“The most revolutionary thing you can do is to be yourself.”2
These are the words of Rita Mae Brown, the 2015 Winner of the Lambda Literary Pioneer Award, and winner of the Lee Lynch Classic Book Award, and author of the seminal novel Rubyfruit Jungle.
Written in 1971, and published in 1973, Rubyfruit Jungle tells the story of the feisty, resolute and unapologetic heroine Molly Bolt. It was an immediate hit, outselling the capacity of its small press Daughters Inc. 3
Told in the first person through the voice of Molly, the reader intimately follows her development from childhood to her early twenties. Molly is determined not to be told who she is, or who she should be or what she can’t do or think. Her unapologetic attitude to sex in particular is liberating to read. She is her own person and that is her strength and allure. Her confidence glows out to the reader.
“I don’t care whether they [people] like me or not. Everybody’s stupid that’s what I think. I care if I like me that’s what I truly care about.”4
The story of Rubyfruit Jungle is one of a battle, bravely fought, against the casual horrors of Molly’s life. She fights hard to not be limited or defined by her illegitimacy, poverty, homelessness, sexuality, class, societal expectations, racism or by sexism.
However, as with true heroism, she does not escape scar free. When she is expelled from college for causing a scandal by sleeping with her female college roommate, it shapes Molly for good.
“I closed the door forever on idealism and the essential goodness of human nature.”5
And yet she is not a cynical character. She swallows her bitterness and refuses to give in on her ambition to be a film maker, despite the evidence to suggest her dreams are futile. This is inspiring.
Molly becomes a symbolic figure of defiance, a character of contrast to those around her who aren’t as smart or as bravely determined not to be limited by circumstance. Molly’s childhood friends and lovers succumb to their seemingly inevitable fates of marriage and jobs which fit society rather than them. The individual is seen to be lost if it is not claimed, created and fought for, particularly if your start in life presumes against this.
And that for me is the essence of the book – fight to find and be yourself.
Observers are often dismayed when Rita Mae Brown distances herself from seeing Rubyfruit Jungle as a lesbian novel.6 But if you step back from reading Molly purely as a lesbian role model to see Molly also as a campaigner for individual freedom, then you hit upon why Rubyfruit Jungle is so meaningful to so many.
Ultimately Rubyfruit Jungle is about the championing of free will, without which we have nothing other than that imposed on us by others.
“If Rubyfruit Jungle helped to push you on your path to freedom, I’ve done something right.”7 Rita Mae Brown.
- The Lavender Menace was an informal group of lesbian radical feminists formed to protest the exclusion of lesbians and lesbian issues from the feminist movement at the Second Congress to Unite Women in New York City on May 1, 1970. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lavender_Menace
- p. 36, Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown. Penguin Books, 1994.
- p. 131, Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown. Penguin Books, 1994.