Rubyfruit Jungle expertly intertwines lesbianism and sexuality
Molly Bolt is the name of the fiery and uncontested protagonist in Rita Mae Brown’s celebrated coming-of-age novel Rubyfruit Jungle. Daughters Publishing Company printed Brown’s first novel in 1973, a radical time that consisted of rapid progression and essential movements that helped characterize the feminist revolution. Feminist political organizations and grassroots operations took hold in the ‘70s.
The most prominent of these organizations has been the Equal Rights Amendment task force that stemmed from the National Council of Women’s Organization. Among other noteworthy groups, feminists advocated and pushed heavily for equality for all throughout the ‘70s.
Rubyfruit Jungle is a progressive lesbian novel, a subgenre that broke ground when Brown initially released it, despite the fact that many feminist revolutions were already in the process of unfolding. The ‘70s mainly constituted and were identified by second-wave feminist politics, which aimed to create and glorify the sexual revolution for women. Rights to contraceptives and sexual expression dominated the spectrum of topics discussed among feminists. Sexual preference, however, was still largely one-sided. Lesbianism was not as accepted in the ‘70s as it is now, so feminists mostly lived according to heteronormative rules.
The novel opens up with a slightly provocative scene in which Brockhurst Detwiler—or as Bolt calls him, Broccoli—asks her if she wants to see him urinate into a bush. The strangeness of the opening scene transitions into hilarity when Bolt comments that Broccoli has an “ugly dick,” and she determines to profit off of his genitalia by inviting kids to glance at it for a nickel. Brown’s opening chapter is deeply captivating not only because it tells an unusual and bold tale, but also because it causes an array of emotions that meld into one another following each scene.
When Bolt gets caught, the book transitions into another scene in which a heated exchange between Bolt and Carrie, whom Bolt refers to as her mother, shakes the reader. It is during this discussion that Bolt finds out that she was born to another woman who abandoned her in a church. Carrie barks for a few pages at Bolt because she does not uphold the traditional appearance of a girl who is feminine or delicate. In turn, the reader is met with a series of internal dialogues from Bolt that indicate her perplexity at the method that society uses to organize and categorize its denizens.
Bolt despises labels; she wishes to live in a world where she can be herself without any title attached. Bolt isolates herself from anyone who tries to trap her into using a label. The novel follows Bolt’s life as she grows up past adolescence into adulthood, which is accompanied by bigots, starvation and intense penury. She is accepted into a college on a full scholarship. During her time at university, she encounters a passionate love but gets placed into a psychiatric ward for hysteria once word gets out that her partner is a woman. Bolt loses her scholarship and then her partner is removed from school. Though these are mere moments in the novel, they are fundamental in order to appreciate her perspective and persona. The novel feels like a succession of interconnected vignettes.
Brown zooms through Bolt’s childhood, which comprises the majority of the over-200-page novel. Readers take away thorough recollections, accounts and descriptions from Bolt’s 11-year-old life up until she is out of college due to the incident. Time then seems to slow down abruptly and Brown consolidates the past into her adulthood. Even in adulthood, Bolt’s maturity undoubtedly parallels the precociousness she exhibits as a pre-teen. She is somewhat snarkier as an adult, but that can be attributed to the lessons learned from her life experiences. Her sass is emblematic of a strong personality that was developed magnificently at the hands of a talented writer.
The other characters in the novel, although secondary, do not fall flat in comparison to Bolt. The most appreciative aspect to the novel is the level of independence taken by the protagonist. Even throughout childhood, she demonstrates significant knowledge of the world and emits major traces of self-awareness. Her knowledge may be something akin to savviness, which bestows upon her a particularly business-like persona. It may remind the reader of the inherently Darwinian capitalistic system on which our society is based. Bolt does not associate with anyone who intends to trap her in any sort of label and she does not let her ambition waver, despite the fact that many people have tried to push her down. The essence of Bolt traps the reader.
The irony in this is that she pushes herself out of every trap. Rubyfruit Jungle is a novel that highlights the difficulty in and frustration of growing up and pushing yourself regardless of the people trying to knock you down. It is about knowing who you are and sticking to it, during times of duress, hardship or complacency. Although this is not a particularly new novel, Brown explores all facets of the novel expertly, flawlessly intertwining experiences of lesbianism, adolescence and sexuality.
The time period during which Brown wrote the book is irrelevant because readers become addicted to Bolt and to the core of what she chooses to be. The book, upon its start, grips the reader and does not let go until the final page. Each sentence she writes bleeds with both ink and deep sentiment.