His Brother`s Keeper

“And Cain said to Abel his brother `let us go out to the field’ and when they were in the field Cain rose against his Abel his brother and killed him. And the Lord said to Cain `where is Abel your brother?’ And he said `I do not know: am I my brother’s keeper?’ And He said `what have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the soil. And so cursed shall you be by the soil that gaped with its mouth to take your brother’s blood from your hand. If you till the soil, it will no longer give you strength. A restless wanderer shall you be on the earth.” Genesis Chapter 4 verses 8-12.


“Rumble Fish” is a profound story about family, brotherhood and the ties that bind a community together. It is a deeply moral fable. The author of the book, S.E. Hinton almost invented the teen outsider within fiction. Her first novel was written at the tender age of 17 and was called appropriately enough “The Outsiders”. The main protagonist is “Pony Boy” a young miscreant, but widely misunderstood by the rest of his society.


Hinton presents this young delinquent sympathetically, even when he burns down the community centre as a consequence of his heavy smoking habit. We learn that he is so fragile that he relies upon his cigarettes to mask his insecurity.


In “Rumble Fish” all of the young characters are avid smokers and drinkers as they use their deadly habits to counter their boredom and alienation. It is ostensibly a story of two brothers, but there is an inner narrative which centres upon the dynamic of their relationship. This is the most compelling part of the story and it is reminiscent of the oldest story of brotherhood ever written- Cain and Abel in the Bible.


Cain and Abel were rivals for God`s affection. Abel`s violent death meant that Cain was condemned into exile and forced to wander the Earth. In “Rumble Fish” the two brothers are called Rusty James, and rather enigmatically “The Motorcycle Boy”. He is known by this moniker because of his fondness for motorcycles. He is the perpetual wanderer in the story, and his star struck brother is the narrator. Both boys are loosely associated with a teenage gang and this immediately raises the suspicion of the local cops. In Rusty James` eyes his brother is his saviour when he nearly comes to grief with a knife wielding gangster, he is also his hero.


It is revealed that he can only see things in black and white and this is a running metaphor both in the book and the film. I was just 16 when I first saw the film, recorded from late night television. I was so moved by it I watched it over and over again. The most moving scene for me was when the Motorcycle Boy released all of the animals from the local Pet Shop. It symbolised societal confinement and the way dreamers are condemned by convention. It spoke to my inner dreamer and my identification with this film was so strong that I eventually wore out the ribbon on my video cassette.


The Motorcycle Boy`s free life upon the road ends in a hail of bullets issued by the heavy handed cops, but his legend lived on. He was immortalised in graffiti and in the florid dream of his brother, who on the night of his killing watches his brother ride back to the West Coast followed by the birds that were emancipated from their cages.

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