Jake LaMotta briefly reigned as the world's middleweight boxing champion, delivered Sugar Ray Robinson his first professional loss, became a stand-up comedian, and was jailed for inappropriate contact with a underage girl. Raging Bull centers on Jake’s primal and violent tendencies, as well as his turbulent suspicions about his wife Vickie’s infidelity. In the ring, he efficiently releases his inner demons, and when that’s not enough, he abuses the people around him, most notably Vickie and Joey.
Jake has basic emotions—he often complains about his body and “little girls hands”—and lives a life without introspection or self-analysis. Jake is also masochistic; he induces others to inflict pain on him, from goading Sugar Ray to beating him to a pulp, bullying Joey into hitting him in the face, to pouring ice water into his shorts to deny himself sexual gratification. As such, jealousy and violence become his automatic responses to external stimuli. The film doesn’t encourage us to like Jake or sympathize with him, but we occasionally feel some compassion toward him—we can’t help but pity a man who doesn’t understand his self-destruction, brutality, and perpetual rage.
As Jake’s brother and manager, Joey finds himself in the precarious position of controlling Jake’s private and public life. Namely, he acts as a liaison between Jake and the local mobsters, introduces Jake to Vickie, and organizes Jake’s fights—all the while attempting to alleviate some of Jake’s anger and paranoia. While Joey sporadically reasons with Jake and successfully calms him down, he shares critical similarities with Jake: they’re both violent and explosive. Joey threatens his young son at the dinner table with a knife and smashes Salvy’s head inside a taxi door, leading us to deduce that the furious need to assert a masculine authority runs in the LaMotta family.
When Jake meets Vickie, she is a 15 year old “neighborhood girl” and the object of Jake, the mobsters, and Joey’s lust. Vickie feels an attraction to Jake, who presents himself as an up-and-coming hotshot with a lavish car Their flirtation evolves into a long, thunderous relationship pervaded with domestic abuse, sexual inadequacy, and mounting paranoia. Defined by her outward allure, Vickie remains enigmatic to us—she’s characterized alternately as victim and sex object. She’s icy, withdrawn, not afraid to rebuff Jake’s suspicions about her infidelity, and expresses some frustration over her husband’s disinterest in sleeping with her.
As a small-time mobster, Salvy has connections to powerful organized crime figures who live in the same Bronx neighborhood as Jake, Joey, and Vickie. He has an unpleasant relationship with both Jake and Joey. Salvy coerces Joey to convince Jake to cooperate with the mob, resulting in tensions between the three men. Jake disdains Salvy, not only for his attempts to tie him to the Mafia, but also for his frequent flirtations with Vickie. After Joey spots Salvy with Vickie at a nightclub, Joey brutally attacks him, which estranges the LaMottas' relationship with the mob.
The mob leader in charge of Salvy and other local wiseguys. Tommy upholds the power to determine whether Jake will fight for the middleweight championship title, so Jake eventually succumbs to Tommy’s formidable influence in the professional boxing world. Unlike the other male characters in the film, Tommy is a calm, diplomatic, imposing, and kind mediator between the LaMottas and the mob world.
Sugar Ray Robinson
As Jake’s boxing nemesis, Robinson engages in several brutal fights with Jake throughout the film. Robinson is a powerful fighter, and Jake becomes the first professional boxer ever to knock him down. In his last appearance in the film, Robinson delivers a ruthless series of pummeling blows to LaMotta, but ultimately fails to knock him down—much to LaMotta’s great pride.
After Vickie harmlessly characterizes boxing opponent Tony Janiro as an up-and-coming fighter with a “pretty face," an enraged Jake proceeds to deliver his most vicious beating of an opponent inside the ring. Unlike Jake’s other opponents and victims of his abuse, Janiro becomes the sole recipient of an emotionally-driven beating inside the ring. The fight destroys Janiro, provoking one audience member to famously declare, “He ain’t pretty no more.”
After realizing he will have to play ball with Tommy to receive a shot at the middleweight title, Jake reluctantly agrees to lose a fight against the undefeated Billy Fox. The match is a sham, and an emasculated Jake blatantly underperforms against Fox. As an affirmation of his pride, Jake refuses to go down to the canvas; this provokes the supervision of the boxing board, who ultimately suspend Jake.
Following his reinstatement after the suspension for throwing the Fox fight, Jake finally gets his shot at the middleweight championship title against current title holder, the French Marcel Cerdan. Jakes wins the match and briefly becomes champ.
Irma is Jake’s first wife. She resents her husband; volatile violence and abuse defines their marriage, as evidenced in the famous steak sequence. When Jake and Joey leave for an event together, Irma yells at Jake and accuses him of being a homosexual.
Raging Bull Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Raging Bull is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.