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Rubyfruit Jungle | Themes


Harassment Is Unacceptable

Molly Bolt finds any sort of harassment intolerable. Whether it comes in the form of Carrie's nagging, which often degenerates to ridicule of her daughter, gender or racial discrimination, or attempts to keep poor people in poverty so rich people can remain wealthy, Molly cannot stand it. She speaks up in the face of harassment throughout the novel. She cannot be quiet, not when someone harasses her and not when she observes others being harassed. Sometimes her way of speaking takes the form of pranks, such as substituting rabbit turds for raisins or putting dog feces in drawers. Both of these make her point in a crass way: "You are behaving like shit, and I am not going to put up with it."

If her actions sometimes seem exaggerated or childish, they become subtler and more effective as she matures. By the time she needs film equipment for her senior project and is told she cannot have the camera when she needs it, and her male classmates won't work with her because they "won't take orders from a woman," as Professor Walgren sneers at her, she returns his snide remark with one of her own—"I hadn't noticed they were too good at taking orders from one another"—walks out of the room, and takes what she needs. When she uses words to make her point, the words are direct and blunt. She feels no need to sugarcoat her demands for fairer treatment.

Patriarchy as Problematic

For Molly, the idea a woman must have a man to be fulfilled—that a woman should look for a man to provide for her—is foolish. Although she loves her father, Carl, dearly, she sees he is unable to lift the family out of poverty no matter how hard he works. His problem is the capitalistic system more than an inability to provide, yet she still clearly sees women should not depend on men. Every marriage she sees is either broken, restrictive, or unhealthy for other reasons. People might claim they are happily married, but Molly's keen observational skills belie that claim. Leota, for example, says marriage is "what a woman is made for ... a woman's got to marry" and claims to be happy. However, she looks old and worn and admits to marrying "Jack right out of high school. I wanted to get out of the house and that was the only way."

In addition, Molly clearly observes the double standard present in male-female relationships around her. Men are in charge and therefore do whatever they want. Women, however, are supposed to be grateful that men are paying their way and thus are happy to make a good home for their husbands and children. Women who dare to pursue a career and become able to take care of themselves financially, even well-known scholars like Polina Bellantoni, are kept from advancing in the world of work because men hold the top-level jobs.

Labeling as Oppression

Molly cannot accept labels—that people stereotype and treat labeled groups as if no individuality exists or can exist within the group. Whether the label is about sexuality or ethnicity, social or economic status, she views it as a form of oppression. When Leroy is afraid of being labeled "a queer," Molly tells him, "I think you are Leroy Denman ... I don't give a flying fuck what you do, you're still Leroy ... Why have you got to label everything?"

Nor does she care to label herself. She occasionally will say she is a lesbian, but it bothers her to do so and does not want to be identified by her sexual orientation. As soon as she puts that label on herself, she knows she opens the door for people to treat her the way Connie or the sorority girls at the University of Florida do—as a stereotype with no foundation in reality. In fact one of the things most startling to Molly when she first arrives in New York City is even lesbians like to label themselves as "butch" or "femme." She cannot understand why people want to define themselves, to limit themselves, in any category. Molly says repeatedly to herself and to those she cares about: Just be yourself. You don't need to put a label on it.

Nature as Healing

Molly sees nature, often the woods, as a place of refuge. Molly first goes to the woods to get away from Carrie's rage after she discovers Molly and Broccoli's scheme. Being there calms her and gives her a place to think. Other natural phenomena serve a similar healing purpose. When Molly sees the rainbow the day after Jennifer's funeral, she tells Leroy "the rainbow was enough" as it has a certain healing value in itself, not in a pot of gold at its end. The implication is it is a sign of better things to come.

Although Molly is drawn to the big city because she sees more opportunity to be herself there, she misses the natural world while living in the concrete jungle. When she reaches a breaking point in New York City, it is rural Pennsylvania where she knows to go, "to keep myself together with a day in the country." Fresh air restores her, makes her feel cleansed, and revives her enough to go back to a bleak existence in a crummy apartment in a polluted city.

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