Rule of Bone by Russel BanksAs 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 Bone. 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 else. 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.