Rumble Fish Summary

S. E. Hinton

Rumble Fish

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Rumble Fish Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Rumble Fish by S.E. Hinton.

Rumble Fish, by S.E. Hinton (1975), is a young adult novel about brothers and friends, and the ways gang violence affects the youth of the town.

Rusty runs into his friend Steve at a party. It has been five years since they last saw each other. Steve is in college, but Rusty has just gotten out of reformatory school. Steve notices a scar on Rusty’s side, and when Steve asks about it, Rusty admits he got it in a knife fight. Rusty would have been happy to see Steve, except Steve reminds him of the past. Rusty tells the story.

When Rusty was fourteen, he was at Benny’s, a local place, when he learned that Biff Wilcox wanted to kill him. Biff believed that Rusty had made comments about his girlfriend, Anita; after discussing it with his friends, Biff decided he believed Rusty’s version of the story.

Steve mentioned Motorcycle Boy, Rusty’s older brother and the former leader of the gang, but Rusty was mad and made plans to fight. Rusty and his friends arrived at the battle the next day; Biff also brought reinforcements. Biff was behaving erratically, leading Rusty to believe he was on drugs and that the fight would not be fair. This instinct turned out to be true. Rusty pulled out a knife. He was able to knock the knife out of Biff’s hands and beat him until he fell to the ground. Motorcycle Boy showed up, momentarily distracting Rusty. Biff grabbed the knife and stabbed Rusty in the side. Motorcycle Boy broke Biff’s wrist, and the fight ended.

Rusty showed up at school the next day despite his wounds, and after school, he and Steve tried to steal hubcaps from a car at Benny’s. Steve had told him that his mom was in the hospital. When they were almost caught, and Steve began to cry, Rusty assumed Steve was crying about his mom. Rusty had no mom, so he could not empathize.

After that, Rusty’s girlfriend broke up with him, and he went out drinking with his friends. Motorcycle Boy told him about his trip to California and that he had seen their mom. Rusty barely remembered their mom, because she had abandoned him when he was a child. He and Steve are mugged after leaving and end up in a strange part of town, but Motorcycle Boy rescued them again.

He learned later that Steve’s father beat him severely for staying out late drinking with them. He told Steve that he was worried about his brother though he did not know why. He visited his brother at the pet store where Motorcycle Boy was looking at Siamese fighting fish. He called them rumble fish and wondered if they would fight if they were in the river.

On the last night Rusty saw his brother, Motorcycle Boy broke into a pet store and set all the animals free. Motorcycle Boy grabbed the rumble fish and charged the police, who shot him dead. Rusty was filled with rage and smashed the window of the police car.

The book returns to the present. Steve invites Rusty to have dinner, but Rusty knows that he will never accept. He decides never to see Steve again, because seeing his old best friend only brings up the terrible memories he has tried so long to forget.

S.E. Hinton frequently uses poverty to examine human relationships and behavior. Although Rusty does not call his town a slum, he admits throughout the story that the lack of resources available to him and his brother caused them to make choices that affected them negatively. Rusty turns to petty crime and is at the scene when his brother behaves in a way that gets him killed. While Steve can go to college, Rusty ultimately ends up in a reform school. This time robs him of much of his youth.

Almost all of the characters, especially Rusty, are living in a fog from day to day. They are desperate and believe that life is a futile exercise. They feel trapped by their circumstances. Even Motorcycle Boy, who just arrived back from a trip to California, feels trapped, so much so that he releases animals from a pet store in an attempt to give freedom to something living. The river he wants to release the fish to will not support life as it is stagnant and stinking. It mimics the circumstances the boys are experiencing in their town.

This desperation causes Rusty to feel alienated when he meets his former best friend on the beach. Steve is better off financially and was able to go to college. Rusty cannot muster his feelings for his friend. Steve reminds him of the grief he endured five years ago, and the time when life truly seemed pointless. Motorcycle Boy was killed trying to do something he felt was right; he died by the river where he was going to release the fish.

Hinton’s novel examines alienation and poverty, and the ways our circumstances can trap us into an existence that robs us of our dreams, and ultimately our lives. There is no happy ending to this book. There is only the desire to forget.