cool and the ideals that he wants to live up to become. One lesson that he learns in the book is that he is not his brother and can not ever fill his brother's shoes.
Motorcycle Boy was big in the gang. He had a power over others. Before he leaves the town he outlaws gang war. The gangs maintain peace for 2 months until Rusty James breaks the peace. The Motorcycle Boy had learned the importance of not having violence in one's life and the foolishness and harm of gang wars.
Rusty James takes a rough journey to find out who he really is. He loses his friendships, his girlfriend, and even who he thought he was in an effort to emulate his brother. In the end he realizes the price he has paid to find his own identity. He also learns to find his own way in life by breaking away from things people expect of him and his own problems. He is an adolescent who has walked through the cycle of growing up in a bad environment.