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Rumble Fish

By: S.E. Hinton


Rusty-James is the toughest guy in the group of high-school kids who hang out and shoot pool down at Benny's, and he enjoys keeping up his reputation. What he wants most of all is to be just like his older brother, the Motorcycle Boy. He wants to stay calm and laughing when things get dangerous, to be the toughest street fighter and the most respected guy on their side of the river. Rusty-James isn't book-smart, and he knows it. He relies on his fists instead of his brains. Until now he's gotten along all right, because whenever he gets into trouble, the Motorcycle Boy bails him out. But Rusty-James' drive to be like his brother eats away at his world--until it all comes apart in an explosive chain of events. And this time the Motorcycle Boy isn't around to pick up the pieces.
The following books are also in this guide:
Taming the Star


In the Classroom

Using the Young Adult Novels of S. E. Hinton in the Classroom

Pre-Reading Activity

Encourage students to interview a parent or adult who grew up during the 1960s and 70s. Suggest they ask about music, current events, fashions, pastimes, popular books, magazines, TV shows, movie stars, etc., during those decades. Instruct students to web their information with the central topic being the decade and the branches being the various elements they discussed with the adult. Students may illustrate their webs with symbols, pictures, or words. Have students share their webs with the class.

Thematic Connections

Acceptance -- Mark says to Bryon in That Was Then, This Is Now, "You can't walk through your whole life saying `If.' You can't keep trying to figure out why things happen, man. That's what old people do. That's when you can't get away with things any more." (page 111) How is this statement related to the title That Was Then, This Is Now? What is the irony in this statement? Do you agree with this statement? Why? Why not? Name some characters who would agree with Mark and some characters who would agree with Bryon. What do the Mark-like characters have in common? What do the Bryon-like characters have in common?

Self-Esteem -- In Rumble Fish, Rusty-James says of himself, "I'm always in dumb classes." (page 39) What does being in the "dumb classes" do for Rusty-James' self-confidence? What role does education play in the lives of other Hinton characters such as Darry (The Outsiders) and Mason (Tex)? What influence do reading and writing have on the lives of Hinton's characters? Do you think students know when they are in the "dumb classes"? Is this separation needed? Why? Why not? If not, what alternatives do you suggest?

Family and Relationships -- In Tex, Tex states, "Cole Collins scared me a little. Not `cause he was big or rich or vice-president of a company. He just plain didn't act like I thought fathers were supposed to act." (page 52) Compare and contrast Pop as a father with Cole Collins as a father. What might be considered conventional and unconventional about the way each fulfills his role as a father? What part do adults play in Hinton's novels? Can you pick a male adult from any of Hinton's novels who might, in Tex's eyes, act like fathers are supposed to act?

Self-Discovery -- When Tex goes to the fortune teller, she predicts "`There are people who go, people who stay. You will stay.'"(page 35) What do you think the fortune teller meant by this statement? Do you think the fortune teller would have predicted Mason, Pop, and Lem would stay or go? Ask students to choose a main character from another Hinton novel and to predict that character's future. Can anyone really foresee the future? Does a person's future always reflect his/her past? Explain your answer.

Interdisciplinary Connections

Language Arts -- In Taming the Star Runner, Travis remembers his publisher praising his book: "But the narrative flowed, there was a strong sense of place, and his characters--well, his characters were wonderfully realized human beings, everyone would come away from this book convinced that these people really existed." (page 113) Have students choose the Hinton book that they think best merits this description of a novel. Ask students to write a review of the novel, giving examples of the strong sense of place, etc. Have students share their reviews with the class.

In Taming the Star Runner, Travis's publisher says of his novel, "`That point aside, we still have a few problems--no major girl characters, for instance, and the majority of book buyers your age are girls.'" Travis responds, "`I don't know what girls do, so I don't write about them. And that junk they like to read makes me barf.'" (page 111) What is the irony in Travis's reply to his publisher? Does Hinton write convincingly from the male perspective? What "junk" do you think Travis is referring to? Conduct a poll in your classroom. Are the majority of the book buyers girls? What are the differences and similarities in what the male and female students like to read? Do males and females view Hinton's novels differently? How does Hinton portray females in her novels? Consider Casey (Taming the Star Runner), Jamie (Tex) Cassandra (Rumble Fish).

As Rusty-James remembers a trip to the zoo with his father, he remarks, "The animals reminded me of people." (Rumble Fish, page 13) Hinton often compares her characters to animals. Ask students to find examples of these comparisons in her novels. How do these comparisons help readers better understand the characters? Have students choose other characters from the novels and discuss their character traits. To what animal could each be compared and why? Instruct students to write a poem about one of these characters using the animal metaphor. Have students illustrate their poems and share them with the class.

History -- Gangs play an important role in the novels of S. E. Hinton. Research the influence of gangs in the 1960s compared with the influence of gangs in the '90s. Which decade witnessed more gang violence? Why is this so? Experts say that kids often join gangs because of needs in their lives. What are some of those needs?

In Taming the Star Runner, the reader learns that Travis's father was killed in Vietnam two months before Travis was born. Many people visit the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., and leave special items in memory of soldiers who were killed in that war. Ask students to find out the kinds of items that people leave. Ask them to design a memorial that Travis might have designed for his father. Encourage them to find a meaningful quote to place on the memorial.

Psychology -- In Rumble Fish, Rusty-James does not like to be alone. This is his greatest fear. The Motorcycle Boy says Rusty-James' fear can be traced back to when he was two years old and was left alone in his house for two days. Have groups of students research the various stages of child development. What important behavioral and psychological progressions occur at each stage? How could something that happens to a child at the age of two affect him so profoundly later on in life?

Science (Technology) -- In her novels, Hinton refers to technological products such as 8-track tape players. Using reference materials, compare and contrast the technology of the '60s and '70s with that of the '90s. Locate pictures of items developed during each of those decades. Make a poster which has a column for Then and another for Now. Place each illustration in the appropriate column. Display your poster and discuss the changes they reflect.

Teaching Ideas prepared by Jane O. Wassynger, English Teacher, Greenville Middle School, Greenville, SC.


As students read the Hinton novels, direct them to keep a list of slang words and expressions in the books. Ask them to brainstorm some current slang expressions and to share them with the class. Ask them to compare the slang meaning with the true meaning of the words. Have students write and illustrate a 1960s-'70s Illustrated Slang Dictionary. Compare and contrast the slang words of the '60s and '70s with slang from today.


An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year


"Stylistically superb...this packs a punch that will leave readers of any age reeling."--School Library Journal


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