Rubyfruit Jungle is Rita Mae Brown’s first work and Molly Bolt is easily her most exuberant character. Molly learns two valuable lessons as an enterprising seven-year-old capitalist. Society prefers its sex-related industries to be nonprofit, and the children of sexual transgressors suffer in equal measure with their progenitors. As the adopted offspring of a sexual outlaw, Molly is expected to express obsequious gratitude for any crumbs of approval that fall her way.
Molly, however, accepts nothing on sufferance, meeting disapproval with confrontation rather than acquiescence. Unfortunately, each victory over the intolerance or prejudice makes her need for approval from the people she vanquishes all the stronger. Molly can never truly please anyone, particularly her mother, and her father’s death deprives her of the only reliable source of emotional support.
Still, Molly continues to pursue an independent course. Once pubescent sexuality makes its appearance, Molly discovers she prefers women to men. For some, that realization would be devastating, for Molly it is a matter of little concern. Love, in Molly’s world, is love and thus to be cherished, irrespective of the gender. Molly is not given to categorization or recognizing the validity of roles assigned by society and tradition, a circumstance which bodes ill for a Florida resident in 1960.
Faced with a society organized and delineated by the need of one race to dominate another, Molly’s predictable response is a headlong challenge. A clash with authority places her on the next bus out of Florida. When Molly arrives in New York, broke and alone, Rubyfruit Jungle takes a turn toward the dark side. Her experiences as she attempts to claw her way off the street into bourgeoisie respectability are searing. Equally as effective is Molly’s increasing awareness that lesbianism is only incidentally about sex. The successive epiphanies that lead Molly to accept lesbianism as a way of life that rejects the male power system and puts women first are the most affecting passages in Rubyfruit Jungle.
Brown does not believe that heterosexuality is the emotional and sensual state that women most naturally accept, or that those who consider themselves lesbian do so in consequence of a deliberate choice. Rubyfruit Jungle employs an anecdotal structure to illustrate two simple themes, if only in outline form. First, that heterosexuality is a condition imposed on the human community by fiat and continued by force. Second, that lesbianism involves a continuum of women-identified experiences that reach beyond the sexual.
Molly Bolt at the age of seven is already tough and lively. She had taught herself to read at the age of three and is brighter and more assertive than most children in Coffee Hollow, Pennsylvania. When a classmate, “Broccoli” Detwiler, urinates in front of her, she notices that his penis looks different from others she had seen (he was not circumcised), and she soon decides they could make money by showing it off to classmates after school for a nickel a look. The project is a big hit, and Molly realizes that money conveys power and popularity. Little Earl Stambach tells the teacher and the teacher contacts Molly’s parents. Molly’s mother, Carrie, angrily berates Molly for thinking she is clever, belittling her further by yelling that Molly is not even her daughter, that she is a bastard. Molly’s response is immediate: “I don’t care. It makes no difference where I came from. I’m here, ain’t I?”
Molly continues to live by this principle of self-assertion throughout her life. She learns to accomplish her goals in whatever way necessary, whether or not that means following the restrictive views of others. She retaliates against Earl’s tattling by tricking him into eating rabbit droppings he thinks are raisins and then blackmailing him into ceasing to tattle against her.
Leroy Denman is Molly’s cousin and close friend. When his mother dies of cancer, Molly...
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