Rubyfruit Jungle | Study Guide

Rita Mae Brown

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Rubyfruit Jungle | Book 1, Chapter 1 | Summary

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Summary

When the novel opens, Molly Bolt is seven years old. She has just discovered "her beginnings," that she is "a bastard." At this time the Bolts are living in Coffee Hollow, "a rural dot outside of York, Pennsylvania," and Molly attends Violet Hill Elementary School. It is September, and she is walking home with her friend Broccoli Detwiler. He needs to urinate and asks Molly if she wants to watch. She is amazed when she sees his uncircumcised penis because she has never seen a foreskin before.

Immediately seeing a money-making opportunity, Molly tells Broccoli they can charge other kids a nickel to look at his penis—and split the proceeds. The next day after school "about eleven of us hurried out to the woods between school and the coffee shop." Everyone is thrilled to see Broccoli's penis, especially the girls who never have seen one. Although embarrassed, Broccoli gets through it all. One girl, Nancy Cahill, is especially interested and comes every day. When he lets her touch it, another money-making plan occurs to Molly. She and Broccoli charge a dime to people who want to touch. Now "half the school" begins to show up daily, and the young entrepreneurs begin raking in the money.

The scheme ends when Earl Stambach, a tattling student, tells the teacher what is going on. As a result Molly's mother, Carrie, flies into a rage. As she screams, she reveals that Molly is adopted, the illegitimate daughter of a "common, dirty slut who'd lay with a dog if it shook its ass right." Stunned by the news, Carrie's angry words, and physical abuse, Molly runs away to the woods. She thinks she would like to stay out there forever, but she lasts until darkness falls, which brings strange noises and a chill in the air. When she gets home no one has waited up for her.

Analysis

Key truths about Molly and her personality abound in this opening chapter. Although she is only seven, much of her character is already formed. Molly is highly intelligent and alert to opportunities that can lift her out of her family's miserable poverty. She is persuasive in convincing others to do what she wants, and she knows the power of popularity as well as the fickleness of it: "Money was power. The more red licorice you had, the more friends you had."

Molly already feels fairly certain people should not worry about others' opinions of them. When Broccoli worries other kids will laugh when they see his penis, she says, "What do you care if they laugh? You'll have money then you can laugh at them." Of course, this theory is severely tested when Carrie announces Molly is not her biological daughter but the bastard child of the "slut" Ruby Drollinger. As Molly wanders in the woods after hearing that news, her mind races around all kinds of possibilities as she thinks, "So what I'm a bastard ... [Carrie]'s always trying to throw some fear in me. The hell with her and the hell with anyone else it if makes a difference." Then she begins to worry: "My mother couldn't have cared about me very much if she left me with Carrie. Did I do something wrong way back then? Why would she leave me like that?" Thus even while she tries to be strong—"Who cares how you get here? I don't care ... I got myself born, that's what counts"—she is trying to see how her own behavior led to this predicament. This is a typical response of a child who learns a parent has given her up for adoption, but in Molly's case it also presents a tension that is always with her. She wants to be tough and strong, but she also wants to be responsible for herself.

The other tension, very obvious in this chapter, is the conflicting emotion Molly has toward Carrie. In the woods that night, Molly struggles to understand why Carrie behaves hatefully toward her. She wonders if it's because of Carrie's prejudice toward people from cultural groups other than her own German heritage; she thinks, "I bet my mother wasn't German." But then she decides she hates Carrie anyway and wishes "Carrie Bolt would drop down dead." Still, the poignancy of the end of the chapter, seeing no one cares if she comes home or not, shows how much she wants to be loved by Carrie—and how much she does love her.

Finally, Molly's struggle to avoid feeling alienated—something she will struggle with throughout the novel—comes through in this chapter in her comments about how different she looks from the family who has adopted her. When she realizes she does not know her real mother, she thinks, "Maybe I look like someone."

In addition to presenting a rich characterization of Molly, the chapter also immediately hits on the themes of labeling as oppression and nature as healing. As Molly works through her angst over being labeled a bastard, she also reveals the types of labels Carrie commonly throws around. "Wops" and "Jews" are negative stereotypes Carrie embraces by labeling.

When Molly goes to the woods, she is seeking some sort of comfort. She notices "one finger of rose left in the sky," and it gives her hope. Her senses are fully alert as she looks for solace. Unfortunately, all that ultimately greets her is the dark night, where "black filled [her] nostrils" and "a chill came up off the old fishpond." Nevertheless, the tendency of Molly to go to nature, especially the woods, when she seeks healing will occur repeatedly throughout the novel.

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