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Analysis of ‘Rule of the Bone’ by Russell Banks Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: Dec 30th, 2019


The novel Rule of the Bone by Russell Banks highlights various themes that relate to parenthood and children upbringing. The protagonist, Chappie is a perfect teenager whose criminal mentality begins at childhood.

Banks uses Chappie to highlight the theme of family institution and the effects of poor parenthood. This book review discusses Banks’ perspective on the family. The paper also highlights the failures and successes of family in inculcating values in their children.

Author’s Perspective on Family

From the onset, the author points out the importance of the family institution in inculcating the right morals to children. According to Banks, Chappie’s family is broken. His father left his mother when he was still a young boy aged five years and rarely sends assistance to the family.

Although she could have sued his father for failing to send alimony for his son, she does not want him in jail. The rationale is that the assistance would not be forthcoming in any case during his jail term.

Besides, she does not want Chappie to become the “laughing stock” in their town if his father becomes a jailbird. As such, Chappie’s mother failed to sue his biological father who at the time was engaged to Rosalie and had abdicated his parental obligations.

Additionally, his mother gets married to Ken whom according to the protagonist is an alcoholic who has made his mother to begin drinking. His reference to Chappie as ‘him’ displays his lack of interest in the upbringing of his adopted child.

Undoubtedly, Chappie grows to believe that he belongs to his mother in contrary to the belief that his stepfather contributed considerably to his life. As such, the author uses the opening of the novel to show the impact of a broken home on a child.

The author holds the perspective that the family is vital for home’s stability and essential to upbringing of a teenager. Due to poor parenting, Chappie gets lost in the world of drugs and fails in school. Indeed, he rarely attends school and views school’s punishment as an opportunity to go and get high alongside Russ and the bikers (Banks 12).

His family seems dismayed by his failure to pass his exams but rarely follows up on his interaction patterns. At his age, he smokes high amounts of weed that a cautious parent will be quick to notice and offer guidance. However, Banks says the family suspects that he is on drugs but shows no intent of planning an exit from the world of drugs (13).

It is apparent that the author depicts Chappie’s family as unable to handle him and offers him ‘independence’ that he yearns for at a young age. As every teenager would attest, freedom from their parents’ rules and regulations is an important aspect of their lives that they feel is overemphasized.

The author therefore uses this platform to show the effect of uncontrolled sense of autonomy amongst teenagers. Due to increased sense of freedom, Chappie fails to see his life beyond drugs. The author however does not blame him for his poor judgment.

On the contrary, he shows that the failure of his family to provide quality upbrinbging has made Chappie a ‘junkie’ who struggles to do what is right but has already internalized an aspect of criminality within him. Banks argues that Chappie had lost his way at the age of six years (14). This is an age that the parents would always be in control of their children, which is no longer the case in the novel.

Despite his unbecoming behavior, his mother and Ken put up with him and fail to give the required guidance to his life. There are various instances that his family undermines the value of proper parenthood. First, Ken and his mother attribute his failure in the education system to his inability to make the right choices.

They rebuke his failure but take no significant steps to enhance his educational success (17). Besides, the author is on point to show that Chappie’s theft of souvenir-coins of his grandmother is not well handled in the context of his family.

His mother only manages to cry while Ken uses violence to assert his convictions. They do not even recognize the level of addiction that is in Chappie. In addition, when Chappie is caught shoplifting, her mother helps him out and moreover, she gives into the demands of her son who demands twenty dollars to get high on weed (Banks13).

Banks is on point for highlighting the materialistic aspect of family institutions. Chappie is kicked out of his home by his parents and seeks refuge in Russ’s house.

Despite his behavior, he knows how to be accepted back into the family. He buys expensive Christmas presents for his mother and Ken. When he brings the presents to them, they overlook his criminality and welcome him home (Banks 23).

In other words, his family believes that Christmas presents brought by Chappie reflect his improved behavior. The author appraises this characteristic of the family. The role of the parents according to Banks has reduced to materialism and obsession with presents and gifts from their children. They do not even think of the source of the presents, instead they readily accept them and in this case, invite Chappie to stay with them.

Banks is not completely disappointed with Chappie throughout the novel. This is because he gets an alternative family that provides him with the ability to change leading to his success in Jamaica. His association with Russ and the bikers is more fulfilling as an ideal family than it is with his mother and stepfather.

When he is kicked out of his home, Russ offers him a place to sleep while Hector helps him to be on his feet by giving him weed to sell (Banks 57). It is here that his involvement with the bikers becomes apparent and he is able to rebuild his life. Although the bikers turned their backs on him and denied him a place to sleep, he turns from a villain to a hero.

According to Banks, he saves the life of a young woman in the streets and assumes a positive character although it is still embedded in criminality (73). As such, the author perceives an ideal family as capable of identifying the right platform for their children to prosper. In this case, Chappie gets it in an environment of drugs.

Role of Family in Child Upbringing

It is also worth mentioning that the author’s point of view regarding a family has switched drastically throughout the novel. At the end, Bone is successful and lives like a king in Jamaica. He is able to assert his decisions on the click of friends that he holds. Indeed, this marks his fall out with Russ whom for long had assumed the role of leadership (Banks 139).

In the series of adventures that ensue, Bone carries himself with dignity leading to the apparent dependence of characters like Rose on him. Despite the author’s depiction of poor parenting as a causative factor of criminal mentality, he portrays Bone in the second part of the book as successful in his efforts to quit drugs and shun bad influences (Banks 142).

Banks therefore underplays the role of the family in the eventual success of an individual. Bone represents this assertion in the sense that he rarely depends on his family to become independent.

The role of the family narrows down to showing a child his/her way out of criminality. However, the same families have for too long been ignorant of their children’s activities. Chappie’s family provides a ground for child abuse and negligence.

His stepfather sexually, physically and psychologically abuses him in a myriad of instances (Banks 14). Coupled with his nagging mother, Chappie’s chances of becoming a responsible and a diligent teenager are hugely reduced.

To that end, the book portrays family as an institution that is detrimental to welfare of a child if not well managed. Bone finds out his way out from gangs and it becomes clear that his family was the source of his woes. This further asserts the authors perception that family institution is not immensely necessary for success.

Notwithstanding Bone’s success, critics would point out that it is embedded in criminality and illegal activities. He sells weed when living in the streets and engages in activities such as shoplifting that clearly depicts him as a deviant member of any society.

This implies therefore that the perception that Banks creates when he depicts Bone as a pointer of success is far from reality. He rises by leading street crooks since he is one of them. I-Man is an example of a character whose conviction in Rastafarianism had led him to drug addiction yet he remains a close partner of Bone.

Hence, the role of family institution is amplified as Bone succeeds as a crook, which is not considered and celebrated by society. Nonetheless, self-determination and self – realization are the behavioral traits that the author points out as necessary for shrugging off criminality.


In sum, Banks asserts that the contemporary family institution is unable to cope with teenagers. This is due to its characteristics that include violence, alcoholism, materialism and lack of love. In the novel, they have facilitated Chappie to be free and make liberal choices.

As such, Chappie’s criminality emerges from his family’s negligence. However, the author introduces an alternative family for Chappie in the streets. This is where he turns to become successful. The role of his family is not emphasized in the second part of the book as it becomes clear that Bone had succeeded in life.

Although he was able to withdrawal from numerous addictions and bad influences, he remains a criminal. As such, the author concludes that the family has the mandate to provide their children with proper upbringing. Besides, it is upon teenagers to make ultimate decisions and choices regarding their lives.

Works Cited

Banks, Russell. Rule of the Bone, New Hampshire: Harper Perennial Publishers, 1996. Print.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Analysis of ‘Rule of the Bone’ by Russell Banks." December 30, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/analysis-of-rule-of-the-bone-by-russell-banks/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Analysis of ‘Rule of the Bone’ by Russell Banks'. 30 December.

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