The Role of Sexuality in the Search for the Self

Rubyfruit Jungle chronicles Molly’s sexual odyssey in lurid detail, but it does more than just dramatize one woman’s life as a lesbian. More important, it shows that the search for individual identity is not limited to defining oneself sexually. Molly’s sexuality may be a fundamental part of her identity, but it is still just one facet of a more complex self. She often repeats “I’m me” and “I’m here,” which suggests her desire to be regarded in her totality, not just as a type or as a part of her past. In this sense, Molly seems to embody an idea of humanity in which sexual identity is subordinate to broader considerations of selfhood. Her journey in the novel ultimately leads her to realize that her identity already exists within her and that she’ll have to fight society to be true to herself.

The Exploitative Nature of Capitalism

Throughout the novel, Brown criticizes American society by illuminating how the capitalist system exploits individuals in order to generate commerce. Molly unwittingly demonstrates this principle when she creates a lucrative business parading Broccoli’s penis around the forest. As Molly grows up, she becomes acutely aware of this phenomenon, often finding herself the object of exploitation. Her first two legitimate jobs in New York, as a bunny-suited waitress and a dancer, involve the crass use of sexual enticement to attract customers. Calvin and Holly’s occupations as hustler and “kept” woman literally embody the idea that sex sells. In each of these cases, Brown criticizes the dehumanizing effects this kind of capitalism has on individuals. As both Holly and Molly experience firsthand, sexual exploitation promotes gender inequality by pitting women as objects that men can purchase.

The Oppressive Nature of the Patriarchal System

In the American society of Rubyfruit Jungle, the patriarchal system, where men rule, threatens women’s selfhood and precludes the possibility of gender equality. In every sphere of her life, including public, personal, sexual, and professional, Molly encounters obstacles and resistance, which seem to be ingrained in the social fabric of the world around her. As a child, she is discouraged from playing doctor because only men are doctors, and as a teenager, she faces Carrie’s criticism for serving as student council president instead of running for prom queen. As an adult, Molly loses jobs in the film industry to her male classmates, despite her stronger performance in school. For both Brown and Molly, being a woman in a patriarchal world means being at a social disadvantage. Worse, the patriarchal system also creates a climate of hostility among women. Carrie and Dean Marne butt heads with Molly, whom they think improper for challenging the status quo, instead of standing together in solidarity. As long as the patriarchal social structures are in place, Molly and other women cannot have the total freedom needed to lead fulfilling lives.

Nature As a Source of Strength

Molly’s embrace of rural Pennsylvania and her antipathy for the urban North reflect her feelings about the natural world. Mired in New York, Molly longs to return to Pennsylvania, not only because it was her home during a more innocent period of her life but also because New York City’s manmade ugliness distresses her. Molly returns to rural Pennsylvania just before completing her degree at NYU and joining the professional urban world, and the trip rejuvenates her. Molly has a vivid, unburdened narrative style in this scene, as she finds strength in the nature around her. Her love of nature may stem from the fact that women are freer to forge their own roles and identities there than they are in actual human society, where being in the world requires a woman to subordinate her personal agenda to the patriarchal system’s needs.