Rule Of The Bone


By Russel Banks
The many critics who comment on " Rule of the Bone" tend to
discuss the depiction of Chappie, the protagonist, in
relation to the way other authors, both modern and classic,
have depicted boys his age. Those who focus on the modern
aspect are trying to decide if Chappie represents the usual
fifteen year old boy, or if his story is one of an unusual
childhood. The other critics see Chappie's story as a
parallel to a boy who has had a tough beginning and then
proceeds to abandon his current situation for a life of
adventures. Both approaches, however, are accurate in that
they depict a situation which, while somewhat outlandish,
does appear conceivable to many teenage boys living in the
end of the twentieth century.
Guy Lawson acknowledges this view, but tries to prove that
Chappie is really a boy with classic values trapped in the
1990's. Specifically, he compares the depiction of Chappie
with that of Paul from Independence Day by Richard Ford.
Paul does many "bad" things which his parents do not like,
and is meant to be viewed as a rebellious teenager who just
seems to want to do as much as he can to get in trouble.
Much like Chappie, he has a strange haircut, pierced body
parts, a tattoo, and has a habit of shoplifting. But Lawson
points out that Chappie does not do what he does to be bad,
but rather "to remember the innocence of his the time when his grandmother read Peter
Pan to him (Lawson 42)."
Lawson contends that Chappie should be viewed more like
Huck Finn, not as a bad kid, but a "man-boy hiding from
society (Lawson 42)." Both boys are forced to leave home
because of the abuse they suffer there, both meet
interesting and life-long friends along the way (Jim and
I-Man), and both go on fascinating adventures while
everyone else presumes they are dead. Additionally, and
most importantly, both Huck Finn and Rule of the Bone are
told from the boy's perspective, while Independence Day is
told from the perspective of the father. This leads to
different explanations offered by the narrators for the
boy's actions, and accordingly different opinions by the
There is more to the parallel between Huck and Chappie
according to Lawson. He says "For all its satirical edge,
Twain's novel is set in a stable, small town society with
families intact. Huck, the bottom dog, was the exception.
Chappie, for Banks, is the rule. Alone in the world, Huck
and Chappie are trying to create their own sense of
morality. But Huck's journey is a tale of American
innocence. Chappie's wanderings are disjointed, often
grim-the travels of experience (43)." Lawson feels that
Banks was making a statement that while Chappie and Huck
appear similar on the outside, they are very different
because of the ways their various societies have acted upon
them. Chappie has been corrupted, and therefore his
journeys are not ones of innocence, but rather of escape.
This sentiment is echoed by other critics, such as Jess
Mowry. Mowry says that no longer should Huck Finn or Holden
Caulfield (Catcher in the Rye) "remain the bibles for kids
of succeeding ages...because neither Huck nor Holden would
survive twenty-four hours homeless in most American cities
today (Mowry 826)." Mowry continues that Chappie's story is
less like a true story of a kid alone on today's streets,
than the "summer afternoon dope-dream of a suburbanite
ninth grader sprawled on his bed with bong in hand," and
that "I know real homeless kids who'd give all their spare
change to be in Chappie's place (Mowry 826)." So the
sentiment is that Bank's story is not an accurate
description of what goes really goes on, and that not only
is this story implausible, but would appear as a blessing
to many real homeless kids. This critique destroys the
image Rule of the Bone had of being a true depiction of
life for a real teen.
Other critics, however, do not agree with such a negative
review of this book. Ann Hulbert feels that Bank's story
has the potential to become a greater classic than Catcher
in the Rye. The reason is that Chappie has an original
voice which speaks not only to youths but also to adults,
as she feels the story is intended as "an indictment of a
decaying and divided era, which is meant to be heard by
adults (Hulbert 40)." Chappie is meant to convey a feeling
through his story which will be recognized by adults as a
comment on the problems of the world, but he does this in a
way where no one reading the story views him as complaining
or self-righteous. 


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