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Rubyfruit Jungle

Rita Mae Brown

Important Quotations Explained

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols

Key Facts

1. No one remembers her beginnings. Mothers and aunts tell us about infancy and early childhood, hoping we won’t forget the past when they had total control over our lives and secretly praying that because of it, we’ll include them in our future.

This passage, which comprises the opening paragraph of the novel, establishes Molly’s stance on the importance of origins in a person’s character. Her insight into the secret hopes that mothers and aunts harbor implies that Molly sees a selfish motive in family members’ constant reminders of childhood. Molly seems to understand that parents need children as much as children need parents. Because parents inevitably see their children as versions of themselves, they will hold the past over their children in order to imprint themselves onto the next generation, just as Carrie does to Molly at the end of the novel. As an orphan and a bastard, Molly obviously feels disconnected from her predecessors. Her orphan status highlights the fact that, though she has no control over her past, she also is not beholden to it as she goes about creating her own character. However, Molly’s point in this quotation is that we all create and are responsible for our own characters, regardless of our origins. Whether or not she feels a need to defend her orphan status, Molly demonstrates that she believes wholly in the present and its extension into the future, the two things over which she has some control.

In addition to establishing Molly’s belief in herself, this passage also helps to illuminate the origins of Molly’s sexuality. Molly believes that our origins not only have little to do with the decisions we make, but they also have little to do with who we are as people. Accordingly, Molly’s lesbianism exists independent of external factors and circumstances of birth. Molly’s lesbianism is merely a part of who she is and thus requires no psychological explanation. In this light, we may view Molly’s early childhood experience with Broccoli as a joke that toys with the idea that Molly’s lesbianism is related to her revulsion at his wrinkly penis.

2. Well, if it makes a difference to them, the hell with them, too. I can’t see why it’s such a big deal. Who cares how you get here? I don’t care. I really don’t care. I got myself born, that’s what counts. I’m here.

This thought occurs at the end of Chapter 1, when Molly considers how others will react to the knowledge that she’s an illegitimate child. Molly’s fierce dismissal of all those who would dare disapprove of her marks a turning point in her own self-development, as in the novel. Though she has always been brazen and strong-willed as a child, Molly definitively decides at this point that she will remain forever unapologetic in the face of social disapprobation. In choosing this course of action, she defines the pattern of conflict she’ll face for the rest of her life. Those who would disavow and ostracize Molly, whom she refers to as “them,” are her antagonists. Molly is admirably fearless in making this declaration, especially when we consider her willingness to forswear Carrie, the only mother she has known. However, her “me-versus-them” mentality faces its ultimate test when the main point of contention in Molly’s life shifts from her bastard status to her lesbian one. She soon discovers that lesbianism is a vastly more polarizing issue than bastardization.

The second half of the phrase again underlines Molly’s resistance to being defined by her past. Both a declaration and a challenge, her final sentence—“I’m here”—establishes and affirms her place in the world and demands that she be taken at face value. On a subtler note, Molly’s “I’m here” also refers to the novel as a whole. The story Molly narrates is her coming-out story, in which she charts the personal problems she confronts as she attempts to integrate herself into society while growing up. But whereas most coming-out stories are accompanied by the anxiety and frustration of going public as a lesbian, Molly arrives fully formed and boldly demands to be dealt with on the basis of her character and actions, not her origins or sexual preferences.

3. Why does everyone have to put you in a box and nail the lid on it? I don’t know what I am—polymorphous and perverse. Shit. I don’t even know if I’m white. I’m me. That’s all I am and all I want to be. Do I have to be something?

When Connie asks Molly in Chapter 9 if she’s a “queer,” Molly responds with an impassioned diatribe against the use of labels and roles to define a person and dictate behavior. To Molly, Connie’s question lays bare the conventional, small-minded thinking that threatens to break down relationships and communication between people. Once Connie knows that Molly is in fact a “queer,” she disregards the perfectly normal friendship they have. Her irrational fear that Molly might try to rape her displays the potency of the labeling mentality: even an individual as intelligent as Connie accepts the premise that Molly’s lesbian status prescribes her actions toward all women. In this passage, Molly exposes and rebels against society’s need to define and compartmentalize rigidly all aspects of life. Her description of herself as “polymorphous and perverse,” terminology used to describe someone who exhibits sexual tendencies in which the genitals are not the sole or principal sexual organs, places Molly outside Connie’s conventional classification. As she does in Chapter 1 with the phrase “I’m here,” Molly insists “I’m me” and that she should be viewed on the basis of her character rather than on labels or her past.

Though little is made of it in the text, Molly’s reference to uncertainty about her being white exposes the prevailing attitude in America toward race during the pre–civil rights era. As a child, Molly experiences the effects of segregation firsthand when she accidentally uses a bathroom reserved for blacks and is punished by Carrie. Even Carl, Molly’s model of fairness and compassion, falls in with the conventional behavior that separates whites from blacks. In this passage, Molly seems to taunt Connie by equating the taboo of being lesbian with that of being partly black. By grouping them together, Molly suggests that Connie and other small-minded people think these traits are equally reprehensible and do not belong in the social mainstream. Molly herself, however, pays no attention to these prejudices as she meets different kinds of people in the book. Her failure to reveal explicitly that Holly and Calvin are black points to her lack of racial bias.

4. People have no selves anymore (maybe they never had them in the first place) so their home base is their sex—their genitals, who they fuck.

This phrase from Molly, which occurs in Chapter 15 in conversation with Polina, constitutes one of Molly’s major criticisms of society: that people depend on their gender in order to express their most fundamental identity. Molly fears that this frame of mind leads people to view all other aspects of their lives through their gender and sexuality, and thus as secondary to those traits. Molly resists being defined by her sexuality alone, because she believes that selfhood is infinitely more complex and varied than the simple distinctions between man and woman. She notes that such simple distinctions have led to some of the greatest injustices in history and will continue to do so until society rejects such crude divisions. In her assertions, Molly moves toward a new and more humanistic understanding of people, where considerations of sex are secondary to the multiple possibilities of the self.

Molly is well aware that social institutions such as advertisers manipulate individuals by exploiting their preoccupation with sex. If considerations of sex are central to motivating human behavior, then advertisers succeed most in getting their messages across to the public by appealing to basic instincts. Molly sees this practice as a manifestation of patriarchal rule: big corporate institutions, which are governed by men, use images of scantily clad women or promises of liaisons with scantily clad women to sell their products to men, who have most of the money in the American economy. In this sense, advertising preserves patriarchal rule by objectifying women and promoting inequality.

5. I wished I could be that frog back at Ep’s old pond. I wished I could get up in the morning and look at the day the way I used to when I was a child. I wished I could walk down the streets and not hear those constant, abrasive sounds from the mouths of the opposite sex. Damn, I wished the world would let me be myself. But I knew better on all counts. I wish I could make my films. That wish I can work for.

In this passage at the end of Rubyfruit Jungle, Molly’s shift from past to present tense marks a transition from childhood to adulthood. As she has grown and changed, Molly has acquired a past of her own. Against her better judgment, she often finds herself yearning for the relative comfort and safety of her earlier years to insulate her from the painful present, where she has few job prospects and even fewer friends. However, Molly’s resolve to turn away from the past and the impracticality of wishing for things that cannot come true signifies that she is ready to meet the challenges of the present and fight through hardship by concentrating on the outcomes of her life that she can control. Though it may be improbable, Molly’s final wish to make films is one she can work to fulfill. Having closed the chapter on her early life, Molly sets out on a new course of adulthood.

The distinction between the wishes Molly discards and the one to which she ultimately clings suggests Brown’s final attitude toward feminism and society. Whereas most coming-of-age stories end with the integration of the protagonist into society, Molly’s story continues in the direction of personal fulfillment. Perhaps realizing that it will take generations of activism for the world to let Molly be herself, Molly focuses on advancing her personal agenda. She and Brown seem to believe that wider social change can occur only after individual change takes place, and Molly as an individual withdraws into the achievement of her artistic career.

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