Rule Of The Bone


By Russel Banks
As any teenager will attest, one's independence is the most
important thing in life. Regardless of what you do, you
have to be able to do it on your own, without being tied
down to anyone else or having to rely on someone for
support. This theme, of having total independence, is the
most important aspect in "Rule Of The Bone", by Russell
Banks. The protagonist of the story, Chappie (or Bone),
develops this ability throughout his interesting
adventures, and it seems to be the most obvious progression
he exhibits.
"Rule Of The Bone" can be divided into three distinct
sections. There is first the part where Chappie decides to
leave his home and live with Russ, then the initial
experience he had with I-Man, and finally his time in
Jamaica. These sections represent Chappie's development of
independence, as he gradually is able to break free from
having to stay with someone and not depend on someone for
help. Additionally, one can see this progression through
the way the author uses Chappie's name-from being always
called Chappie, to a mix or Chappie and Bone, to totally
Chappie is the stereotypical example of how one would
expect a modern teenager to react if put in the same
situation Chappie has been put in. He has an abusive
step-father, a nagging mother, a drug problem, and he hangs
out with "bad influences." Banks starts off with Chappie
rebelling against these circumstances and leaving home to
go live with his friend Russ and some older
junkies/thieves. Therefore Banks starts the book with the
reader feeling sorry for Chappie, but at the same time
angry at him for just abandoning his troubles and taking
the wrong way out. The reader is also angry at Russ for
leaving Chappie with little options other than this one,
because at this point Chappie is totally dependent on Russ
for advise and support.
Once the reader has developed these feelings, Banks
presents the first twist, by showing how Chappie is not
really happy with living in this way, and if he could,
would leave and do something else. This aspect of Chappie's
character shows that he is not such a "bad kid," and in
fact has some good intentions. But the only problem is his
dependence on Russ. 

The separation from Russ begins at the Ridgeway's house
when Bone realizes that not only does he not need Russ, but
in fact the relationship between the two has switched so
that Bone has adopted the position of leadership, and is
making some of the most important decisions in their
adventures. This is what led Russ to break off from Bone,
because Russ knew that he was no longer the leader of the
friendship, and therefore needed to start anew with someone
Bone's independence is now growing. He handles himself very
well on a series of adventures, and actually takes on
someone who is dependent on him, Rose. The time the two of
them and I-Man spend together is not a leader-follower
relationship anymore, but now all three live off of each
other in a symbiotic fashion. Each contributes something,
and Bone is obviously happier now that he is an equal, and
living a relatively peaceful existence. It should be noted
that he is almost always calling himself "Bone" now, as it
is the name which represents his independence.
The time Bone spends with I-Man in the school bus is very
important. It is here that he realizes that he is capable
of doing things on his own, and yet he always has a friend
whom he can talk to, while not be dependent on. Banks makes
the point here that it was essential for Bone's development
that he have such a relationship, so that he could learn
what an independent person must do by asking questions from
I-Man, who has been independent most of his life.
There is one other very important occurrence which happens
at this stage of the story is the change in Bone's attitude
towards drugs, especially marijuana. During his time at
home and with Russ, Bone was very greedy about the drug and
would take as much of it as he could. But once he goes to
live with I-Man and is growing his own, Bone loses this
aspect and is able to smoke only at certain times during
the day. This is another part of him growing independent.
He does not need the drug all the time and have progressed
to only using it to relax. The addict-like need that he had
previously seemed to die with his friendship to Russ.
Bone is truly independent once he adapts to life in
Jamaica. He does what he wants to do and is able to go
directly against what people like his father tell him to
do. But there is a reason that he goes against these
people, and that is because he realizes just how much
independence he actually has. Bone's father has this kind
of independence, and he leads a life that many people might
love. He does whatever he wants to do and acts totally on
his own volition. But he also does not lead a "good" life,
and Bone knows this. Doc is immoral, a crook, and all he
does is smoke marijuana every day. 

The development of Bone is most evident right here. He
makes the choice not to follow in his father's footsteps
and lead such a life. The option to live like a king in
Jamaica is right there for him, but he turns it down. He
realizes that too much independence is not good for a
person, and it corrupts people. It corrupted Doc, and Bone
could end up the same way. 

This is the reason Bone decides to return to America. He
wants to lead a good life, because he is mature enough and
independent enough to realize the ultimate futility of
living in Jamaica. Earlier in the story, before he had
developed this, Bone probably would have stayed in Jamaica.
In fact Russ, whose personality at this time is similar to
that of Bone at the beginning of the story, chooses to move
to Jamaica. He does not have the sense to know that that is
not the right decision, because he does not have the
experience and maturity which Bone has.
Bone's time in Jamaica is what really defines his life. It
is when he progresses from being a kid whose only goal in
life was to smoke more pot, to an adult who knows that life
is not all about getting pleasure. He realizes that he has
to look ahead at the rest of his life, and that he has to
do something with himself. 

One of the best passages of the story is when Bone tells
Russ that he has decided to leave Jamaica and go back to
school, and Russ is amazed at what he is hearing. This is
because Bone knows that he has to go back to living a
normal life, while Russ, who still thinks like a stoned
teenager, feels that pleasure is the most important thing.
But Bone, after gaining his independence, knows better.


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