Hinton's Depiction of Girls, Boys, Adults, and Young Adults
Hinton has often been criticized for the emphasis on male toughness and machismo in her books. In Rumble Fish, the portrayal of Patty and other girls is simplistic; the reader never really gets a sense of Patty as a living, breathing person, and she seems mainly interested in her appearance and in going out with the toughest boy. Hinton once explained that she grew up before the feminist movement, that the girls she knew in high school were more concerned with their hair and makeup than anything else, and that girls derived their status not from who they were but from who their boyfriends were. This is borne out by the action in the book. When the balance of power shifts so that Smokey is top dog in the group, Patty coolly shifts her affections to him without a backward glance.
This makes her seem shallow, which she is, but so is Rusty-James's affection for her; at one point, kissing the top of her head, he notes that she has dark roots in her hair. He comments, "I like blond girls. I don't care how they got that way." The reader senses that it's not so much her personality—of which she doesn't have much— that attracts him but simply that she's female, blond, and likes him. At one point, he includes her in a list of people he loves, but he's unmoved by her defection to Smokey at the end of the book, even though this was prompted by Smokey's deception.
Other than Patty, girls are rarely mentioned in the book. Although he's incredulous that Steve, at fourteen, would be shy about girls, for Rusty-James, they're still barely a blip on his mental radar screen. Girls are just there, like furniture. When he goes to the lake, he names the boys he goes with but says, "There were some girls and we built a fire and went swimming." The text implies that he kissed or made out with the girls but that it didn't mean anything to him; whatever happened, he's already forgotten it; it was just something he did, and the girls didn't even have names or personalities.
In addition, the degree of male toughness or machismo in the book seems exaggerated, leading to unrealistic behavior. Rusty-James is just fourteen, and he's been deeply wounded emotionally throughout his life, but he's as tough as a hardened Marine when it comes to physical suffering. After sustaining a knife slash deep enough to expose his ribs, he just grits his teeth when his brother pours alcohol over the wound and goes to school the next day. He doesn't even bandage it, even though the wound is obviously deep enough to require stitches and the pain would inhibit most people from moving around at all. All he says is, "I wasn't feeling too hot and I was bleeding off and on, but I usually go to school if I can." It seems unbelievable that he wouldn't simply stay home, especially since his father doesn't care and he is not close to any of his teachers. After school, he goes out and shoots a game of pool, seemingly oblivious to his wound, and runs for blocks and leaps from one roof to another after stealing some hubcaps. During the chase he becomes aware of the pain: "My side was killing me." And later, after the rooftop leap, he finally passes out. What's surprising is that he didn't pass out sooner and that he didn't remark on the pain while bending over to shoot pool.
The next day he washes out the wound again, noting, "It hurt real steady, not bad, but steady like a toothache." That night he goes swimming up at the lake and only later wonders if the lake water might have infected the wound. It seems unlikely that the wound wouldn't have hurt when the water touched it or when he swam, possibly reopening it. Throughout the book, his awareness of the wound comes and goes, but it never affects him the way one would assume it would affect any...
(The entire section is 1528 words.)