Molly Bolt Isn’t Nasty

“I don’t care for obscene language when it’s used for the sake of shock,” I said. “But in Rubyfruit Jungle, I think it furthers the plot. It helps the reader know Molly.”

“Are you serious? Brown didn’t have to make Molly Bolt that nasty. The dirty words are there for no reason.” Her voice got louder. “And please! lesbians don’t act that way. I would know, wouldn’t I” She was red-faced, so I took my leave.

The quoted exchange took place after a friend of mine sought my support when defending her perspective on the use of obscene language in literature. I meant what I said; I don’t care for language that does nothing for the plot. Reactions should be obtained through action, not with an overload of four-letter words. But there are times when certain words are essential for characterization. I think Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown illustrates what I mean.

Molly Bolt, the main character, embraces her circumstance and reaches for happiness. Rita Mae Brown uses tone, point of view, perspective, setting, and language to create a novel that is not just about a young girl finding out that she is a lesbian, but about any girl growing up in world that doesn’t quite understand her. This might sound similar, but it is not the same thing. Molly’s story doesn’t focus on homosexuality. The tale is about what any person might go through when going from child, to teenager, to adult. It just happens that Molly is a lesbian.

She is an extremely intelligent and resilient child who is curious about funny looking body parts. She enjoys exploring the forbidden, and when a few dollars figure into the equation, she is willing to share someone else’s forbidden bits with the rest of the world. She laughs at her friend’s uncircumcised penis because, well, “It looks ugly” and “no one else has a dick like that.” The fact that, to her, her friend Broccoli’s penis looks hideous has nothing to do with sexuality. It is the thing of young friendships; they are honest and unpretentious, just like Molly. Exactly like the girl who would fart and probably claim it. I almost deleted the word ‘fart,’ but I’m choosing against it. Molly would say fart. She is that type of girl; not dirty, not particularly rude, but full of spunk and earthy reality.

Her beliefs are her own, and she refuses to let anyone make her think or want otherwise. And as a teenager, she falls in love deeply and forever with different people. She loves to kiss girls, enjoys fixing things, is always ready for a fight, and would do something wild—like sleep with her best male friend—just to see what it feels like. She sleeps with other guys, too, in order to fit in and to avoid unwanted societal attention. This kind of behavior might demoralize a lesser being, but not Molly. She knows she is in charge of her life, and she is doing it because she wants to; at least for a while.

Young adult Molly is as confident as the child and the teenager. When things don’t work out with a school or with a lover, she picks up her things and heads to New York City with a bit over twenty dollars in her pocket; she is not afraid to hitchhike. Or to share the backseat of a car with a stranger who is also looking for a very temporary warm bed. And she has principles. She believes “The big pigs use heterosexuality and women’s bodies to sell anything in this country—even violence.” And that “It looks destructive, diseased, and corroded. People have no selves anymore (maybe they never had them in the first place) so their home base is their sex—their genitals, who they fuck. It’s enough to make a chicken laugh”. Yes, Molly is the girl who says “corroded,” “fuck” and “chicken laugh,” in the same sentence and makes them fit. Her idiosyncrasies are so hers that the reader has no choice, but to accept that Molly Bolt is real. She sounds like no other person.

Molly’s intellect and courage are enormous, and her heart is even bigger. She doesn’t laugh in the face of the teenage lover who forsakes her, or gets even with the stepmother who abuses her. She remains lovely, true to herself, and real all the way to the end. So I will repeat myself, for every now and then, I feel we must in order to make our point clear: obscene language, explicit sex, gore... are not elements I love to see in literature or on the screen in huge doses, but sometimes they are necessary in order to tell an honest tale.

How do you feel about obscenity in literature, my Wicked Luvs? Would you ban it to preserve people’s sensitivities?
I absolutely adore this cover, in case you were wondering ;-)
P.S. Theres a lot more to the argument, but right now I’m too frustrated to discuss the details and stay unbiased. I’ll tell you in a few days. Maybe next Wednesday... 

21 comments:

  1. I love how you put it. I'm not big on it if it's there just for shock value. But that language is a part of our culture and when it fits in that way, I'm all for it. I love the character. She sounds like a warm and loving person. Some people just want to warm their beds to push off the loneliness for awhile. I don't think people really think about how disconnected our society has become, and loneliness has become commonplace, even if we choose to ignore it.

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    1. This novel was written in the 70s, Angie, and while I was reading it I was completely sure that 'I was in the 70s' but also I was in any time. It is a great, easy and quick read, but it stayed with me. If you read it let me know. I want to know your take on it.

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    2. Just requested it from my library. I will let you know.

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  2. I agree with you, Magaly. If the swearing fits in with the character or context, I have no problem with it. In daily life, the only time I object to swearing is when the person swearing is just using the words as filler because they're too lazy to use the correct word.

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    1. The most important woman in my life used to say, if you can't tell people how amazing or disgusting they are with the right words, then you don't deserve the honor of seeing the look on their faces when they discover that you can see into their souls. It sounds all profound and stuff, but it was actually a very angry talk after she heard an obscene word coming out of my mouth for no reason. Today, I curse little, and even when I do I always think she'll pop up behind me and tell those words, so I keep the obscenities to a minimum lol

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    2. Petoskystone huh? I'm from Northern Michigan and recognize that name. My favorite rock in the world and I've been all over the country, living in Arizona now so I've seen a few rocks. LOL Just a shout-out.

      Belle

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  3. I have a problem with profanity when it is used for no real reason, but I can only think of one author who I got ticked off at over it. When it's used because it's just part of the character it's fine. And if people have a problem with it, maybe they should avoid those books. :) So no, I definitely wouldn't ban obscene language from novels.

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    1. I think it is just annoying when they are there for no obvious reason. It's distracting, but when they fit the theme they work great.

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  4. I believe that words are full of power, in a story and in life.
    Power is often squandered by the unenlightened and therefore they swear when a more appropriate word would do. Laziness, uneducated, fitting in, shock value are all used as reasons. In one of my long ago literature classes all of UNM was transformed by a book written by a grad student which was read to a freshman lit class...it was late 60's and this writer dared to use the work fuck. The world almost came to an end....I would type lol but it just doesn't cover the shock, disgust, and righteous indignation on the part of the "establishment".
    So when I read something where words are thrown in, just cuz, I think how sad. But when the words are part of who or what the story is......I usually am so engrossed in the reading of it, I am not opposed at all.
    I sure do take the long way around, don't I?

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    1. Many times, the long way is the only way...

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    2. I'm the queen of long way, so I totally get it and agree ;-)

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  5. In the past, I have enjoyed Rita Mae Brown's writing...Haven't read this one yet, but have added it to my list (and will give my daughter a copy)...I'm not much for gratuitous foul language...I don't use it and I don't like to hear it, but so many other people use it that it makes sense at times in order to make the story real...

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    1. This is her first book, I think. I've never read any of her new work. I should probably give it a try.

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  6. I haven't read this author, but I definitely do not think obscenity should be banned. It is part of our language and if an author is going to be true to their intent, I think sometimes, it is necessary... Just for the sake of shock value, no, but I don't think much in language shocks people these days...

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    1. Indeed. Sometimes, you need a little spunk of the mouth to portray a character exactly like she or he is.

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  7. Maybe this is a cultural thing? People do seem to be more alarmed by rude words in the USA than the UK. As a writer the character has to speak with a true voice or there's no point in giving them a voice at all. If that's how they'd talk, then that is they must talk if we're to tell a story with integrity. If our narrative voice also needs to be provocative, then we must use these words, too. Otherwise, it's like telling an artist she can't paint with all the colours in the box, "Just paint with the pretty ones, dear, not the red and blacks and purples".

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  8. It's un-Australian not to swear... or drink... or gamble.... that out of the way I used to be a 'runner' to put bets on when I was about 12... I loved (LOVED) it... swearing, well I was in my 20's before I heard people (like on mass) swearing, our copy chief in an advertising department I worked in would say to the copy boy things like "Fuck-a-duck Peter, you need to get this to the paper in THREE MINUTES" I would cringe & be too ashamed to tell anyone at home LOL, but there was a ballsy lesbian chick (who replaced the copyboy on stress leave) who held her own, 4 letter word for four letter word... yes I cringed on the other side of the partition where the delicate art directors hid, me & my bestie (who I had a MAJOR crush on to no avail & when I met his boyfriend I realised why... because he was sensational too) & anyway... where was I??? OK the C word (LOL my Catholic background hasn't come to terms with that yet) I don't use & I am lucky my babes don't swear except for Sci-Fi swearing, like "Frag' or 'frack' in the most extreme cases where Frayz & I turn around open mouthed & get clarification on the word... he he... BUT... I think this is what I want to say... swearing often gives an insight into a character, how they use it, what words... it can be powerful, or amusing. or... ohh must tell you my mum gives up swearing every lent & the only swear word she says is 'BUGGER' (true) like if she drops something or misses CSI... she is adorable :) So I guess swearing & how much you use it is dependant on background but accepting or not is totally up to the individual, if my mum heard the "C" word, she'd just think it was an English person saying 'can't'... me, well I love colourful language but it doesn't all have to be about 4-letter words... & BTW Molly's exploits sounds like a fantastic read... no shit ;)

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  9. I haven't read this book, love Rita, and plan to read this one as soon as I can put my hot little hands on it.

    As for the swearing, I agree with the overall tone of everyone's comments here. And as for your friend who says lesbians don't act like this...I am one...This character sounds just like me only younger so I guess she must be wrong and *I* would know. LOL

    Belle (a new fan of your blog)

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    1. Welcome Belle, it is a pleasure to have you!

      This is Rita Mae Brown's first book and some have said that it is somewhat autobiographical.

      I just said Belle Molly Bolt in my head lol

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    2. Thank you Magaly. According to my best friend in the world, that's not a bad name for me. LOL

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