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Rusty-James' memories and motivations in Rumble Fish


Rusty-James' memories and motivations in "Rumble Fish" are largely driven by his desire to emulate his older brother, Motorcycle Boy. He seeks validation and respect, often through violent means, and his recollections are tinged with a longing for the past and a sense of inevitability about following in his brother's troubled footsteps.

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Where is Rusty James at the start of Rumble Fish?

When the story opens, Rusty James is on a beach in Southern California. By chance, he meets Steve, a friend he hasn't seen in five or six years.

Steve is surprised to see him and tells Rusty James that he is going to college in the area. Apparently, Steve is studying to become a high school teacher. As they converse, it is apparent that Steve wants to reconnect with Rusty, but Rusty isn't too keen on reminiscing about the past with his former friend.

Soon, Steve asks about the reformatory and how long Rusty was in for. Rusty answers that he was at the reformatory for five years; however, he doesn't really like to think about that period of his life. He tells Steve that he was once sent to solitary confinement, but Steve reacts awkwardly. Eventually, the two young men discuss Steve's scars and how he got them.

The conversation ends with Steve reiterating his desire to get together for dinner and to introduce Rusty to his girlfriend. Rusty humors Steve but has no intention of getting together with Steve and his girlfriend. We discover his true sentiments at the end of the book, in Chapter 12, when he maintains that:

“I waved back. I wasn’t going to see him. I wasn’t going to meet him for dinner, or anything else. I figured if I didn’t see him, I’d start forgetting again. But it’s been taking me longer than I thought it would.”

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What triggered Rusty-James's memories in Rumble Fish?

In Chapter 1 Rusty-James runs into Steve at the billiard hall. They exchange pleasantries and comment on how much the other has changed in the five or six years since they had last seen each other. Rusty begins to become uncomfortable and then Steve brings up the last time he saw Rusty and who he thought he was.

"You know who you look just like?"

"Yeah," I said, and I remembered everything. I could of been really glad to see ol' Steve, if he hadn't made me remember everything.

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What motivates Rusty-James' unlawful acts in Rumble Fish?

Much of the blame for Rusty-James' adolescent criminal activity lies with his family upbringing. Rusty's mother, who apparently suffered from criminal tendencies herself, abandoned the family and left Rusty alone for three days when he was just two years old. Rusty's father, a former attorney, is a jobless drunk who gives his sons little support or fatherly guidance. Rusty-James idolizes his older brother, the Motorcycle Boy, a respected former gang leader who loves to steal motorcycles and travel for months at a time. The mysterious Motorcycle Boy (whose real name is never given) is rumored to have killed a junkie, and threatens to break Rusty-James' arm if he ever uses drugs. Poverty and a lack of self-respect are other reason's for Rusty's actions. Rusty-James' family serves as some of the poorest role models possible, and Rusty--who hates being alone--finds the streets a better place to inhabit than his own home. Rusty's love of fighting and stealing stem from a desire to live up to his older brother's former stature, and he seems to think that by doing so, the Motorcycle Boy--and other gang members--will respect and admire him as well.

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