Critical Evaluation

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Rita Mae Brown created a fictional character to teach diversity, and she made the story entertaining and compelling with the use of youthful slang and Molly’s bravado wit. Rubyfruit Jungle was first published in 1973 by a small feminist publishing house, Daughters, Inc., and the book went through seven printings before 1977. When Bantam Books bought the rights and published the novel in 1977 (with repeated subsequent printings), it became a mainstream best seller.

Rubyfruit Jungle was the first lesbian novel published with a positive view of lesbian sexuality by a major press. The novel became a classic in contemporary lesbian literature and brought Brown national recognition. As a bildungsroman, Rubyfruit Jungle is often compared to Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) and the picaresque tradition of a character on a journey of self-discovery. In this coming-of-age novel, Brown emphasizes the individual spirit; she also shows how society shapes the self and challenges personal freedom. In many ways, Molly is an outsider who moves from innocence to experience as she learns to exist in a hostile world. The novel also is considered both a contribution to and a product of the women’s movement. Molly’s odyssey shows the need for mutual respect among all classes, races, and genders. Her story is lesbian, but her determination applies to many other struggles.

Critics have often noted that Brown is a Southern writer with a keen sense of place. Carol M. Ward wrote that the four sections of the novel, which show changes in time, location, and sexual partners, all reveal transformations in Molly. Brown contrasts rural and natural with city and artificial environments, and she structures Molly’s journeys in such a way as to contrast North and South. Molly herself often expresses criticism of the artificial boundaries that separate.

Molly’s family was always poor, and Molly constantly struggles to have enough money to pursue her dreams, sometimes simply for enough to survive. Her father, Carl, encouraged her to make of her life something different from the trap he felt his life to be. Carrie, bitter about the economic restrictions that she had endured, was jealous of Molly’s ambition and her ability to act on her needs. When Molly returns from self-exile to see her, however, Carrie is clearly pleased at Molly’s successes, which allows Molly to be reconciled and to accept the mother-daughter relationship. The film Molly makes is a tribute to that love and to the resilience of the human spirit, just as the film’s negative reception in New York is symbolic of society’s inability to see the value of that spirit.

Brown fought for women’s rights from a young age, writing essays and lesbian poetry while active in feminist politics. Her other novels, including several volumes of detective fiction, present a variety of characters and situations. Rubyfruit Jungle remains her most influential work, her most widely read and widely acclaimed literary success. Molly is a daring, uninhibited heroine, and her wit and determination make her a character who reflects the eternal longing for a better world.

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Critical Overview